The art of measurement through photography

Photographs have always conveyed enthralling stories. From Wright brothers being photographed while they flew their first plane to Neil Armstrong being photographed on the moon to the breathtaking photograph of India taken by NASA on Diwali last year, these moments are immortalised in time.  

There is more to photography than capturing the right moment or the emotion. Photography, like geology, is a science and is being treated like one.


Photogrammetry, is the science of measuring through photographs. The input is a photograph and the output is typically a map or a graph. Many of the maps that we use today are created using photogrammetry by using photographs clicked from an aircraft or from space.


When photography and math combine, the output is an accurate measurement. For example, if someone wants to measure the length of the eiffel tower, using an inch tape can be time consuming. At the same time, to use complex surveying tools, isn’t feasible. Which is where, photographs play a major role. All you need to do is a click a photograph of the Eiffel tower, calculate its length on a photograph and then multiply it by the scale of the photograph. z

For example, if the Eiffel tower measures 10cm on your photograph and the scale in which you have clicked is 1:10,000 you need only multiply 10cm by 10,000 to get the accurate length of the Eiffel tower. Cool right?                 

Photo credits – wikipedia

Now, this explanation is a simplified version, to use Photogrammetry, there exists multiple softwares that calculate the measurements to the 10th decimal point. Such is the level of accuracy.


Photogrammetry is broadly classified into two types,

  1. Aerial Photogrammetry – This involves the use of drones, UAVs or cameras mounted on aircrafts to capture the required image. Aerial Photogrammetry is used to calculate measurements and ranges.
  2. Terrestrial Photogrammetry – Terrestrial photogrammetry is where cameras are mounted to the ground using a tripod. This type of photogrammetry is usually, non topographic but this is used for image-based modeling where a photograph of a structure is used to create an accurate 3d model of the same for scientific purposes. This is widely used in forensic study, mines, stock-piles, archaeological artefacts and more.


Remember the scene where Keanu Reeves dodges the bullets in Matrix? That iconic scene was shot using photogrammetry, where live action was combined with computer generated imagery.

Photogrammetry is also used to create photorealistic environmental assets for video games in order to enhance the graphics of the game, for eg, FIFA uses photogrammetry extensively to create computer generated imagery to closely resemble the footballer.

Cool right?

So, the next time you introduce yourself as a photographer, you might as well call yourself a scientist. If you are a photographer looking to branch from the usual portrait, wildlife and landscape photography, try your hand at photogrammetry.

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