Kite Aerial Photography
A Beginner's Guide to Kite Aerial Photography
Do-it-yourself low-level aerial photography!
Kite Aerial Photography (also referred to as KAP), provides a unique way to photograph the world from above at heights only limited to the length of your kite line. With the proper equipment and a nice breeze your camera will gently lift into the air for a smooth ride resulting in an array of fun, interesting and detailed photographs. KAP provides a low-cost alternative to conventional airplane and helicopter photography, also allowing for more low-level detail.
There are three basic components to Kite Aerial Photography:
- The Kite
- The Camera
- A Rig that attaches the camera to the kite line, and activates the shutter
We'll take a look at all three components with links for more information and supplies.
A Brief History of Kite Aerial Photography
The first Kite Aerial Photograph dates back to France in 1888. Kites were then utilized for many different purposes including military reconnaissance, disaster assessment, scientific surveys, and more.
In 1906 photographer George Lawrence succeeded in suspending his 49 pound hand-built panoramic camera high into the air above San Francisco by using a connected chain of Conyne Kites flown from a ship in the San Francisco Bay. The result was an incredible photograph titled "San Francisco in Ruins" which provides the viewer with a unique perspective of the widespread destruction caused by the great San Francisco earthquake which occurred just weeks before.
By the 1930s the development of powered flight gradually brought an end to the golden age of Kite Aerial Photography. However, during the past few decades KAP has experienced a renaissance, especially with the development of high-quality, low-cost, and light-weight digital cameras.
Click on the link below the photo to see a larger version with zoom-in capability:
1906 Kite Aerial Photograph - San Francisco
Best Kites for KAP
There are several different kite styles that work well for Kite Aerial Photography, providing a smooth lift and ride for your camera. Please note that different kites are better suited for different wind conditions as well.
The Flow Form Kite is preferred due to it's ease of deployment. Simply unfold the kite and the wind will lift it into the air. The Flow Form 16 is great for winds of 15 to 30 mph, whereas the larger Flowform 30 is a good choice for winds of 8 to 20 mph. Some people prefer to add a fuzzy tail for additional stability. You can usually find the Flow Form at either Amazon or Brooxes.com.
The Rokkaku Kite is a six-sided kite based on a traditional Japanese design and a favorite for light wind situations. The 6' x 5' size if great for winds of 5 to 15 mph. The Giant Rokkako, 7.5' x 6' will develop a great pull in very light winds and should not be used in winds of 10 mph or greater. A streamer tail can be added for increased stability.
The Dopero Kite is another large kite, normally custom-made, but great for very low wind conditions of 4 to 12 mph. However, this kite requires more assembly time than the others.
Line and Accessories:
When purchasing a kite, you will also purchase the kite string, or line, and a spool (sometimes referred to as a hoop, or winder). The line is available in different strengths - be sure to purchase the correct line poundage indicated for your chosen kite. You can also choose the length of your line, normally 500' for 1000' along with the corresponding hoop size to hold your line. We use a 500' line and have found that to be more than enough.
An optional accessory is a snap swivel (the same poundage as your line). Secure the swivel to the end of the line on your spool by using a Double Lark's Head Knot (see downloadable diagram). This will create a fast and easy way to attach the line to your kite, which usually has a ring attached for this purpose. Gloves are another optional but recommended accessory, along with an anemometer to check wind speed.
And with any kite flying activity there are a few safety precautions to follow: Safe Kite Flying
Kites and Accessories
Santa Barbara Breakwater KAP photo
A nice lightweight camera for KAP: - The GoPro Hero3 Camera for your kite photography
This little camera has become one of our favorites for KAP. It's very lightweight, so will easily lift into the air in lower wind conditions. The lens has a slight fisheye curve to it, allowing for a wider angle. You can program the camera for either photographs or video. The camera can be programmed to take photos at certain intervals, so no additional trigger mechanism or fancy rig is required - a simple and basic rig is all that's needed to attach the camera to the kite line. Use a Flow Form or Rokkaku kite (or your favorite KAP kite) and you're in business!
