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The National Collection of Aerial Photography

The National Collection of Aerial Photography is one of the largest and most significant in the world. Often created for more immediate commercial or military purposes, these images have become an invaluable historical tool for everyone from archaeologists, geographers and conservationists to local and landscape historians. This unparalleled resource is made up of a number of distinct parts and is divided into two geographical areas – Scotland and worldwide.

Imagery of Scotland

RCAHMS has amassed 1.6 million images of Scotland from a number of different sources:

• The Aerofilms Collection contains some of the earliest aerial photographs ever taken of Scotland, and dates from the 1920s up to the 1990s
• The Royal Air Force Collection dates from the 1940s through to the 1990s, with more imagery continually added as it becomes declassified
• The Ordnance Survey Collection – produced to assist map making – features imagery dating from 1955 through to 2001
• Since 1976 RCAHMS has run an annual programme of aerial reconnaissance and photography to record the archaeology and buildings of Scotland
• Aerial imagery commissioned by the Scottish Office for land use planning and monitoring purposes

In addition to these, numerous smaller collections have also been added to the National Collection.

Worldwide Imagery – The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA)

Dating from 1938 onwards, The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA) are made up of tens of millions of military intelligence photographs from around the world, now declassified and released by the UK Ministry of Defence.  The archives range from Second World War Allied and Luftwaffe reconnaissance photographs to post-war aerial imagery up to the1990s.  TARA offers an unparalleled record of history as it happened, from the D-Day landings and the assault by British airborne troops on Pegasus Bridge to the reconnaissance sortie that led to the sinking of the Bismarck battleship and photographs of Auschwitz concentration camp.


A rapidly expanding selection of imagery from the National Collection of Aerial Photography is available to browse and buy online through a dedicated website and Canmore.  Full access to the Collection is available in the RCAHMS public search room in Edinburgh, by appointment.