Kite Aerial Photography – First attempts

Because I’ve been writing the Google Earth Blog (GEB) for the past 4+ years, I’m determined to make the Tahina Expedition a showcase example of using Google Earth to share our experiences. I’ve written about thousands of uses of Google Earth and shared them with about 6 million readers world-wide per year. Now I hope to show folks I can practice what I’ve learned. Today I’ll share one of the more interesting projects I have planned.

Kite flyingOne of the things I proposed for our Google partnership, was to provide them with some aerial photos. Aerial photos of very unique locations at very high resolution. One way I plan to do that is to fly kites and take straight-down shots just like you see in Google Earth. Only much higher resolution than what you typically see.

There’s actually a popular hobby called Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) for taking some truly unique photos by flying a camera with a kite. One Google Earth developer I wrote about on GEB, because of his work with the USGS (he wrote the Earthquake monitoring tool), is actually one of the best-known KAP people out there. Visit Scott Haefner’s site here to learn more about KAP and see some amazing photos. Scott was helpful in introducing me to KAP and directing me to someone to build my system.

Kite Aerial Photography camera rigMy system was built by Brooks Leffler (see his web site). It includes a custom camera carrying rig (which can rotate altitude and azimuth), remote control panel, and a shutter control to take pictures. He also can build devices to let you view your shots from the ground. Brooks also sold me several kites for different wind conditions, winders, and string.

First KAP Attempts
On Thursday, the weather looked perfect to make my first attempt of aerial photos of Joyner Marina (where we keep Tahina right now). This is hard to believe, but I’ve been so busy for the past several weeks, I had not even opened the boxes for the kite camera equipment which arrived nearly four weeks earlier! It’s really sad when a gadget geek like me can’t even open the box when it arrives. As soon as I got to Tahina, I tore open the boxes. I carefully looked over the manual, and began setting up the equipment. Brooks even supplied me with batteries, so it was actually good to go. It only took me a few minutes to set up and experiment with the controls and take my first shots on the ground.

I grabbed the kite and asked someone to help me set up. (NOTE: I had previously practiced flying the kite – see photos here). There was a small crowd of folks watching me set up and asking what I was doing. Unfortunately, we never got far off the ground. The wind was dying. I even went back to the boat and got the bigger – lighter air – kite. But, the wind continued to die and we only got a few test shots. (See the slideshow below).

The next day, the winds were much better. With some help from Sue – the Joyner Marina dockmaster – I soon had the kite flying and the camera up in the air. Unfortunately, I again learned a valuable lesson: make sure you put the lens at the widest setting for aerial photos! Later in the day, I got the widest lens I have (a 10-20 mm wide-angle), and flew the kite even higher. I at last got some of the kinds of shots I was hoping for.

Below is a slideshow (I encourage you to choose View larger slideshow) with photos of the equipment, our first attempts, and several much better shots after I got some experience. I will also show later how some of the photos will look in Google Earth. But, I’m hoping to get Google to process some of these images and put them in Google Earth itself. Back in 2006, I worked with Google to take some aerial photos (from a plane) and you can view that in Google Earth still today. Anyway, it was a lot of fun – and hard work – flying the kite and learning the “ropes”. I look forward to delivering many similar photos to Google, as part of our partnership, over the next five years in all kinds of exotic locations.

Click to view slideshow

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9 Responses to Kite Aerial Photography – First attempts

  1. sue says:

    Thanks for letting me help, Frank. I always enjoy and look forward to your newest cool project.
    Sue, Joyner Marina Dockmaster

  2. luv2boat says:

    Beautiful day and great pics, Frank. I’m envious that Sue got to help you.
    I hope you have plans to protect your camera in case the kite takes an unexpected dive into the water. You have thought of that haven’t you, Frank.
    Ever thought of using Microsoft’s Photosynth to combine your aerial photos into a 3D experience? See “Shot From Above: 14 Great Aerial Photosynths” at for more info. I tried to use some of your pics to build a new synth (see, but it didn’t turn out as good as it could. I don’t have a lot of experience with Photosynth, to be honest. I suspect more photos with greater overlap may help. Anyway, just a thought of another way to “share your wares” in a unique way.

  3. luv2boat says:

    The url in my previous comment that is associated with the synth I created is incorrect as written. Here’s the correct one:
    It will work better than the one listed earlier because the trailng characters “). ” have been removed.
    Sorry for the confusion.

  4. Frank Taylor says:

    Hey Ed, what a great idea! I forgot about Photosynth when I was trying to think of a fast way to put these together. I may try this with the more complete set with the original 8 Megapixel sized images. Thanks for the idea!

  5. luv2boat says:

    Let me know how your synth turns out if you ever have time to work with Photosynth.

  6. ANeblig says:

    Frank, I’ve gotten a lot from GEB and this blog. Much appreciated.
    As you try this out over the “next five years in all kinds of exotic locations.” Give a thought to some of the armed local folks who would consider this espionage/reconnaissance.
    I was once detained for half a tense day for simply flying a kite. They had never seen an adult do this and the kite was an inflated wing section which looked way too capable of carrying something nasty.
    When I was shown to the door of the country that evening, they kept the kite.
    Maybe showing them what I was doing ahead of time would have helped, maybe not. Their Coup came shortly after.

  7. Frank Taylor says:

    @Augustus: thanks for those thoughts. Definitely something worth keeping in mind.

  8. Russell says:

    Awesome! Ever considered getting a huge helium balloon on a string and doing the same? I want to try this sometime

  9. Jack Burtson says:

    Interesting stuff I would love to build a system like that (and have the skills to do so :P). Good luck with the future KAP’in!

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