The Map & Imagery Lab's collection of aerial photography is the largest known such collection in existance. MIL's collection dates back to the 1920s and we can generally provide one photograph per decade for anywhere in the southern half of California.  Outside of California, we have unique collections that include areas of China, central Asia, Africa, and Pacific islands. Community users: please consult our Aerial Imagery Research Service website for information regarding licensing copies of our imagery.

Traditional aerial photography is generally created using a large-format camera mounted on the underside of a fixed-wing aircraft.  The resulting negatives reveal a straight-down (vertical) view of the landscape.  Photographs are taken sequentially at set intervals, often with a significant amount of overlap. When two images overlap at least 60% this enables a stereoscopic, or 3D, view.  The overwhelming majority of our aerial photographs fall into this category. 

An individual set of photographs is referred to as a flight or a mission.  A flight is often just that:  a single takeoff and landing. Some flights are created over the course of a few days or, less frequently, over the course of a season.  On very rare occasions, a flight may refer to a multi-year project (for example, our NAPP flights).  A flight may contain a single photograph or tens-of-thousands.  MIL has more than 4,000 flights which add up to more than 2.5 million individual images.


  • Significant holdings include the Fairchild Aerial Surveys and Santa Barbara Flood Control District collections.
  • Aerial Photography Tools include our AP Flights catalog, lists of frequently requested photos for Northern and Southern California, and a variety of finding aids that will help you to identify photographs to help you with your work.  All imagery is available for inspection here in MIL, but appointments are required for detailed research.  This service is free to UCSB researchers and students.  Various fees may apply to community users.
  • Our Aerial Imagery Research Service offers research services to community users that allow us to do the work for you and deliver the results electronically.
  • Frequently Requested Aerial Photographs
    We have pre-selected various 'flights' for densely populated areas of the state that are of frequent interest.  If you are a scholar doing change analysis in California or in private industry conducting Environmental Site Assessments, these lists will show a decade-by-decade snapshots of the state:
  • Learn to identify relevant flights
  • Individual flights are described by Indexes.