Pictures of the ground taken from high altitudes belong to what is often called as aerial photography. All kinds of platforms may be employed here; from kites, poles and parachutes to helicopters, dirigibles, balloons and planes. The history of this type of photography business started in the mid-19th century France with the balloonist Gaspard Felix Tournachon. In time, all kinds of motion picture cameras were mounted on aircraft, especially for the army and security purposes.
This kind of photography serves for a variety of purposes and applications. Since digicams are generally available for the average consumer, a lot of people take such photography. Yet, the systematic approach is more extended. This photography is quite practical for cartography. Topographic maps would be really tough to create without such photographs. These applications aren't new, but the novelty now consists in the processing softwares like GIS.
The geographic information systems (thus the abbreviation "GIS") are now employed by all mapping agencies, and aerial photography makes it quite possible to align the photographs with the real-world coordinates so they can be registered and deployed widely. Google Maps highly relies upon this kind of photography, and with such model we aren't far from the operational model of Google Earth that depends on satellite images to form a simulation of three dimensional landscapes.
Artistic projects, commercial advertising, surveillance and environmental studies are only a few of the other domains in which such photography plays a vital role. Another issue here is the chance to document events and features on non-public properties. This type of photography is needed for many legal actions since anything that may be observed from public space doesn't in any way infringe the legal right to privacy, as stated by the US law system.
Aerial video is turning into the alternative option to this kind of photography, since meta data can be inserted in the video using the GPS (or the Global Positioning System). This would only indicate that technology and science may be moving beyond the field of this type of photography into something more sophisticated. The complexity of the applications is quite fantastic, and thanks to the progress made in the design and appearance of the cameras.
As for the private applications, people who go for this kind of photography business to identify the boundaries of land properties or to simply get nice photos without a specific objective in mind. Aerial photography needs the use of an excellent digital camera, with a motion stabilizer and great optics. Otherwise, you will not get a lot of the photographs!