Part One
  Map Reading

  Reading Topographical Maps Introduction 1. HOME

  Topographical Maps - Definition, Purpose and Categories 2. Maps

  Information in the margins of an army map 3. Marginal Information    and Symbols

  Latitude, Longitude and Other Methods to Locate Points on Topographic Maps 4. Grids

  Translating Distance on a Topographic Map to Distance on the Ground 5. Scale and Distance

  Grid North, Azimuth, Declination And Other Concepts Used To Find Direction With Topographic Maps 6. Direction

  Overlays - Used Primarily In Army Map Reading 7. Overlays

  Aerial Photographs - Supplements And Substitutes For Topographic Maps 8. Aerial Photographs

 Part Two
  Land Navigation

  Using Compass, GPS, Sun, Shadows, and Stars in Land Navigation 9. Navigation Equipment    and Methods

  Reading The Shape Of The Land In Topographic Maps 10. Elevation and Relief

  Orienting and Navigating With Topographic Maps 11. Terrain Association

  Mounted Land Navigating With Motorized Vehicles 12. Mounted Land    Navigation

  Land Navigation In Different Types of Terrain 13. Navigation in    Different Types of    Terrain

  Sketching Topographic Maps A. Field Sketching

  Folding Topographic Maps B. Map Folding     Techniques

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps C. Units of Measure and      Conversion Factors

  Units of Measure and Conversion Factors Used in Reading Topographic Maps D. Joint Operations      Graphics

  US Army Training Material for Map Reading and Land Navigation E. Exportable Training      Material

  Orienteering F. Orienteering

  US Army M2 Compass G. M2 Compass

  Additional Aids such as Night Vision Goggles and Global Positioning System or GPS H. Additional Aids      (GPS, Night Vision)

  Global Positioning System -  GPS J. Global Positioning      System - GPs


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Each aerial photograph contains in its margin important information for the photo user. The arrangement, type, and amount of this information is standardized; however, the rapid development of cameras, film, and aeronautical technology since World War II has caused numerous changes in the numbering and titling of aerial photographs. As a result, the photo user may find that the marginal information on older photographs varies somewhat from the standard current practice. With certain camera systems, some of the data are automatically recorded on each exposure, while other systems require that all titling data be added to the film after processing.

a.   Standard titling data for aerial photography prepared for the use of the Department of Defense are as follows. For reconnaissance and charting photography, items 2 through 14 and item 19 are lettered on the beginning and end of each roll of film. Items 1 through 9 and item 19 are lettered on each exposure. For surveying and mapping photography, items 2 through 19 are lettered on the beginning and end of each roll of film, and items 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, and 19 are lettered on each exposure.

(1)   Negative number.

(2)   Camera position.

(3)   Taking unit.

(4)   Service.

(5)   Sortie/mission number.

(6)   Date (followed by a double hyphen [=]).

(7)   Time group and zone letter (GMT).

(8)   Focal length.

(9)   Altitude.

(10)   Kind of photography or imagery.

(11)   Geographic coordinates.

(12)   Descriptive title.

(13)   Project number and or name.

(14)   Camera type and serial number.

(15)   Cone serial number (if any).

(16)   Lens type and serial number.

(17)   Magazine type and serial number.

(18)   Type of photographic filter used.

(19)   Security classification.

b.   Automatically recorded data may differ somewhat in arrangement from the sequence listed above, but the same information is available to the photo user. A detailed explanation of the titling items and the codes used to indicate them is found in TM 5-243.


Before a photograph can be used as a map supplement or substitute, it is necessary to know its scale. On a map, the scale is printed as a representative fraction that expresses the ratio of map distance to ground distance, For example:


On a photograph, the scale is also expressed as a ratio, but is the ratio of the photo distance (PD) to ground distance. For example:


The approximate scale or average scale (RF) of a vertical aerial photograph is determined by either of two methods; the comparison method or the focal length-flight altitude method.

a.   Comparison Method. The scale of a vertical aerial photograph is determined by comparing the measured distance between two points on the photograph with the measured ground distance between the same two points.

SCALE (RF = Photo Distance
Ground Distance

The ground distance is determined by actual measurement on the ground or by the use of the scale on a map of the same area. The points selected on the photograph must be identifiable on the ground or map of the same area and should be spaced in such a manner that a line connecting them will pass through or nearly through the center of the photograph (Figure 8-8).

Figure 8-8. Selection of points for scale determination.

Figure 8-8. Selection of points for scale determination.

b.   Focal Length-Flight Altitude Method. When the marginal information of a photograph includes the focal length and the flight altitude, the scale of the photo is determined using the following formula (Figure 8-9).

