[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 29 December 2003, 11:50 GMT
High-flying camera club
Dot.life - Where tech meets life, every Monday
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

Panoramic kite photo, Scott Haefner
Scott Haefner, camera and remote control
The advent of cheap, small, lightweight digital cameras has given new life to an old hobby - aerial photography from kites.

Kites and cameras would seem to have little in common except that both are popular toys with boys.

But some photography enthusiasts are uniting them to produce some spectacular images and to give a unique perspective on many everyday places and subjects.

Aerial photography dates from the 1860s and kite-assisted photography is almost as old.

But more recently the web has helped it grow by making it much easier for people to share knowledge, tips and the pictures they have taken.

Rig and roll

Peter Bults, who runs an online encyclopaedia for kite aerial photography, says it is much less of a struggle to get into now.

There are more and more almost ready-to-fly systems available, developed by kappers (kite aerial photographers), he says.

A typical kite aerial photography kit involves a single string nylon kite with a wingspan in excess of two metres. Anything smaller would not be able to lift a digital camera.

Many kappers build their own cradle out of aluminium or carbon fibre to hold the camera and use radio control systems from model aircraft to snap a shot once the camera is airborne.

Salt flats, Scott Haefner
Kite photography gives a fresh perspective
Although there are no commercial rigs available some kappers will make rigs for others if asked.

Some kappers still use film, but many are turning to digital cameras because they can take more shots before they need to be retrieved.

Kappers tend to use mid-priced, five or six megapixel cameras and are not interested in all the features found on more expensive devices.

Many simply add weight with features, such as a flash, that are largely useless at altitude.

One of the skills that is definitely worth mastering is kite flying, says Mr Bults.

Some of the most interesting shots are only going to be available in cities and urban areas where flying a kite is a real challenge.

"It's not very interesting to fly it over a beach or farmland. The interesting thing for kite flyers is that you move into towns and that makes kite flying very difficult."

Fresh perspective

But a word of warning from Mr Bults: anyone trying kite aerial photography had better not get too attached to their camera.

"Everyone who is involved with this has lost a camera and some people with less luck have lost more than one."

Aerial shot of a fountain, Scott Haefner
Some things look very different from above
Scott Haefner, who won a Canon Digital Creators award in 2003 for his aerial panoramas, lost a Nikon Coolpix 5000 in a fountain in Kansas but thankfully the camera worked again once dried out in the oven.

The hard part, he says, is developing a photographer's eye to work out what your camera might be looking at and whether it will produce an interesting shot.

Mr Haefner has quite a complicated rig for his camera because he wants to have more of a hand in composing the shot he will be taking.

His rig has servomotors on it to swivel the camera round or up and down.

He also shoots images from relatively low altitudes, up to about 100 m, and shoots with a wide angle lens.

"That's the way to get an interesting perspective you would not get any other way," he says.

But although he does exert some control over what his camera sees, Mr Haefner believes the joy of the hobby is the regular surprises it produces.

"It really blows me away when you get some really cool results."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific