The UCSB Library's collection of aerial photography is the largest known such collection in an academic library: more than 2.5 million images. The collection dates back to the 1920s, with most of our photography covering areas in California. For some areas we’re able to represent every decade. Outside of California, we have unique collections that include areas of China, Central Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands.
About Aerial Photography
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. As the plane flies, photographs are taken sequentially at set intervals, often with a significant amount of overlap. When two images overlap at least 60%, a stereoscopic, or 3D, view can be seen with a stereoscope or computerized manipulation. 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. The UCSB Library has more than 4,500 flights which add up to more than 2.4 million individual images.
Scale and Resolution
Scale and resolution determine the amount of detail you can see on an aerial photograph. Our aerial photographs have a range of scales and resolution. For further explanation and examples, see our Aerial Photography Scale and Aerial Photography Resolution pages.
Flight indexes are maps that show the area covered by the aerial photographs (or frames) of the flight. For a detailed description of indexes and how to read them, see our Reading Aerial Photography Indexes page.
Finding Aerial Photographs
The UCSB Library Geospatial Collection contains aerial photographs in several formats, including film, prints, and digital scans. We have several tools to help you search our aerial photograph collection to determine which areas are covered, for what time periods, and in what format, such as FrameFinder and AP Flights Catalog. Our Finding Aerial Photographs page explains how to use these tools. We also have an overview of our Significant Aerial Photography Holdings.
Some of our aerial photographs can be found through our online map interface called FrameFinder. We are continually adding content to this tool. For aerial photographs not in FrameFinder, you can use our AP Flights Catalog and navigate directly to scanned images in our image directory when they are available. To better understand how our aerial photographs are organized into flights, see Identifying Aerial Photography Flights.
For those aerial photographs that we only have in transparent or print formats, we can scan them for a fee. See our Aerial Photography Scanning page for more information.
You may also make an appointment to visit the collection in person, or arrange for custom research for your area of interest. Our Policies and Fees page has more information.
We're here to help you search our collection and see if we can meet your needs. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805)893-2779.