28 July 1858 – the first aerial photograph

On 28th July 1858, French photographer and journalist, known as Nadar, took the first airborne photograph from his balloon.

Nadar was born in 1820 and his official name was Gaspard-Félix Tournachon. Initially, he started studying medicine but after his father´s death, Tournachon was forced to abandon the university for economic reasons.

Next, he began working as caricaturist and novelist for French newspapers. In a short time Tournachon became a quite popular author and soon founded his own magazine. It was also the time he adopted the nickname Nadar.

Supposedly, Nadar took his first photograph in 1853. In the following year he opened his own photographic shop and became famous of his exceptional portrait works taken with use of natural light.

In addition, Nadar was an ardent balloonist and it was just a matter of time before he merged photography with his passion to flying. That, most likely, occurred on 28th July 1858, when he reportedly took the first aerial photograph while flying over village of Petit-Bicêtre near Paris.

Series of Nadar´s self-portraits (photo: gallica.bnf.fr /  Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 12148/btv1b10535469q, Public Domain)

The photographs Nadar was taking from his balloon were done with use of collodion wet plate process. Usually, the photo plates were processed at the time balloon was in the air. That forced Nadar to re-invent the entire procedure from the very beginning, in order to isolate the photographs from any external factors such as balloon gas.

It is also worth to mention that Nadar took first photographs in the Catacombs of Paris. Therefore, he became the first person that took photos not only from the air, but also underground.

Regrettably, no aerial photographs took by Nadar survived until today. The earliest airborne photo that survived until today, was taken in 1860 by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King and pictures ´Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It´, as original caption says.

Nowadays, the aerial photography is an integral part of the modern world. Such photos are taken from a broad range of aerial vehicles and used for military, scientific and commercial purposes, as well as just for fun.

Cover photo: Nadar´s studio self-portrait with his wife Ernestine, ca. 1865 (Public Domain, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington – cropped)