Anne Darling Photography

Aerial Kite Photography Part 1

The fun of aerial kite photography is available to so many people today thanks to light-weight, affordable cameras and kits that enable beginners to get started without a large financial outlay. Using a kite to make photographs from the the sky gives such unique shots - this article will show you how to get started.

aerial kite photograph of Castle Loevestein

Castle Loevestein taken with a kite aerial photography kit by Hans Elbers

Kites are inexpensive to buy and it is also possible to make your own quite easily. The main problem is how to attach your camera securely to the kite in such a way that the camera can be rotated horizontally and possibly vertically (for portrait-format shots). A simple pendulum type arrangement will work ok but a better option is to attach the camera to a rig suspended from the kite line. The camera can then be flown at a slightly lower height than the kite itself, which can help to reduce movement and 'camera shake'.

diagram of a picavet suspension
Principle of a Picavet Suspension by Joergcbs

The Picavet suspension method (named after Pierre Picavet, a French inventor who lived in the early 20th century) is the most common type of rig used by aerial kite photographers. With this system, a single line is threaded through 'eyes' or pulleys on a cross which is attached to the kite line. The thread is free to move as the kite changes angle so that the camera always finds its own level, again thanks to gravity.

The above diagram shows how a Picavet suspension might look but it's not as complicated as the picture suggests. The white, curved line is the string attached to the kite, and as you can see, the cross which supports the camera on the white rod at the bottom of the picture is attached via the purple string and a series of pulleys. The purple string can thereby move freely keeping the camera level - so your horizons will be straight! I found a good video also which I've include just below as it is a nice example of how a Picavet suspension rig works in practice, using a Kodak PlaySport waterproof video camera.

Once you have the camera attached to the kite, you need a way of releasing the shutter when and where you want the photo. This can be a radio-controlled operation via infra red and a remote control or it can be with the use of something called an intervalometer, a neat little gadget that counts intervals of time and can be used to trigger different exposures or even take a picture after a set delay. Intervalometers are inexpensive to buy if your camera does not have one built-in and are great fun for use in any kind of time-lapse photography.

Another great option is an all-in-one kit like the Brooks Leffler's Kite Aerial Photography Kitkite aerial photography kit which is designed to work with any point-and-shoot camera of less than 5.5" wide x 4" high x 3.5" deep and 14 oz. weight provided it has a tripod screw-hole on the bottom and the shutter button is on the top. You set the tilt before launching, and a tiny electronic timer pushes the shutter button with a servo-actuated finger, rotating the rig and taking pictures until the card is full or the batteries empty. Everything is included in the kit, you just need a kite and a camera.

If you are feeling inspired to give kite photography a go, you now need to know a bit about kites and how to fly them. Just follow the link to read about which kite is right for aerial kite photography, how to fly it, and (for the adventurous) how to make your own in Aerial Kite Photography Part 2.

Or follow this link to read about the History of Aerial Photography.

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More Info

Aerial: The Art of Photography from the Sky
by Jason Hawkes, has tons of advice on all aspects of aerial kite photography: how to chart small aircraft; basic flying rules; what equipment to use - film, filters, format, lenses and gyro stabilizing units to overcome vibration. He also discusses problems specific to this form of photography, including aircraft height restrictions, battery problems in extreme cold and safety issues.

Hawkes is an experienced aerial photographer with many books of aerial photography to his name. Many of these are on different areas of Britain, but he has also illustrated aerial books on Washington DC, South Carolina and Provence and has an extensive library of international images. He lives and works in London, UK.