The son of photographer Thomas M. V. Doughty, John G. Doughty was born in Winchester, Connecticut in 1858. He also took up photography as a vocation, and in 1885 began what became a series of landmark aerial trips with balloon (air-ship) builder Alfred E. Moore, and H. Allen Hazen of the United States Signal Service Station at Washington. Of the first ascension on July 29, 1885, Mr. Doughty recalled, "No one who ever thinks of making an ascension can possibly dread the experience more than I did, and... the revulsion of feeling which took place when the ascension was made, and I at last found myself where I had feared to be -- higher than the clouds!" During the first trip, Mr. Doughty took several pictures of landscapes and clouds; a task made extremely challenging because of the balloon's revolving motion.
Less than satisfied with the overall quality of his photographs, Mr. Doughty and his team quickly arranged a second ascension on September 2, but because of the weakness of light at that time of year, despite preferable weather conditions, the date was changed to October 16, a day which Mr. Doughty remarked, "was all we could wish, with the exception of the considerable haze in the atmosphere." With gentle southwesterly winds and a proper balance of light and shade, he was able to take some breathtaking photographs even at an altitude in excess of 3,000 feet.
In terms of equipment, Mr. Doughty maintained he achieved the best effects using ultrasenstive 5x8 inch plates and a camera that was both lightweight and sturdy. He also attached a "finder" to the camera, which provided a view of what the exposed image would include. His rectilinear lens and instant-release shutter were also important components. Mr. Doughty would manipulate the focus to set the shutter, insert the plate-holder, and draw the slide before placing the camera in his left hand while holding the shutter’s pneumatic release bulb in his right. When the balloon ascended to the favorable location, the rubber bulb was simply pressed, and the image was captured. Mr. Doughty would then place the slide into the plate holder, remove and box the holder, and repeat the process again when another desirable locale was discovered. He died in 1911, and while his name recognition sadly died with him, it was the pioneering efforts of John G. Doughty that established the precedent for modern aerial photography.
1886 The Century Magazine, pp. 679-693
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