Public Lab Wiki documentation

Getting started with aerial mapmaking

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PART I>>> Research; site and situation planning for mapmaking

  • What do we know about our area of interest?
  • What maps are available and or what do we intend to map? If mapping either with or for another community or group of people, their input is part of this discussion.

  • Look at site in existing online map resources such as the USGS National map, Google Earth, and Open Aerial Map

  • The topography of the target mapping area is considered. Take note of any non-accessible areas within the site.


  • Calculate the image sensor altitude for a targeted spatial resolution and associated image footprint area. Construct a vector flight plan that is purposed to provide full coverage of the area of study (where to move the camera about the scene to achieve full coverage without holes)

    PART II>>> Preparing for field work

  • Review weather reports and wind speed for your area of interest: Weather Map

  • Generally, the wind peaks with the daily surface air temperature lag just after solar noon, and is reduced in the morning and evening. This varies greatly of course. It might be kite weather all day, or calm enough for balloons in the early afternoon.

  • Staying aware of your rights to shoot images in public space: Photographers Rights Photographers Rights Gray Card Set

  • If you want to fly within 5 miles of an airfield, or have any safety concern about airspace you can call the United States Flight Service Station (FSS) 800-WX-BRIEF (+1-800-992-7433) a FSS can issue a "notice to airmen" (NOTAM) if you are in proximity to an airfield and intend on flying in high altitudes.

    PART III>>>Field mapping checklist

  • Check your local weather reports frequently:Weather Map

  • water, sunglasses, sunblock, gloves

  • contact information on the aerial platform


  • gps live tracking. Cellular phones are generally a consumer friendly way to do this. The major carriers in the US offer tracking either free or as a paid add-on to most GPS enabled phones. Prepaid phones from Virgin Mobile have been used by grassroots mappers.