Kite Aerial Photos BBQ Island in Google Earth and Maps

Kite Aerial photos in Google Earth of BBQ IslandBack in March we were visiting the beautiful San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. The San Blas are an archipelago of several hundred small islands which are managed by the Kuna Indians who live there. They are also a delightful place to visit by sailboat. You can read many blog posts about our visit there starting here.

While we were visiting these beautiful tropical islands, I was determined to take kite aerial photos of at least one island. I chose a popular island with the sailors called BBQ Island – because on Mondays they have a BBQ or pot-luck get together in the evenings. Our friend David Tryse came with me to help me with the kite. I have a special rig that hangs from the kite string below the kite to hold the camera. There is also a remote control that lets me control the orientation of the camera.

My primary objective is to take straight-down photos just like you see in Google Earth. For several years, I’ve run the Google Earth Blog – so I have a lot of experience with the program. Before we left on our sailing adventures, I made arrangements to provide Google with aerial photography using the kite so they could put the imagery in Google Earth. So, after taking the photos, they are processed and made part of the base imagery you see in Google Earth.

You can see how the kite aerial imagery for BBQ island was taken in this slideshow of photos. As you can see, it was not a simple prospect because we had to keep the string from getting tangled in the palm trees. I had to get way out in the water to get the kite over the island. We even used the dinghy to take the end of the string out further to get the whole island.

It turns out Google had no high-resolution imagery for the San Blas. So, when you look at most of the islands all you see is a blurry area with no details. But, now (Google just released the imagery in Google Earth last week) when you zoom into the location of BBQ Island (lat/lon: 9.591, -78.67), you see this little dot of high resolution imagery. As you zoom in close you can suddenly see ultra-high resolution detail including palm trees, our little dinghy, and even coconuts on the ground! Check it out right here:

View Larger Map

In addition to the help from David, I’d like to thank Stewart Long who did a lot of work to stitch together and process the photos before they were delivered to Google. Stewart is now involved with Grass Roots Mapping, which is documenting the big oil spill with balloon and kite photography. You can see another example of kite aerial photos taken by the Tahina Expedition of Petite Tabac.

Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to thank Google for supporting our efforts to bring interesting high resolution aerial imagery into Google Earth and sharing it with the world!

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11 Responses to Kite Aerial Photos BBQ Island in Google Earth and Maps

  1. David Tryse says:

    Thanks Frank, that was a fun day! The imagery came out really well, awesome to see it included in the GE base imagery now. Resolution is great – I can even see my footsteps in the sand! Beautiful tropical sand…it’s about 20 degrees C colder where I am now…
    All the best and enjoy the Marquesas!

  2. David says:

    Awesome! You should write “TAHINA” on the top rail of your dingy so it will show up on Google Earth. Just Stencil it out with paper and use a black magic marker (or ten).

  3. Nathan Craig says:

    Those orthographic images are really wonderful. I am an archaeologist who is using KAP. I would love to know how I can submit orthographic KAP images for public use in google maps and google earth.

  4. Volker says:

    No need for Google Earth anymore, you can see Franks photos on Google Maps too:,-78.67&t=h&z=20
    Great reports, Frank & Co!
    Regards from Germany

  5. rusty says:

    That’s some really great imagery! I’m off to read more about your process.
    If you find yourself wanting to take it all the way down to ground level, take a look at RealPlaces ( ), where you can link together still photos to make your own StreetView-like walkarounds. Would be awesome on a remote island like this!
    If you have any questions or would like help/tips, let me know. I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love to be able to walk around a place like BBQ Island.

  6. PhillipJ says:

    My brother and I are travelling from Sydney to Perth over the top of Australia, about 6,000 miles middle of next year on a 26ft RIB. We are doing it to raise awareness of prostate cancer testing and raise money for research. This kite camera is a great idea as we are doing a documentary of it as we go. While there will be some professional production crews from time to, this will be great for video and still camera work. To be also able to contribute to Google earth and maps would also be excellent. Can you give me any advice or guidance on building a system?

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  8. cheryl says:

    My husband found your “Tahina” written in the sand on an atoll while just looking for earth anomalies. I just went to try and find it myself and found another atoll with almost as good resolution. How many did you take pictures of?

    • Frank Taylor says:

      I’d like to say there were dozens. But, there are only a few places where the imagery I’ve taken have made it in Google Earth. If you do a search on the site, you can pretty easily find all of them. Try “Petite Tabac”, try finding the only high resolution island in San Blas (BBQ Island), Manihi village, and Tikehau (the one your husband must have found).

  9. AleCtronic says:

    Great work!

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