Go Fly a Kite

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					                        Go Fly a Kite
                        THE ART OF KITE AERIAL

                        by Scott Haefner

                        Kite aerial photography (KAP), the
                        practice of taking low-altitude aerial
                        photographs using a camera suspended
                        from a kite, has a surprisingly long history.
                        Frenchman Arthur Batut is credited as the
                        first person to attach a camera to a kite—
                        in 1888! Nearly 20 years later,
                        George Lawrence flew his 46-pound,
                        panoramic camera below a train of
                        kites to document damage from the
                                                                         Gasworks Park in Seattle, a retired natural gas plant. Shot at ƒ/2.8, 1400 second, –.7 EV, 28 mm,
                        Great 1906 San Francisco earthquake.             auto white balance (lots of fair weather, cumulus clouds in the sky).
                        Due in large part to the invention of the air-   [Also see cover shot] Kids Enjoying International Fountain, Seattle Washington. Shot at ƒ/2.8, 12000 sec.,
                        plane, KAP fell from favor for much of the
                                                                         –.7 EV, 28mm, manual white balance (sunny).
                        20th century. However, with the advent of
                        the Internet, it has been resurrected and        attach my camera. The Picavet is a cat’s                 rapid succession. In these conditions, I
                        enjoys a growing base of new practitioners.      cradle-like device made up of string                     choose auto white balance. I shoot in ISO
                           I learned about KAP less than three           threaded through tiny pulleys. It is a self-             100 (the lowest setting) almost exclusively,
                        years ago after viewing an impressive            leveling system that stabilizes the camera               as this yields the best quality images. I
                        web-based gallery by Cris Benton of Uni-         by dampening motion and by inhibiting                    shoot in the highest quality JPEG mode.
                        versity of California, Berkeley. Six months      the camera’s ability to twist.                           I’m considering RAW capture instead, but
                        later, I began flying my Nikon Coolpix               I have about 750 feet of 250-pound test              I’m reluctant because the files are signifi-
                        5000 below a Sutton Flowform kite and            line on a halo spool, but I rarely use all of            cantly larger and I frequently shoot more
                        creating my own images. In addition to           it; I tend to fly my camera only 20–100 feet             than 100 images per session.
                        flying two Flowform kites—one 16 square          above the ground. I always shoot with my                    To command the camera, I use a four-
                        feet and another 30 square feet—I also use       lens zoomed out to its widest setting, 28                channel FM radio controller designed for a
                        a Japanese kite called a Rokkaku, and a          mm (35 mm equivalent). Shooting with a                   model airplane. I can pan, tilt and rotate
                        Dopero, a kite designed especially for KAP       wide-angle view at relatively low altitudes              the camera, plus snap the shutter electron-
                        by Ralf Beutnagel, a German KAPer. Each          enables me to capture the most unique                    ically, all with my feet grounded on the
                        kite targets a specific wind range. With my      perspective.                                             Earth. I stripped the paint off the lens bar-
                        present lineup of kites, I can lift my 2.2-                                                               rel of my camera, creating a large silver
                        pound camera rig in winds ranging from           Camera settings                                          area on an otherwise black body and rig so
                        about 4–25 mph.                                  I shoot in aperture-priority mode and stop               that I can see which direction the camera is
                                                                         down the aperture as much as possible                    pointing. Although some KAPers use a
                        Equipment                                        while still maintaining relatively fast shut-            video downlink to assist in composition, I
                        Early on, I had to make a choice between         ter speeds. In stable winds, I can obtain                prefer relying on my “minds eye” to imag-
                        film and digital for my kitecam. At the          sharp pictures with shutter speeds as slow               ine what the camera sees when I compose
                        time, I had not taken the digital plunge         as 1/200 second, but I prefer to stay in the             the image. This has proven quite reliable,
                        because I prefer the color, resolution, and      range of 1/750–1/1000 second or faster. Because          and I am getting better with practice.
                        dynamic range that print film offers. How-       I typically shoot late in the day to capture                That’s all there is to it! If you want to
                        ever, digital cameras have distinct advan-       the richer lighting and longer shadows, I                learn more about KAP, check out my web
                        tages, including the ability to review           often need to open up the aperture to                    site, which includes a large gallery, photos
                        images in the field and the potential to         ƒ/2.8–ƒ/4. I treat digital like slide film,              of my equipment and links to the some of
     JULY/AUGUST 2004

                        shoot hundreds of images without need-           underexposing every shot by 2/3 stop to                  the best online resources.
                        ing to retrieve the camera to replace film.      avoid clipped highlights. It’s relatively

                        The most important factor, however, is           easy to recover shadow details in underex-               Scott Haefner is a photographer and web
                        that I shoot un-composed photos, which           posed images in Adobe Photoshop, but                     designer living in the San Francisco Bay area.
                        makes digital a more compelling choice.          highlight details can be lost forever in                 He primarily shoots outdoor landscapes and
| PHOTO Techniques

                           I house my Coolpix 5000 digital camera        overexposed shots.                                       scenics, using both film and digital cameras. In
                        in a hand-built rig made of carbon fiber,           I set the camera to auto-focus mode and               January 2002, he began taking kite-lofted aerial
                        which hangs from the kite line approxi-          use one of the white balance presets                     photos to gain a new perspective of our world.
                        mately 50–100 feet below the kite. Like          (sunny, cloudy, etc.) except on days when                His portfolio, including 360º aerial Quicktime
                        most KAPers, I use a Picavet suspension to       the sun shifts in and out of the clouds in               VR panoramas, is online at

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