Figure 8-9. Computation of scale from terrain level.

Figure 8-9. Computation of scale from terrain level.

When the ground elevation is at sea level, H becomes zero, and the formula is as shown in Figure 8-10.

Figure 8-10. Basic computation of scale from sea level.

Figure 8-10. Basic computation of scale from sea level.


When aerial photos are taken of an area, it is convenient to have a record of the extent of coverage of each photo. A map on which the area covered by each photo is outlined and numbered or indexed to correspond to the photo is called an index map. There are two methods of preparing index maps.

a.   The four-corner method (Figures 8-11 and 8-12) requires location on the map of the exact point corresponding to each corner of the photo. If a recognizable object such as a house or road junction can be found exactly at one of the corners, this point may be used on the map as the corner of the photo. If recognizable objects cannot be found at the corners, then the edges of the photo should be outlined on the map by lining up two or more identifiable objects along each edge; the points where the edges intersect should be the exact corners of the photo. If the photo is not a perfect vertical, the area outlined on the map will not be a perfect square or rectangle. After the four sides are drawn on the map, the number of the photograph is written in the enclosed area for identification. This number should be placed in the same corner as it is on the photo.

Figure 8-11. Four-corner method (selection of points).

Figure 8-11. Four-corner method (selection of points).


Figure 8-12. Plotting, using the four-corner method.

Figure 8-12. Plotting, using the four-corner method.

b.   The template method is used when a large number of photos are to be indexed, and the exact area covered by each is not as important as approximate area and location. In this case, a template (cardboard pattern or guide) is cut to fit the average area the photos cover on the index map. It is used to outline the individual area covered by each photo. To construct a template, find the average map dimensions covered by the photos to be indexed as follows. Multiply the average length of the photos by the denominator of the average scale of the photos; multiply this by the scale of the map. Do the same for the width of the photos. This gives the average length and width of the area each photo covers on the map--or the size to which the template should be cut (Figure 8-13).

Figure 8-13. Constructing a template.

Figure 8-13. Constructing a template.

c.   To index the map, select the general area covered by the first photo and orient the photo to the map. Place the template over the area on the map and adjust it until it covers the area as completely and accurately as possible. Draw lines around the edges of the template. Remove the rectangle and proceed to the next photo (Figure 8-14).

Figure 8-14. Indexing with a template.

Figure 8-14. Indexing with a template.

d.   After all photos have been plotted, write on the map sufficient information to identify the mission or sortie. If more than one sortie is plotted on one map or overlay, use a different color for each sortie.

e.   In most cases, when a unit orders aerial photography, an index is included to give the basic information. Instead of being annotated on a map of the area, it appears on an overlay and is keyed to a map.

Return to Aerial Photographs



Map Reading and Land Navigation Buy the book this website is based on: Map Reading and Land Navigation

This website is based on the US Army Field Manual: "Map Reading and Land Navigation" Buy a copy from to take with you out in the field.


Book Review - Be Expert with Map and Compass

One of the best ways to learn and become proficient in any subject is to find a way to make a game or sport of it. That's exactly what orienteering does! Orienteering began to develop almost 100 years ago in the Scandinavian countries as a fun and effective method for military training in land navigation. Bjorn Kjellstrom was closely involved with the early development of orienteering, and he is the person who introduced the sport to North America. He, along with his brother Alvar, and a friend named Gunnar Tillander, invented the modern orienteering compass. They manufactured and marketed it as the Silva Protractor compass. This compass, along with Bjorn's book Be Expert with Map and Compass, made it much easier for anyone to learn how to use a map and compass.

This book has become the most widely read classic on the subject of map reading, compass use, and orienteering. Over 500,000 copies have been sold in the english language editions alone. There have been very successful editions published in French, Italian, and other languages as well. It is a short (just over 200 pages), easy to read, enjoyable book that can help you to have fun while you learn the subject quickly and effectively.

The book is organized into four main parts, plus a short, useful introduction. Part 1 covers having fun with maps alone. Then, Part 2 covers having fun with a compass alone. Part 3 puts it together and shows you how to have fun with a map and compass together. This section also introduces the game or sport of orienteering. Part 4 covers competitive orienteering for those who would like to compete with others in the sport.

A reproduction of a segment of an actual topographic map is included as a fold-out in the back of the book. It is used together with the "how-to" instructions the book provides. For example, one of the exercises in Part 3 is an imaginary orienteering "hike" that uses the sample map.

If you would like to have one of the best books available on map reading and using a compass, Be Expert with Map and Compass is hard to beat. You can buy a copy from today.

Read a book review of Agincourt

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