An aerial photograph is a picture of the Earth’s surface taken with a specialized camera mounted in an airplane. Millions of dollars are spent each year by local, regional, state, tribal, and federal government agencies, as well as private companies, to collect aerial photography over the United States.
Current Wisconsin Aerial Photography
As a general rule, local government agencies in Wisconsin typically acquire new aerial photography every five years. More urbanized and quickly-developing municipalities may acquire new aerial photography as often as every 2-3 years.
A statewide flight was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the summer of 2020. This was in addition to a large number of counties that acquired new aerial photography in the springs of 2018-2020.
- First, some background: people in the mapping industry commonly refer to the “resolution” of an aerial photograph. For example, a 3-inch resolution aerial photograph means each pixel in the image represents three inches on the ground. Aerial photography in Wisconsin is most commonly collected at 6-inch or 12-inch resolutions… enough detail to see lines painted on roads. Nearly all aerial photography today is collected digitally, meaning the end product is a digital photograph that can be used and manipulated on a computer.
- Aerial photography from the 2020 summer project (called the National Agriculture Imagery Program or “NAIP”) is available as a free download from GeoData@Wisconsin. Use this photography if you are looking for a colorful image covering a large area. NAIP has a relatively low resolution of 0.6 meters, which means individual houses will become very blurry if you zoom in on the image.
- If you need the most detailed aerial photography for a small area (e.g., a single farm or neighborhood), photographs from the spring 2018-2020 county flights are the most appropriate choice.
Historic Aerial Photography
State and federal agencies began acquiring widespread aerial photography over Wisconsin in the 1930’s. To view and download 1930’s-era aerial photography for the state, check out the Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image Finder (“WHAIFinder”).
If you are looking for photography acquired between the 1930’s to the present, visit our Wisconsin Aerial Photography Catalog.