Drone photogrammetry is a technique that uses drones equipped with cameras or other sensors to collect aerial images of a specific area or object from different angles and heights. These images are then processed to create accurate and detailed three-dimensional (3D) models of the terrain, buildings, objects or any other element to be studied or represented in 3 dimensions.
What is photogrammetry?
Photogrammetry is a technique based on the principle of triangulation, using photographs taken from different viewpoints to measure and represent objects in 3 dimensions.
This technique of capturing geospatial data has undergone a significant transformation with the advancement of drone technology. The different types of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have opened up an incredibly wide field and new possibilities for accurate three-dimensional modelling.
Drones capture aerial images from different positions and heights, providing a wealth of data that is used to create 3D models using image processing and photogrammetry software.
Drones for 3D photogrammetries
For photogrammetry with drones at a high professional level, drones are now very much in vogue. Mavic 3 Enterprise and high-end drones with RTK which is a signal system to get very good co-ordinates on the photos and thus get a more accurate assembly of the photos.
In practice, however, 3D drone photogrammetry often involves drones whose use is not limited to photogrammetry alone, i.e. they are not exclusive to this technique.
Today there are very powerful software, that help us to achieve a very decent 3d model if the material we have previously obtained with our drone is of high quality, and, frankly, any mid-range drone, nowadays, can give us that level of quality in the photographs.
What we can do is to enhance the quality of the final product by adding a higher quality camera.
The best drone for drone photogrammetry will depend on your needs, budget and the requirements of your project.
It is important to do thorough research and compare the features of each drone to ensure you purchase the right device for your drone photogrammetry needs.
Drone models for 3D photogrammetry
- DJI Phantom 4 RTK: This drone is one of the most widely used for photogrammetry and mapping. It features a high-precision RTK positioning system, a 20 MP camera with 4K recording and 60 frames per second. It has an omni-directional system to avoid obstacles. It has advanced autonomous flight functions, such as ActiveTrack and Tapfly, and a battery life of about 30 minutes.
- DJI Mini 2: The DJI Mini 2 is, to date, a drone that can be flown without a licence. It is foldable and ultra-lightweight, and offers exceptional image quality with its 12MP camera and 4K recording capability. It has a flight autonomy of up to 31 minutes, i.e. sufficient autonomy to obtain the material to create 3D photogrammetry.
- Parrot Anafi USA: A state-of-the-art drone designed for professional and security applications. It has a 21 MP camera with up to 32x zoom, a flight range of up to 32′, and flight endurance of up to 15 m/s, with a transmission range of up to 4.8 km. It is an ideal drone for surveillance, inspection and aerial mapping operations.
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro: We always come back to the great DJI Mavic 2 Pro. This high-end drone features the famous Hasselblad 20 MP camera, a 1″ CMOS sensor and 4K recording capability. It offers a flight range of 31′ and a video transmission range of 8 km. Intelligent flight and omni-directional obstacle detection. This makes it one of the best options for professional drone photography and videography.
- DJI Mavic Air 2s: It is a foldable and portable drone that features a 20 MP camera, 1″ CMOS sensor and capable of recording video in 5.4K. It has a flight range of 31′ and a transmission range of 12km. Intelligent flight modes and omni-directional obstacle detection. It is one of the best drones of 2023 for creative photo and video. Versatile and powerful as it0 is.
- Autel Evo II Pro: The Autel Evo II is a professional drone featuring a camera with a 1″ CMOS sensor and 6K resolution capable of recording video up to 9km, intelligent flight modes and omni-directional obstacle detection. It is a great choice for mapping and industrial applications.
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard: This is a more affordable budget drone with a 12 MP camera capable of recording Full HD video. It offers a flight range of up to 25′, and a transmission range of 500 metres, the maximum distance allowed by current drone piloting legislation, and 3-axis stabilisation.
- Holy Stone HS720: The Holy Stone HS720 is the most affordable drone of them all but it is no less interesting. Their reviews endorse it. It is a foldable drone with a 4K camera and GPS. The Holy Stone HS720 stands out for its high resolution video recording capability and 26′ flight.
Process and steps for photogrammetry with drones
In order to obtain the final result, a series of steps must be followed:
- Capture images: We will fly our drone over our work area or object of interest, capturing images from different angles and heights. The images will be captured with the appropriate overlapping in order to follow a correlation of points that will allow the software a correct assembly and thus a fine generation of the 3D model.
This technique is very similar to the process of panoramic photography.
