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What is the National Air Photo Library?

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The National Air Photo Library (NAPL) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is a comprehensive historical archive for federal aerial photography. Air photo imagery from various years can be found in NAPL's collection of over 6 million photographs covering all of Canada. In many regions, the collection includes multi-year photo coverage, with some images dating back to the 1920s.

Aerial photography records the ever-changing cultural and natural features on the Earth's surface from overhead.

It captures:

  • residential and industrial areas
  • road and rail networks

It shows geographical features such as:

  • mountains
  • canyons
  • flatlands
  • rivers
  • lakes
  • forests
  • cropland

With careful interpretation, air photos are an excellent source of spatial information for studying Canada's geography and environment.

What are the uses of aerial photography?

Aerial photography in NAPL's collection provides a precise geographic “snapshot”– literally – of any and every part of Canada. Historically, air photos were collected for the compilation of detailed topographic maps created through the visual interpretation of landforms and features captured in the images.

More recently, industry, consultants, and researchers have recognized the extensive archive of photography at National Air Photo Library (NAPL) as essential primary data for:

  • resource exploration and management
  • environmental assessments
  • climate change studies
  • land use planning
  • change detection
  • forestry management
  • environmental impact studies
  • civil law cases
  • measurement of glacial retreat

Over 90% of the photographs in NAPL's collection are monochrome (black and white), but some are available in colour or infrared. Each air photo is cross-referenced to an index map or flight report that accurately indicates:

  • flight path and flight altitude
  • film type
  • film number and photo centres
  • date and time of exposure
  • camera used
  • weather conditions

Air photos can be scanned at a high resolution (300–1200 dots per inch [dpi]) with excellent results. They can also be easily geo-referenced and integrated with other location-based (or “geospatial”) data for use in Geographic Information System (GIS) applications.

Air photos on-line

You can access the aerial photography in the National Air Photo Library (NAPL) collection through various means, including the Earth Observation Data Management System which allows you to search and retrieve data for more than 3 million aerial photographs of Canada. Moreover, it visually depicts the “footprint” of photos on a topographic map background.

You may search for air photos using several criteria, such as:

  • official place name
  • geographical coordinate
  • National Topographic System (NTS) map number
  • roll and photo number

Once the search is completed, you can order the air photos on-line from National Air Photo Library (NAPL).

Air photo products

Contact/laser prints: Monochrome contact prints are made from the photo negative exposed on matte, 10 in. × 10 in., photographic paper. Copies can be produced on a high-quality grey-scale/ colour photocopier and printed on high-gloss paper.
Digital imagery: Scanned aerial photographs, black and white or coloured, are available in TIF or JPEG formats at resolutions between 300 and 1200 dpi. Scanned images from original negatives are also available upon request.
Other products available from National Air Photo Library (NAPL) such as:

  • air photo enlargements
  • custom mosaics
  • transparencies
  • scenic images
  • aerial survey database information
  • flight index maps
  • flight line reports
  • calibration reports
  • other miscellaneous photography

To locate air photos see the Earth Observation Data Management System.

For more information on products and services, please contact National Air Photo Library.

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