Vertical Aerial Photographs

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Vertical aerial photographs are valuable sources of data for OpenStreetMap. While surveying by collecting GPS tracks is the primary way for collecting data, tracing features from an overhead photograph makes inputting vast amounts of data quicker to be filled in and verified later via on-the-ground surveying. A couple of prominent examples of OSM data initiated via tracing from photos are the Gaza Strip and Baghdad. The Humanitarian OSM Team uses aerial imagery in disaster response.

These photographs are usually taken from satellites. Companies like DigitalGlobe and GeoEye and U.S. Government projects like Landsat provide satellite imagery for free or for a licensing fee.

Aerial photographs can also be obtained from drones, airplanes equipped with cameras, balloons, or any airborne device fitted with a camera, see Creating your own aerial photos.

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Only use sources for which we have explicit permission or have a compatible license or are out of copyright (often difficult to determine).[1]

Sources already in use


In November 2010, Bing (Microsoft) gave us special permission to use their imagery to create our maps. It is supported in iD, Potlatch 3 and JOSM. See the Bing page for details.

(Tracing source attribution is usually done as source=Bing (⅔ of the usage) or source=bing (⅓ of usage)).

DigitalGlobe / MapBox

Published 09 April, 2014 DigitalGlobe in partnering with MapBox have given the permission (see MapBox ToS) to use their imagery provided through MapBox Satellite service to be used for OSM tracing purposes. The imagery is available in iD and JOSM, among others. The resulution varies between zoom level 12-17 (world coverage) down to zoom 19 (in selected parts of U.S. and Europe, and smaller areas everywhere).

(Tracing source attribution is not compulsory[1] but always a good practice; used tags are mostly source=digitalglobe and MapBox suggested source=mapbox. [Usage as of 2013-05 are: digitalglobe 241k, mapbox 11k, MapBox 8k, DigitalGlobe 5k, DigitalGlobe / Mapbox 2k.])


Yahoo! Aerial Imagery was used between 2007 and 2011. In september 2011 Yahoo partially shut down their service and partially changed their imagery source which resulted that the imagery is no longer useable for tracing purposes, as we have no permission to do so.

Imagery source indexes

The OSM Editor Layer Index project maintains an index of imagery sources that may be traced in OSM.

  • The iD editor derives its imagery sources from that index.[2]
  • The JOSM editor maintains its own index (but can also be configured to use the editor-layer-index).

Possible sources



Astro Digital

Download Landsat imagery

Organisation / Heritage / History

Sources that are governmental, historical or otherwise assumed not for profit.

The interface is easy, but you may be confused because there's no actual photos online - it's just a catalogue of the photos, which then have to be bought from the University. They started taking photos in 1947, so I assume some are out of copyright by now. They're also mostly of open countryside, and have a restricted field of view, as far as I can tell, so may not be much use anyway.
The interface has been replaced with a new slippy map viewer (and an OSM background) using code cloned from CycleStreets! Photographs not viewable on the site - see the info page for updates. - Martin (I work at Geography)


Costs money

Outside of UK





  • Brest métropole océane This is covered by the by-nc-sa creative commons license.
  • IGN BDOrtho is available since May 2016 for editing purpose.
  • Raw aerial photos by IGN which can be downloaded here are under the licence "public information that is freely reusable". ATTENTION this is very different from the orthophoto which is visible in Géoportail: that one is not free and under copyright. The difference is the georeferencing: the raw aerial photos must be rotated and displaced to fit with existing data, whereas the orthophoto is ready to use. In slopy terrain, the aerial photos should even be rectified to fit with the terrain model, which would require some knowledge of photogrammetry techniques and specific software.


A list of WMS-sources and links for integration JOSM and potlatch can be found here:[5] and here Germany/Luftbilder


The national portal of cartography, operated by the ministry for environment, offers good aerial imagery to trace from covering the whole country (2006) and newer ones for the regions of Lazio and Umbria (2008). More information in Italian here: Italy/PCN. The links to enter in JOSM are:

  • 2006, all of Italy:,ortofoto_colore_06_33&REQUEST=GetMap&VERSION=1.1.1&FORMAT=image%2Fjpeg&FORMAT=image%2Fpng&
  • 2008, Lazio and Umbria:


Oblique aerial photos are photos that are taken from the air but are not vertical. I assume these ones won't be much use for the image base.
Vertical (or near vertical) are what we need for the image base.

See also


  1. Based on email exchanges with AJ@MapBox