Light flight

As regulars will know, I have lately posted articles featuring the stunning work of Aldridge amateur photographer Barry Carpenter, whose work frequently leaves me speechless. Barry is a very talented, creative chap, and one of the tools in his photographic armoury is Kite Aerial Photography, or KAP for short. I recently asked Barry to write a bit about how he does this, what equipment he uses and what kind of challenges the hobby brings. Kindly, he obliged, and I now hand the reigns of this post over to Barry to explain in his own words.

Blithfield Water 2011-05-01_00001

Blithfield Reservoir causeway. Raced over that a few times. From Barry Carpenter’s Flickr stream.

Kite Aerial Photography or KAP for short, has been around for over 100 years. The first known British KAP image is of Middleton Hall, just south of Tamworth taken back in the 1890’s. These chaps used fuses and explosives to trigger their cameras, today things have moved on a bit. There are many different ways of KAP’ing, because each KAP’per is something of a tinkerer and home builder. But there are three main components, a kite, a camera rig and a camera.

Preparing the rig carefully at Blithfield Reservoir.

Lets start with my kites; each has a specific wind range that it will fly comfortably in. These are large single line kites, anywhere up to 2.40m wide. The important thing is that they do not move around the sky uncontrollably as you want the camera to be steady while snapping away. These kites come from all around the world, the Triton a light wind kite originates from America while my strong wind kite is used in New Zealand for long line beach fishing. Of course, you also need line and a method of controlling and tethering off while you are busy with rig and camera and finally bringing down the kite. A selection of carabiners, straps and a climber’s figure of eight come in very useful. These kites pull like a truck, so leather gloves are a must.

The camera rig is next, these can be as simple or complicated as you like. The basic function is to hold the camera and point it in the direction of your subject. The simplest is to Gaffer tape the camera to the kite or line, while the most complex have radio controlled up-links to control servos and video down-links to a monitor on the ground. Then anywhere in-between is personal choice and a lot of innovation. My own rig is a modified kit purchased from KAPshop in Holland. This has a light weight frame, a couple of servos to control pan and tilt, a small programmable “peanut” sized controller, power supply and a method of suspending the rig from the kite line, which in this case consists of a cats cradle affair called a picovet. The purpose of which is to allow the camera rig to self level when in the air. Once I have set the program running, it pans by about 30 degrees, and then tilts the camera down from just under horizontal by about 15 degrees, repeating four times until looking vertically down, before flipping back up and panning a further 30 degrees and so on, with a movement every 10 seconds.

The rig in action. I expected the camera to be on the kite, so this was a surprise to me…

Lastly the cameras, most types are used but the most important elements are light weight, with built in interval meter or hack able or able to be triggered by mechanical means. The two cameras I use are a Pentax Optio W80, with built in interval meter firing every 10 seconds and a Canon Ixus 107 IS, which I trigger using the SDM software hack  that runs off an SD Card. This is possibly the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to automation of Canon point and shoot cameras. Once set and running, the camera continues to shoot by itself until the battery runs flat or the card is full. Typically the camera is set to fire every 10 seconds at 100 ISO, the fastest shutter speed possible, focus set to infinity and exposure compensation reduced to -2/3. A servo with a finger controlled by the “peanut” or remote control can also be used to trigger the shutter.

Barry cuts an impressive figure.

Bringing everything together is the next step. An ideal wind of around 10 mph and good sunlight help, but sometimes you just have to go with whatever wind you do have, that’s why a range of kites is a must. Now to get flying, these kites just want to go right from your hand so it’s easy to get them airborne. Let out line until the kite settles down above the ground turbulence, 50 to 60 feet usually hits the mark. Once you are into clean air, attach the picovet line clips to the kite line. This is where you need the carabiners and climbers 8, to hold the line still while you set up the camera on the rig. Once you have the rig and camera running, just start letting out line. If everything is right, the rig will lift.

When you are at the right height you can simply walk the kite around the area or subject allowing time for the camera to be in the right direction. But, you do need to keep on eye on by-standers, the ground, power lines, storms etc. The easiest way to bring everything down is to tie off to a solid object and walk down the kite by walking towards the kite and pulling the line hand over hand.

The exciting part is to see what’s on the memory card, typically four to five hundred photos. There is nearly always an interesting shot or two and often a surprise bonus shot as well. These are a selection of my shots on Flickr  Also, there is a dedicated group on Flickr solely for KAP photos from across for world. At the time of writing this there is the annual world event, called World Wide Kite Aerial Photography Week 2011, or WWKW 2011 for short, where everyone tries to go out and capture the best KAP images. All good fun.

Lichfield1 2011-05-01_00003

The old lady from a new and rather wonderful angle, again from Barry’s wonderful Flickr stream.

I’d like to thank Barry for this fantastic contribution to the Brownhills Blog. It’s great to hear about people in their own words,, and if you’d like to post here, please do get in touch. BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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8 Responses to Light flight

  1. clive says:

    Hi Bob, I would like to thank Barry, I wondered how it was done. Well done Barry.
    Keep it up Bob, great blog.

  2. Barry the Kite Man says:

    Hi Clive and Bob, I just hope that when you see a grown man playing with a kite, you don’t think he is a nutter. Please feel free to come over and talk to me.


  3. hapdaniel says:

    I’m amazed! I assumed you were airborne. You mentioned a monitor. Would you give more information on that, please. What do you see? Does it give visual feedback of what the camera is seeing?
    There is no such word as “subulture”.

  4. Barry the Kite Man says:

    Depending on set up, some cameras use a live feed to a short range transmitter. This is picked up by a small lcd monitor on the ground. You can see what the camera sees. Simples.


  5. The Edditer says:

    Top shots, Barry! Quite remarkable quality as well.

    Thanks to Bob for making these more visible locally.

  6. les says:

    hi Edd just like to say that the pictures that barry has taken with his kite are just awesome hes a very nice guy and i just hope somebody would take him up on photographing there homes from a birds eye view keep up the grate work

  7. Pingback: Further abroard « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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