Arts Photography

The pigeon camera, a precursor to the drone

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Before airplanes, skyscrapers, Google Earth, drones, and GoPros brought us aerial views, there was pigeon camera.

In 1907, just a few years after the Wright brothers lifted off in Kitty Hawk, and while human flight was still being measured in metres and minutes, Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds like—a small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement.

Naturally, the photos captured by the pigeons were randomly timed. This resulted in images with feathers and swooping side shots.  

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of four books.

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