Fundamentals of Kite
Aerial Photography

James S. and Susan W. Aber

Taking effective and useful photographs from kites depends upon several technical components as well as experience by the kite aerial photographer. Equipment can be broken into four categories.

  1. Kite. It should be capable of stable flight in various wind conditions, and it must be able to lift itself, the camera rig, and several 100 m of kite line. A great many kinds of kites have been utilized, both rigid and soft designs. Soft, airfoil kites are gaining popularity, because of their excellent lifting ability and stability in moderate to strong winds.

  2. Suspension, which is the means by which the camera and its cradle are attached to the kite or kite line. Two commonly used types are the pendulum and Picavet suspensions, which are normally attached to the line some 10s of m below the kite. The Picavet (pronounced "pickavay") is a cable and pulley suspension invented in the early 1900s by a Pierre L. Picavet. It provides a self-levelling platform that resists the twisting and swinging movement of the kite and line.

  3. Cradle--the device that holds the camera in position. The cradle may be a simple "box" that holds the camera in a preset position, or it may be a sophisticated platform that aims the camera and takes photos on command by radio control.

  4. Camera, which actually takes the photographs. Light-weight, point-and-shoot, 35 mm cameras are most popular for KAP. These cameras have automatic light control (shutter and aperture) and film advance. They are set for infinite focus, and photos may be triggered by radio-control command or by an intervalometer that is preset for a timed interval. Larger SLR cameras may be used for special purposes. Digital and video cameras are becoming more popular.

For more information, see KAP equipment.

Kite Safety for KAP

Safety is a paramount concern for all types of kite flying. The FAA has a key regulation that applies to kites weighing less than 5 pounds (2¼ kg)--No person may operate a ... kite ... in a manner that creates a hazard to persons, property, or other aircraft. Some basic safety considerations are always necessary when flying kites, and this is especially true for KAP in which large kites and cameras may be lifted several 100 feet above the ground. Consider the following a basic rule of thumb.

Do NOT fly where a kite crash could cause injury to
people or damage to vehicles and ground structures.

Never fly over power lines or cables, near radio towers, or similar hazards. Do not fly over roads or near airports. Take care in strong wind--more than 25 mph (40 km/h), as any kind of large kite can overpower the kiteflyer--have a sturdy anchor ready. Kite flying is extremely dangerous in high wind! Always wear leather gloves to protect hands, and do not let a child fly a large kite without supervision.

Be cautious about flying a KAP rig over a lake (or other water body). A crash into water can lead to disaster, as the camera acts like a sinker to drag kite and all to the lake floor, where hidden snags may ensnare equipment permanently. If the equipment can be recovered quickly, the kite will most likely survive, and the camera may function (partially) after thorough drying, but color film almost certainly will be ruined--as the authors know firsthand.

Trees and Kites

Trees are the nemesis of kites, as the well-known cartoon character Charlie Brown has found out many times. No matter where the tree is located, the kite is attracted toward its branches. The authors have snared kites or kite lines in trees several times. In each case the kites were recoverd without damage to equipment. In most cases, it was the kite line, bridle, or tail which became trapped rather than the kite sail. Here are some suggestions for recovering a kite from a tree.

Large rokkaku caught near the top of tree. This is what can happen when the kite flyer does not pay attention to the kite! Photo date 12/98; © S.W. Aber.
Moving along sturdy branches toward the kite. Modern man retains some arboreal abilities of our primate ancestors. Photo date 12/98; © S.W. Aber.
Breaking a small limb to free the kite's bridle, after disconnecting the kite line. This episode ended in successful recovery of all equipment without any damage. Photo date 12/98; © S.W. Aber.

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Last update Jan. 2008.