Kite Aerial Photography: Seeing the World from New Heights

14 June 2016

Sometimes, pointing and clicking just isn’t enough.  Even the most amateur of snappers has experimented with camera angles and height – though most of the time the camera is only as high from the ground as the photographer's eye.  Not so the Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) enthusiast: they enable their cameras to reach for the sky with often spectacular results.

Although it is not quite as simple as attaching your camera to a kite and hoisting it skywards, Kite Aerial Photography (we will call it KAP from here) has quite a history.  The first KAP pictures were taken in France in 1888 and the idea took off.  They may only have dreamed of this amazing picture of Mont St Michel (appropriately again in France), above, but their pioneering work paved the way for the amazing set of images you can see here. George Lawrence, one of the early pioneers, was able to take a picture of San Francisco after the earthquake which destroyed a large part of it in 1906. 

Unsurprisingly the major problem was always stopping the camera wobbling – after all you don’t want to produce photographs that will make you feel airsick looking at them; that would defeat the object of the exercise.  The camera is often attached to the kite but it needs securing.

This is done with a rig which can be attuned and which is suspended from the line some short way from the kite. The marvelous photograph of the Kinderdijke Windmill in Holland would not have been possible with a rig that looked something like the diagram to the left.

The aim is to keep the line out of the camera's sights but the amazing picture above, taken in the Coronation Fjord in Bafin, Canada, shows you the relative proximity of the line to the rig. The rig reduces the extent of movement is conducted from the kite to the camera (often simply by a gust of wind) and not only that, allows for the kite to go navigated higher where the air is more stable.

These days, of course, high shutter speed means that a lot of motion blur can be reduced by setting the camera appropriately - even more important when things on the ground are moving too, like the shot from Germantown in Maryland, above.  A further suspension method is employed so the camera can automatically be brought in line with the horizon.

Easter Island: Image Credit Flickr User Pierre Lesage
The results can be exquisite: here, the Moai of Easter Island have never looked so enigmatic.

Stone Fishing, Maupiti: Credit Pierre Lesage
We have already established that KAP is not quite as simple as it looks but the photographer can also use different methods of suspension, one of which is pendulum suspension.  As you might imagine this involves an inflexible length of material which holds the camera under the line of the kite and lets gravity do the hard work keeping the rig level irrespective of the angle of the line. All of this adds a whole new dimension to the old song Let’s Go Fly a Kite – and there’s more.

SS Iowa and Mothball fleet, Suisun Bay, California: Credit Telstar Logistic
Once the camera is up in the air there is, of course, the problem of how the shutter is going to be released and the photograph taken (at which point the less ambitious may want to consider a hot air balloon or light aircraft instead). This can be done in a number of ways – through radio control (just like the ones for model airplanes), infrared signals or even a wired connection.  The camera’s intervalometer could also be used, which is an inbuilt device which can be set to take a picture at pre-defined regular intervals.

Blue Lagoon, Rangiroa: Credit Pierre Lesage
If this all sounds terribly complicated and rather too much like hard work then there are kits available: let's face it, if you want to take shots like the Blue Lagoon at Rangiroa, above, then you will need one. As the overall price of digital cameras has fallen more people have been willing to take the risk that the camera might too and as such the pastime has seen an increase in popularity.  When you can get the sort of results that you can see here, there is a good argument that the time, money and risk of kit destruction is overwhelmingly worth it!

Dakar Senegal Credit Flickr User Jeff Attaway
Iguazu Falls, Paraguay/Brazil border: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lesage
Tahiti: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lesage
Digue de Diélette, France: Credit Flickr User Fanny et Anthony
Monument to African Renaissance, Senegal: Credit Flickr User Jeff Attaway
Patterns made in the sand with a rake, Guernsey: Credit Flickr User Lenny&Meriel
Cemetary, Newton Connecticut: Credit Flickr User Tocs
Seal colony, Cape Cross, Namibia: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lesage
Lac Rose Salt Lake, Senegal: Credit Flickr User Jeff Attaway
Moscow, Idaho: Credit Flickr User Nebarnix
Shintu Shrine, Cape Izu, Japan: Credit Flickr User 451Owaza
Easter Aquorthies, Scotland: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lasage
Weston Super Mare, England: Credit Flickr User Mat Tay
Butser Farm, Hampshire: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lasage
Strawberry picking, Watsonville, California: Credit Flickr User Glenn N
Bicycle bridge, Kyoto, Japan: Credit Flickr User 451Owaza
Baloon festival, Lincoln City, Oregon: Credit Flickr User Katrinket
A surfer braves the Atlantic Ocean, Senegal: Credit Flickr User Jeff Attaway
Paris: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lasage
Bora Bora: Credit Flickr User Pierre Lasage
First Picture Hastings New Zealand Image Credit Pierre Lesage


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