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Research Guides

Maps & Cartographic Information: Aerial Photography

Search tips for finding maps, atlases, aerial photos, GIS, and other cartographic materials.

Frequently Used Resources

What Does the Map Collection Have?

Aerial photography coverage is only for selected areas in Washington State, with an emphasis on the Puget Sound region, in a variety of scales, from 1944 to the present. Digital orthophotography available on the Geospatial Data Resources Guide (formerly WAGDA) website (1990's- present) supplements our paper collection.

Selected print satellite images show entire countries, large areas of the Pacific Northwest, and some states. Digital satellite imagery of Washington State is available on CD-ROM and for other locales at the Geospatial Data Resources Guide (formerly WAGDA) website.

How to Find...

Aerial Photographs

The best way to locate aerial photography coverage for an area you are interested in is to follow the steps below. The first steps can be done online or in the Map Collection.

  1. Search for the geographic area you are looking for:
  2. A search will bring up a list of project names with the year each was flown. Some project names are descriptive, and some are only strings of letters and numbers. To find out if a project covers your general area of interest:
    • online: in the Aerial Photo Project Tool click on a project name in the list that appears below the map display. Click "on." An area on the map will then be overlaid with a transparent index map, showing the approximate coverage area for the photo project (review our disclaimer).
    • online: click on the project name in the Air Photo Projects Indexed by County or Region, which will take you to a list of written descriptions, the Air Photo Project Descriptions.
    • in person: search for the project name in the Air Photo Project Info Sheets binders (alphabetic by project name), which contain both written descriptions and base maps showing the coverage of the project in green.
  3. To find the flight line index map for the project you are interested in:
    • online:  in the Aerial Photo Project Tool, go to the desired project name in the list that appears below the map display. Click “pdf.” A scanned image of the project’s index will appear in a new tab of the web browser. This file allows you to zoom in or out to get a good view of your area of interest.
    • in person: Find the flight line index map for the project you are interested in. Some indexes are filed by name in the vertical hanging rack; others are filed in the drawers with the photos. Map Collection staff will be happy to help you with this step
  1. On the flight line index map, determine the photo number(s) you want. You can locate the individual photographs you desire using this information. Locating the photographs can only be done in person.
    • 9" x 9" photos: Each vertical line represents a particular flight line. Each small circle on the flight line represents an individual photograph. The film roll number, flight line number and the first photograph number of the line are printed at either the top or the bottom of each flight line. Approximately every fifth circle is numbered as you move up or down a line.
      To locate an individual photograph, determine the film roll number, flight line number and the photograph number(s) corresponding to your site.
      Photographs are filed in the black filing cabinets under the Air Photos sign: first by flight line number or film roll number, and then within each line number, by photograph number.
    • 16" x 20" photo enlargements: Each index map has a grid which shows the areas covered in our collection. To locate an individual photo enlargement, determine the township, range, and section designation (e.g., T24N,R5E,SEC14). Photo enlargements are located in the large horizontal file drawers to the left of the Air Photo cabinets. They are filed by project date.


Feel free to ask staff for assistance at any time.

Digital Aerial Photography

See Geospatial Data Resources Guide (formerly WAGDA).  Some of the digital imagery access is limited to UW students, faculty and staff.


Satellite Imagery

Print satellite images are filed in the General Map Cases (with other thematic maps of that geographic area). Digital satellite imagery of Washington state is available on CD-ROM, and filed in Maps Media (ask Map Collection staff for assistance). Additional satellite imagery resources are linked to the Geospatial Data Resources Guide (formerly WAGDA). Due to their extremely large file size, they are not available online.

What Can Be Answered By Email or Phone?

1. We can tell you project names, dates and scales that show your general area of interest (in Washington State).
2. We can check project base maps for photo coverage of one particular site.

  • We cannot guarantee that the photos in a specific flight project will cover the site of interest, especially if the site is near the edge of the flight project area.
  • This service may take 1-3 days depending on levels of Map Collection staffing.

Related Terms & Definitions

Remote-sensing imagery is the term which encompasses all kinds of photographs taken remotely, i.e. from an aircraft or satellite.

Aerial photography is a series of photographic images of the ground, taken at regular intervals from an airborne craft such as an airplane. Most aerial photographs are 9" x 9" prints. Most photo enlargements are approximately 16" x 20" (for greater detail).

Orthophotographs are aerial photographs which have been orthorectified (adjusted digitally or otherwise) to remove displacements caused by the camera and the terrain. (Definition adapted from's Geographic Glossary.)

Satellite images are taken from satellites, which orbit the earth at much higher altitudes than do airplanes. Satellites use a variety of methods to produce images, including infrared, water vapor, and visible image technologies. (For detailed explanations of these methods, go to NASA's Global Hydrology and Climate Center.)

Where to Buy Imagery?

Organized by search scope, from largest (world) to smallest (King county).