Kite aerial photography is a fascinating activity combining two great things – kites and cameras! Getting interested in the idea is the easy part. Actually getting a setup airborne can take a lot more work or a lot more money (or a combination of the two), depending on your access to both.
As one might suspect, the kite is an essential part of the system. Don’t just expect to work with any kite you come across, though; characteristics that might make for a “boring” kite to fly on a windy day can actually make for a superior photography kite. Stability is key, with payload capability and amount of wind needed also being critical factors. Airfoil kites are ideal due to the sheer amount of lift they generate (their cross section is similar to a “true” airfoil) but, like an airfoil parachute, rely on a minimum wind speed to maintain their shape. Keep an eye on them- the last thing you want is for your investment to come crashing to the ground! Rigid kites (those with a frame, usually of wood or plastic) can work as well. Rokkaku kites based on traditional Japanese fighting kites are a popular choice due to their lifting ability, stability, simplicity, and ability to fly in light winds.
Camera selection is every bit as critical as the kite itself- watch out for shutter lag. Too long a latency between depressing the shutter button and the taking of the photo, and your pictures may end up blurry. Lightness is a virtue, as that increases the probability of getting your kite aloft, and a little ruggedness helps to ensure that your camera survives the occasional rough landing. If you’ve got an older model digital camera sitting around or know where to purchase a used model, this might be the perfect opportunity to learn without a substantial increase in your investment.
Next comes the camera mount- if you’re handy, you can find a design and make your own. If not, there are a number of places you can purchase one, with prices increasing from ~ $100 to in excess of $1000 (Brooxes and KAPshop are two popular and reliable sources). These range from a simple un-powered mount where you set the angle prior to launch and the camera takes pictures on a timer to motorized mounts using R/C servos that allow you pan, tilt, zoom, and control the shutter (and even record live video!). One of the most basic and reliable camera mounts is the Picavet cross, a mounting suspension (literally!) that was created early in the 20th century by a Frenchman; simple and straightforward, it is the basis for many KAP rigs. If you’re interested in trying it out, the KAPER website provides details on how to construct your own.
Once you’ve got all your equipment, it’s time to gain some altitude. Having a friend along can be a great help, both in getting the kite aloft and keeping it there. Take it easy at first. Give yourself a chance to get used to your controls, especially if you don’t have a means of seeing what your camera sees. Most importantly, have fun! After all, you don’t have film to worry about…