- Image processing: The images we have captured are downloaded and processed with special software for photogrammetry that will detect the points in common that allow us to “glue” one photo with another, in a process of image matching. This allows the calculation of the 3D coordinates of points of interest on the terrain or object.
- 3D model generation: Using this information obtained from the image matching, a 3D model of the area or object of interest is generated. This model is an accurate and detailed three-dimensional representation of the terrain, building or object we have captured.
- Analysis and application: Once the 3D model has been generated, it can be used for different analyses and applications as described below.
Best free software for photogrammetry with drones
Here are the best free programmes for 3D photogrammetry with drones:
There are also paid programmes or software for photogrammetry with drones, which offer more advanced features that may be of interest to us when developing our photogrammetry project with drones:
- Agisoft Metashape
- PhotoScan de Agisoft
- 3DF Zephyr de 3Dflow
- ContextCapture de Bentley Systems
Applications of photogrammetry with drones
Here are some of the most common applications of drone photogrammetry in everyday life.
If your idea is to dedicate yourself and train in some of the fields I have mentioned, you can find training courses in each of them. These are official AESA courses, given by Aerocámaras, Spain’s leading company in the aeronautical sector.
Enter javiergomiz in the promotional code bar and get a 5% discount on the course of your choice, and you will help and encourage me to continue working and maintaining this website. Thank you very much!.
Cartography and topography
3D photography allows the creation of high-precision and high-resolution topographic maps and orthophotos. These maps are used for urban planning, natural resource management, natural disaster risk assessment, infrastructure management, among other applications.
Have you been interested in this field? Then this professional drone pilot course in photogrammetry and topography is definitely what you are looking for. You will gain the knowledge and skills to plan, carry out and produce photogrammetric and topographic data of the scenarios you want with the most up-to-date software on the market.
You will learn how to fly a Matrice 300 RTX, which will be the one you will use for your practical training.
Drones equipped with multispectral cameras can capture images of crop fields at different wavelengths, enabling real-time analysis and monitoring of plant health. This helps us in early disease detection, optimisation of irrigation and fertiliser application, and in decision making to improve agricultural productivity.
By taking the Professional drone pilot course in precision agriculture you will acquire knowledge and skills in the early detection of the state of different types of crops through the use of drones. You will learn how to use specialised software to process the images obtained.
3D drone photogrammetry can be used for the inspection of bridges, roads, railways, power towers, buildings and other structures. Drones can safely access hard-to-reach areas and capture images that enable defect detection, structural condition assessment and maintenance planning.
In the Professional Course in Technical Inspections + Pix4D Certification you will acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to operate unmanned aircraft. You will learn how to analyse wind farms, power lines, solar panels or telecommunication towers. You will also be able to get certified in Pix4D, the professional 3D mapping software I mentioned above.
This course has many job opportunities, as it is a booming profession given the amount of resources that the company saves by carrying out actions with a drone and not having to use the human factor just to fly it.
Architecture and construction
3D models generated from 3D drone photogrammetry can be used in design planning, project visualisation, construction feasibility assessment and monitoring the progress of a construction site.
Tourism and cultural heritage
3D drone photogrammetry can be used for the documentation and preservation of archaeological sites, monuments, cultural heritage and tourist attractions. For virtual tours, documentation of heritage in danger of deterioration or destruction, and for the promotion of cultural tourism.
Environment and conservation
Drones equipped with high-resolution sensors can capture images of protected natural areas, wildlife habitats and fragile ecosystems. This allows monitoring of the environment, identification of changes in vegetation, detection of endangered species and planning of conservation actions.
Advantages of aerial photogrammetry over traditional photogrammetry
The advantages are clear, and to my mind quite obvious, such as:
- The speed and efficiency of data capture, as we can be in the place we need to be as fast as the speed of piloting the drone allows us to be without moving from the site.
- We will have a great capacity to access areas that are difficult to reach. Often the environment and the objects in it make it difficult for us to take a clean photograph or make it difficult for us to get in front of the object we want to photograph.
- Image capture security. We will not have to expose ourselves physically in situations where taking a photo could put us at risk.
All this makes drone photogrammetry a very interesting and valuable tool.
Expert in photogrammetry with drones
Severino Martínez is one of the leading experts and benchmarks in drone photogrammetry in Spain. he has some very interesting work that may be able to guide you a bit in this emerging world of drone photogrammetry.
I invite you to see the work of Severino Martínez in the interview that Rafa Ocón did with him in Droneguru.
What do you think about photogrammetry with drones? did you know this technique? If you already know it and want to share your impressions, you can leave your comments here. I read you!