Melissa HanhamPhoto Interpretation Student Handbook

Sadly, there is no textbook for imagery analysis. I would love to contribute to one someday, but until that becomes an option, here’s the March 1996 Unclassified Photo Interpretation Student Handbook. I picked it up from from a rather unusual meeting on a DC trip and several students lovingly/begrudgingly scanned it for our benefit. It’s an excellent resource for identifying everything from transportation to military installations. You’re welcome!

Searching for silos? 

Sizing up subs? 


Seeking sulfur? 

Still not enough Photo Interpretation? Then check out the 1944 vintage stored at the University of Nebraska. It’ll help you verify vessels!



  1. J_kies (History)


    Manual of Remote Sensing. Second edition. Robert N. Colwell, editor. Falls Church, Virginia: American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 1983. (I have a set I read when new and its still appropriate; recent updates for digital images and wider multispectral images exist.)

    This was the basic educational resource for folks at NPIC.

    • melissa (History)

      Great! I’ll see if we can get scan and upload a copy this summer.

  2. J_kies (History)

    No revisit on ‘SLBM test’ measuration post? Makes me sad panda as the value of error analysis of such source is huge.

    • melissa (History)

      I don’t have a very satisfactory answer — It’s something I want to do, but am on travel and have lots of grant and paid work deadlines through the end of June (Blogging for ACW is just for a love of the job). A student RA is putting together an analysis of Web Plot Digitizer, and will post about it in the next few weeks. I’m hoping her analysis of the tool will help me do error analysis later.

  3. Allen Thomson (History)

    On a long-gone day at the Viktor Kamkin bookstore in Rockville, I picked up a 290-page Russian translation of a 1985 DDR textbook on military photointerpretation. It’s by Winfried Welzer and in the original it was “Luftbilder im Militärwesen”, in the Russian translation I have it’s “Aerosnimki v voyennom dele.” It looks as if might have a couple of copies of the German original.

    In any event, if your students are eager to scan a Russian PI book or could be coerced into it, I can mail you my copy.

    • melissa (History)

      Yeah! Shoot me an email, and we’ll work out the details:

  4. dj mallmann (History)

    Seems the copy I downloaded is missing pages 455 to 774. Are those available and not scanned? Thanks.

    • melissa (History)

      This is what I have:

      Module 1: Photo Interpretation Principles 1-> 78
      Module 2: Cultural features Volume 1 1-> 158
      Module 2: Cultural Features Volume 2 159-[missing 455-774]817-[unknown end page]
      Module 3: Hydrography 1-> 183
      Module 4: Vegetation 1-> 84
      Module 5: Physiography 1-> 196
      Module 6: Airfields 1-> 129

    • Chris (History)

      Do you have those modules scanned? I’ll swap you the Army’s 10 correspondence courses, if you don’t already have those…

  5. Uban Singh (History)

    hmm… interesting, these texts seem to rely on a human being matching of the spatial frequencies in the imagery with images of known targets.

    I wonder if it will be worthwhile to write a java or python script that simply takes two images and compares their wavelet decompositions. If there is sufficient commonality between the wavelet decompositions of the two images, then it would suggest we are “looking at” the same thing.

    Wavelets might be better than simple fourier transform as the wavelets would be scalable – i.e. account for the shifts in magnification or viewing angle.

  6. J_kies (History)

    Uban; the fact the texts talk to humans matching are all about the history and practice. The medium was film, the photo-interpreters spent time learning what was natural and what indicated camouflage. Change detection flopped the old and new images in succession to point out changes to the finely tuned pattern recognition system e.g the human eye-brain combo.

    Modern digital imaging is finely tuned for automated tools to highlight changes in the manner you indicate. For the foreseeable future, trained humans will remain an invaluable interpretation resource.