Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kite Aerial Photography



In the mid 90s I experimented a bit with flying cameras from kites. I'm by no means an expert, or even intermediate. It's just something I did a couple of times - fun, but hard to get really good results. It occurred to me the other day that digital cameras must have made this a lot easier... and I have a perfectly decent point and shoot that has some problems that wouldn't be a problem for this (bad flash, that kind of thing). I Googled around and sure enough there are lots of people doing great work. It's a fun perspective - up high but still low enough you can see small things on the surface.

Basically you need a kite that's large enough to have some extra weight on the line somewhere (my rig's about 12 oz, some are much heavier), and you need to be pretty comfortable flying it. I haven't done a ton of flying largish kites lately so I pretty much get to start back in a field of dead grass (fascinating foreground interest in those shots, I know). But basically you go out there, fly the kite up enough that it's stable, clip a harness with your camera onto the line, and send it on up.

Mine's a braindead harness that just holds the camera mostly level. The camera just takes a picture every couple of seconds. Better harnesses will just turn in place (so you get all angles) or are radio controlled (fancy!).

Sounds simple, but keep in mind this is the kind of kite where you wear gloves so the line doesn't cut your hand open, and you now have let's say a one pound weight a hundred feet up in the air that you could drop on somebody's head. So you do want to go into this with a bit of thought.

So at this point for me there's a lot of flying the camera maybe 20 feet off the ground over something softish and remembering how the kite feels and what to do if the wind changes. I lifted it up maybe 50 feet twice - once pointing back at me and once away. I didn't take any video this time but obviously it's easy enough if your camera supports that.

If you're curious about what this technique is capable of, go to Brooks Leffler's site - he sells gear and kites so you can see what those look like, or for the results just go to his flickr gallery.

I'm not sure how serious I'll get about it this time around but the next steps are basically just to keep getting comfortable in different conditions - fly the camera if I'm confident, fly a dead weight like a bottle of water if I'm not sure, don't fly if conditions are too far off of what I'm used to. I have enough experience from last time to know you have to have the kite flying part pretty well down before spending a whole lot of time/energy/money worrying about the photography part. I'll report back when I get something more interesting to look at, but I thought folks might enjoy learning that this exists at all...

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