Technology Solutions

Digital Aerial Photography Is Looking Up

During the last 18 months, aerial photography has advanced greatly, mainly because it has gone digital and hit the Internet

Yet few people know about it, and that may be the most amazing thing about this technology. Many commercial real estate professionals still proceed through the manual processes of understanding a site or development without this powerful tool.

Aerial photography starts in outer space and gradually moves closer to the project. The first image shows the project in relation to the earth and subsequent images move in toward country, state, city, neighborhood, and project views.

Users can glean a great deal of information from aerial images, including ingress, egress, neighborhood density, site layout, and pad location. If correctly presented, aerial photographs quickly can communicate this information about a project in a short amount of time.

Recent Advancements One major advancement in aerial photography is a process called stitching. This involves connecting different photos to make one continuous image.

This process dramatically improves the navigation through photos when looking for a property. It also means that properties located on the edge of photos now can be located easily.

The library of images is becoming so comprehensive that industry experts predict that most of the United States will be completed in the very near future. Images are updated about once every eight months to 12 months, and most major markets already have been photographed. In addition to using the existing library, individuals can commission aerial photographers to take specific photographs.

Another major advancement is the ability to make images three-dimensional using the correct software. Available software includes AirPhoto USA, Keyhole, and Pixxures. Commercial real estate professionals who are considering placement of a project in an area with uneven terrain will find this process useful.

Recently, digital aerial photography visionaries have added a new twist — gaming technology. Just as players can fly through the sky in an F-18 in a video game, now users can fly through downtown Manhattan and view the commercial real estate projects in the city. This allows buyers and sellers to view potential sites without ever leaving their desks.

In the last six months, leading-edge technology providers have made this all available over the Internet. This quick advancement is due to the fact that broadband access is much faster and the program logic — algorithms — is much more efficient than two years ago. This means that starting in outer space, users can type in an address and be hovering over the desired property in a couple of seconds.

Imagine locating a property and being able to push buttons that show sites such as hotels, gas stations, and grocery stores. By adding other data, individuals can save an inordinate amount of time when trying to analyze a property for investment.

What's Available Today, numerous companies offer aerial photography services of interest to commercial real estate professionals. Many photographs are available for free, but specific, commissioned photographs can run hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Purveyors include GlobeXplorer (, which offers access to aerial and satellite images via the Web and has a large collection of commercial images. AirPhoto USA offers coverage of more than 65 U.S. locations on CD-ROM. Pixxures ( provides a free online library of images as well as custom mapping products.

Still Evolving Several issues regarding digital aerial photography still need to be addressed. One of the biggest complaints is resolution. For the most part, digital aerial photography today is shot from 1 meter above the earth. Although this provides a great deal of information, many people want the technology to advance to 0.5 meters. When market demand justifies the next level of photography, users may be able to read the license plates on automobiles.

Although some satellites produce imagery, industry insiders predict that plane-flown photography will be around for a while. The location of the satellites, the cost, weather, and other issues make using airplanes the most effective way to capture this data. Mobile cameras automatically upload images directly to the Internet 30 seconds after they have been taken

The final step is to make these digital aerial photos available on mobile devices such as handheld computers. Imagine walking into a client's office with a device, typing in the address, and showing the client the condition of his roof.

The combination of these technologies will take commercial real estate to a new place, perhaps sooner than everyone thinks. The technology exists; the biggest problem is awareness.

Digital aerial photography, like a host of new products and services, now is available to commercial real estate professionals. The only problem is no one knows about it. The asset we never have enough of is time, and that is what this new frontier represents: better use of time and better command of information that will result in faster transactions.

Jim Young

Jim Young is founder of the Jamesan Group, a real estate technology service company in Carlsbad, Calif.; CEO of REApplications, an application service provider; and co-producer of te Realcomm conference. Contact him at (760) 729-4312 or