Silver Edition $299
Photo Specs: 11MP
Wi-fi built in.
White Edition $199
Photo Specs: 5MP
Wi-fi built in.
Don't forget your memory card! This is a great price for 64GB.
Other cameras for Kite Aerial Photography
Quite a variety of cameras can be used for Kite Aerial Photography. Lightweight point-and-shoot cameras are popular for KAP. Models and prices will vary but their compact size will work well for light wind days. SLR Cameras also work very well for KAP. A larger rig is required to accommodate the larger SLR cameras, and is usually controlled from the ground via a remote control transmitter (most often used for model RC airplanes). Eventually, you may also want to use a camera that can accept a variety of lenses such as a super wide angle lens, or a fisheye lens for special effects. A camera with a remote control sensor is a good choice as you will have multiple options available that will trigger the shutter. However, it is not impossible to build a rig with a mechanical trigger that actually presses the shutter button via a remote control.
Rigs, sometimes called cradles, can vary in size and complexity and can be built to accommodate a range of cameras. The simplest design is a basic box style that holds the camera in a set position, with the camera set to take photographs at pre-determined intervals. The photographer positions the camera's angle manually prior to flight. The camera can be triggered by it's own internal program, or the shutter is triggered by either a battery-powered infrared LED or an intervalometer positioned in front of the camera's remote control sensor. More sophisticated rigs can pan and tilt your camera, take photos on comand by radio-control, and also transmit a live view to the photographer on the ground via a video downlink. The style of rig you choose is determined by the camera you're going to use, and by the amount of time, effort, and money you want to invest. Rigs, kits, and supplies are available online through Kite Aerial Photography specialty stores.
Brooks Leffler KAP Kit
Unsuspecting donkey photographed from above!
Where to start...
Purchase a kit to build your own KAP rig!
A great place to start your KAP research is with Brooks Leffler: Brooxes.com.
Brooks has a variety of kits ready for purchase to create your own KAP rig! Brooxes KAP Kits
Another great site is KapShop.com for info, supplies, and kits.
Manfred at Kap-Man.de has assembled a very nice KAP site,
and provides a lot of great information to build your own KAP rig.
Complete KAP packages and fully assembled rigs with RC available at: CobraKite.com
More fun sites to visit:
Scott Haefner's Kite Aerial Photography is a must see - his photos are awesome! Scott also shares information about equipment and technique: ScottHaefner.com/kap
Another great KAP site: www.KAP.toadstone.com
Rob Huntley's site: RobHuntley.ca/Kite-Aerial-Photography
Visit MKary's site here: www.mkary.de
Visit Birdseye here: www.birdseye.be
View DuneHaven's KAP Photos.
Ben Peoples Project: Pittsburgh's Industrial History
Do you have a site that we should post here? Submit a comment below with your info!
Kite Aerial Photography Intro Video
You don't need a fancy expensive rig for KAP! - This rig, camera, and kite captured this nice Mission shot...Click thumbnail to view full-size
KAP Photograph of the Old Mission in Santa Barbara
Giclee Prints Available
Purchase a quality giclee print of the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California.
Photographed using Kite Aerial Photography.
Visit PosterPatch.com for more info: Old Mission Santa Barbara Giclee Print
Have you heard about KAP before?
Are you familiar with Kite Aerial Photography?
What do you think about KAP?
What do you think about Kite Aerial Photography?
Clubs, Organizations, Forums and Directories
The American Kitefliers Association (AKA) - The AKA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public in the art, history, technology, and practice of building and flying kites. www.aka.kite.org
The Drachen Foundation is a non-profit corporation devoted to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about kites worldwide. www.drachen.org.
Drachenforum - die freundliche Community: www.drachenforum.net
DMOZ.org Directory of Kite Aerial Photography sites Kite Aerial Photography at DMOZ.org