The Professional Aerial Photographers Association has an excellent page for the history of aerial photography. It all started in 1855 when the French photographer and balloonist, Gaspar Felix Tournachon, also known as Nadar, patented his idea for using the aerial photographs in map making and surveying. Three years later he took an aerial shot of a French village called Petit-Becetre. He took the shot from a tethered hot air balloon that was 80 meters above the ground. However, this photograph among other early photographs from Nadar didn't survive. Today the only earliest photograph that is still in existence is a James Wallace Black's 1860 image of Boston from a hot-air balloon. When it wasn't necessary to carry heavy equipment anymore, due to advancement of the dry plate process, Triboulet took the first photo from a free flight balloon in 1879 of Paris.
As you continue reading more about the history of aerial photography, you'll read about further methods of the aerial history from the 19th century throughout the 20th century. The other methods were kites, pigeons, rockets and at last the airplanes. The aerial photography was used first for military purposes. After the war, for a successful business purposes and for private use.
The images above were taken by a pigeon. As a matter of fact, you can see the wings on the top left image. The pigeon carry a tiny breast-mounted camera that was developed by Julius Neubranner in 1903. These Bavarian Pigeons use the camera largely for the military use. The birds were introduce at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition that also had the birds' popular aerial photos postcards that depicted the aerial shots of the exhibition.
PAPA - History of Aerial Photography
November 19, 2009