Early Aerial Photography: Cameras On Pigeons In 1907

Early Aerial Photography: Cameras On Pigeons In 1907

These days there are plenty of opportunities to take interesting photographs from unusual angles, including strapping tiny digital cameras to birds. But some early aerial photography was rather more clunky — and used massive cameras strapped to the breasts of pigeons.

In fact, the whole concept was pioneered by a German photographer named Julius Neubronner. From a Wikipedia article describing his early work:

Neubronner began the development of a light miniature camera that could be fitted to a pigeon’s breast by means of a harness and an aluminium cuirass. Using wooden camera models weighing 30 to 75 grams […], the pigeons were carefully trained for their load. To take an aerial photograph, Neubronner carried a pigeon to a location up to about [60 miles] from its home, where it was equipped with a camera and released. The bird, keen to be relieved of its burden, would typically fly home on a direct route, at a height of [160 to 330 feet]. A pneumatic system in the camera controlled the time delay before a photograph was taken.

While you might not expect much from such a technique, some of the pictures Neubronner’s pigeons snapped, like the ones below, are pretty impressive. While the concept was initially used excitedly — especially by the military for spying operations — perhaps understandably, the technology was soon superseded. Shame. [Wikipedia via PetaPixel]

Images from German Federal Archives