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Maps and Air Photos: Air Photos

Air Photos

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.

As of June 14, 2024, on demand aerial photograph scanning services are no longer offered by the Library.  However, we are greatly increasing our in-house bulk digitization of the air photo collection and new images will be downloadable for free through FrameFinder as they become available.  This policy allows us to more quickly provide free access to digital versions of our collection.

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. 

To see examples of aerial photography, see our Imagery Examples page.  We also have a sample of aerial photographs of the UCSB Campus area.


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

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 two tools to help you search our aerial photograph collection to determine which areas are covered, for what time periods, and in what format.  They are FrameFinder and AP Flights Catalog.  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. Our Finding Aerial Photographs page explains how to use these tools.  

Appointments may be made to see aerial photographs in person.  See Viewing Materials in Person on our Policies and Fees page for more information.

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