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The Pigeon Photographer

early aerial photography

Historical photograph of a pigeon equipped with Neubronner's camera

The German pharmacist and inventor, had a passion for both photography and carrier pigeons. In 1907, he merged these interests in a unique way. The inspiration for pigeon photography struck Neubronner after one of his pigeons, used for delivering medications, returned late but well-fed from a trip. This incident led him to think about tracking their paths. He merged his interests in carrier pigeons and amateur photography, leading to the development of a light miniature camera that could be fitted to a pigeon's breast using a harness and aluminum cuirass. He trained his pigeons to carry loads ranging from 30 to 75 grams and released them up to 100 kilometers away for capturing aerial photographs.


Julius Neubronner's miniature camera designed for pigeon photography


Technical Aspects and Models Neubronner developed several models of the pigeon camera, including a double camera with two lenses pointing in opposite directions, a stereoscopic camera, and a panoramic camera which captured a panoramic view on film. The cameras had a pneumatic timing mechanism to control the time delay before a photo was taken.

Patent and Public Recognition Initially met with skepticism and rejected for a patent, Neubronner presented authenticated photographs to the German patent office, which granted his patent in 1908. He gained international fame by showcasing his invention and photographs at exhibitions in Dresden, Frankfurt, and Paris between 1909 and 1911. The photos were unique for their time, offering skewed angles and random framing that were novel and intriguing to viewers.



An example of an aerial photograph taken by a pigeon photographer


Military Interest and Legacy During World War I, the German military considered using Neubronner's pigeon photographers for aerial reconnaissance. However, rapid advancements in airplane technology soon overshadowed the utility of pigeon photography.


Despite this, Neubronner's work remains a fascinating example of early aerial photography and ingenuity. Neubronner's invention is an interesting blend of creativity, practicality, and technical skill, illustrating an innovative approach to problem-solving in the early 20th century. His work with pigeon photography is a testament to the unique and sometimes unexpected intersections between different fields of interest.

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