KAP equipment comprises of a kite, a flying line, a camera and a rig or cradle to suspend and operate the camera.
It might come as a surprise to learn that the camera is usually suspended from the flying line, not the kite itself. The advantage of this is that camera movement is damped somewhat, enabling more opportunities to get decent pictures. In other words, the camera doesn't move around in the air as much as the kite does.
Let's have a brief look at the gear that KAPers use.
Aerial kite photography as a hobby has seen all sorts of cameras hoisted up there. In the early days, some big kites were used to lift rather heavy, high-quality film cameras.
The explosion in cheap, light digital cameras has had an impact on the hobby. It's not just the weight. These modern cameras take great pictures too.
Interestingly, zoom lenses are of little use in kite aerial photography. In fact, people often try to cram more scenery into the field of view by using wide-angle lenses, even fish-eye lenses. Another popular technique is photo-stitching, where a number of images are combined into one super-wide panorama.
An ideal high-end KAP camera doesn't have a zoom lens for 3 good reasons:
Having said all that about zoom lenses, it really doesn't matter so much at the cheaper end of the scale. Most digicams these days do have optical zoom, but the whole package is quite light. And if you are not a pro photographer, who cares about a tiny, almost unnoticeable loss of image quality.
The latest trend is to by-pass still photography altogether...
A piece of KAP equipment commonly used by serious photographers is the Picavet. Yes, it was invented by a Frenchman, in the early 20th century. However, it wasn't until the late 20th century that it was re-discovered and put to widespread use in KAP rigs. It's purpose is to provide a stable and level platform for the camera, while suspended from the flying line.
The Picavet is a cross suspended from the flying line. 4 lines are threaded through pulleys, one line passing through one pulley at each end of the cross. The camera cradle is suspended from the center of the cross, which stays level even while the flying line angle changes.
A very well known KAP enthusiast named Brooks Leffler has made one of his KAP rigs available on Amazon. There it is on the left. This is one of the cheaper options which works by mechanically operating the shutter of any small point-and-shoot camera which you install in the cradle.
The biggest problem with taking only a limited number of photos per flight is wasting some of them due to camera movement. Unless the air is perfectly smooth, there is always some swinging and swaying from time to time. Hence, some aerial kite photography enthusiasts try to add other devices to reduce the movement and give more opportunity for getting good pictures.
One such device is the Jones Airfoils KAP Feather. 'Put a feather in your KAP!' they say har har hardy har. Jokes aside, this interesting piece of KAP equipment uses materials that let a bit of air through, to reduce the effect of wind gusts. Also, it acts as a vane to keep the rig pointing into wind in a more steady fashion. The end result is what KAPers love - a camera 'nailed to the sky'. The kite might be constantly shifting here and there in response to gusts and turbulence, but the camera's view shifts slowly.
In theory, any moderately sized kite that flies can be used to raise a small weight, such as a camera. However, some are better than others for the purpose of taking pictures. For many KAPers, photography is the main thing and they want an easy, no-fuss, stable kite that can lift the required weight over a wide wind range. Anything less would get in the way of taking good pictures.
For these reasons, parafoil or flow-form kites are very popular in aerial kite photography. With no spars and therefore no assembly required, you just turn up somewhere and get your camera in the air straight away. The photo shows a Sutton flowform kite with KAP rig. Thanks to Bruce Owen, an archaeologist, and his wife for supplying this picture of KAP equipment.
These kites are convenient to transport as well, since they roll up into a small bag. Another advantage is that they are tolerant of quite strong winds.
I've seen examples of many other high-lift kites being used as well. Big Rokkaku kites, Delta Conynes and the commonly seen delta kite have all been used. All of these can fly at much better line angles than most flow-form kites, so that's one reason for using them in kite aerial photography.
Not everybody lives in a windy location, so there are some who specialize in getting photos in even very light breezes. One of the best kites for this is the Dopero, or Double Pearson Roller as it was originally called. Not only can this kite hang up there in the slightest breeze, it can lift a useful amount of gear at the same time.
Finally, it's handy to know what the average wind strength is. The wind speed is always changing from moment to moment, and it's hard to estimate with any accuracy.
With a little device called an anemometer or wind speed meter you can decide what kite and camera rig to put up. In stronger winds, it can help you decide whether to attempt flying at all. Kites and cameras can get lost when the flying line snaps!
Have you ever dabbled with dangling a camera from a kite or flying-line?
Photo courtesy of Jared Tarbell.
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