History of aerial photography and imagery in Queensland

Images are more than just pictures. The information generated from them:

  • informs public safety and wellbeing
  • is critical for government functions in maintaining civil society and responding to emergencies
  • contributes to initiatives that provide economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

The Department of Resources manages a number of areas associated with Queensland imagery, including:

  • the state program for spatial imagery
  • the acquisition of spatial imagery for other departments and authorities
  • the image library of land and coastal waters
  • the authoritative foundation spatial data (as part of the national spatial data infrastructure).

These activities involve managing the spatial data lifecycle, which includes:

  • planning for new imagery acquisitions
  • coordinating acquisitions on behalf of the state interest
  • curating imagery data
  • publishing imagery data
  • conducting maintenance and preservation programs.

For more information on spatial data infrastructure and imagery visit ANZLIC – the Spatial Information Council.

How to access imagery

You can access current and historical imagery, including more than 900,000 aerial photographs, for free through QImagery or visit the Queensland Globe for recently captured high-resolution satellite imagery. Select agencies can also access satellite imagery through the spatial imagery subscription plan.

Queensland’s imagery history

1914–1918: Our involvement in imagery begins during the First World War following the need for military intelligence and advances in aircraft technology and photography.

1920s: The RAAF fits Gipsy Moth planes with aerial reconnaissance cameras to record enemy movements and defences.

1930: In August, the Royal Australian Air Force undertakes the first known aerial photography project in Queensland over the Gold Coast hinterland. Aerial photography was typically captured with 60% overlap between frames. As a result, when viewed through a stereoscope, the image appears to have three-dimensional depth. This assisted in deriving cartographic information and intelligence from the aerial images.

1949: The first coordinated state aerial photography program is assigned to the commercial aerial surveying company Adastra Airways, capturing 8 areas along Queensland coastal regions.

1952: With the introduction of the Survey Coordination Act 1952 (Qld), aerial photography conducted by state agencies is classified as a survey and required to be lodged with the Surveyor General in the Central Plan Office. This collection is called the State Aerial Photography Library and marks the beginning of the department's involvement in the state-coordinated program for imagery.

The primary aims for acquisition of photography under the state aerial photography program are:

  • as a general reference source
  • for the production of topographic mapping.

Additionally, special project-based photography for the purposes of infrastructure planning (such as roads and railways) and monitoring of coastal landscapes and disaster management (such as floods), is also acquired. The state program is supplemented by Commonwealth aerial photography programs over all regional areas of Queensland from 1954 to 1980.

1966: The first colour film aerial photography is captured as part of an imagery project.

1968–1974: The state-coordinated program begins transitioning from black and white to colour film photography.

1986: We begin a Landsat satellite data acquisition program, following the US Government’s Landsat space mission in 1972. We act as a regional distributor on behalf of Geoscience Australia and manage the acquisition of images to support the Statewide Land and Trees Study (SLATS) project.

2003: The Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Act 2003 is published and includes imagery from non-aerial platforms such as satellites. It legislates our responsibility for ongoing imagery data acquisition and maintenance activities.

2005: Queensland’s first Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) capture is introduced. We utilise the point cloud data from this remote sensing technique to generate three-dimensional imagery products and feature extraction. We also use elevation-themed products including Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) and contour datasets.

2008: We change from film to digital capture, sparking a significant operational change from in-house aerial film handling and photographic development lab work to GIS and remote-sensing computational tasks. Our library contains more than 1 million film image frames at this time.

2012 and 2014: We replace high resolution digital orthophotography capture with SPOT high-resolution satellite imagery.

2015: The first capture of drone project imagery in Queensland – to be added to the state remotely sensed image library – takes place over the turtle nesting site on Raine Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

2017: After 86 years of imagery activities, the state remotely sensed image library now has 5 analogue and digital archives with more than 1 million images and half a petabyte of data. The library, in partnership with our imagery acquisition and management activities, acts as a digital infrastructure that is a priceless information asset of Queensland’s visual history and present and future landscape.

Aerial film library archive preservation project

Historic aerial photographic films are susceptible to a form of chemical decay described as vinegar syndrome. This can permanently damage the film base, causing it to distort, shrink and become brittle. The speed of degradation is influenced by the storage environment (heat and moisture) and the presence of acidic vapours from film degrading nearby. As a result, we have stored the film archive in a purpose-built vault since the 1980s.

In 2005 we began a major aerial film digitisation project to scan all frames of aerial photography films in the archive as a 15 micron (1,693 dpi) high resolution digital scan. As part of the project, we purchased 3 specialist film scanners. We are now recognised as the largest aerial film scanning facility of its type in the country and a reputed centre of professional expertise. Due to the decreased use of film-based photography, film scanning equipment is no longer in global production. We maintain the scanning equipment to enable maximum operational capacity for both the project and future requirements.