You've now got a kite, a rig, and a camera and have completed your first test flight as a kite aerial photographer. This kite flying malarkey is harder than it looks, so here are the top ten tips for acquiring great photos.
In my previous article, I introduced the history of KAP along with some pointers for getting started, including the kite, rig, and camera you'll need to kick things off. So, where next? Here are my top 10 tips that'll be useful to know in your KAP journey.
1. Stay Legal
As kites are captive and not self-propelled, they have less stringent regulation regarding their operation than drones and in some countries may be completely unregulated. It goes without saying that for responsible KAPping, you need to stay legal. In the UK, kites are unregulated up to 60 m, although you need to steer clear of no fly zones; the Kite Society has a useful summary, but also take a look at the Civil Aviation Authority. In the US, FAA Regulations Part 101 notes that the height limit is 500 ft.
2. Stay Safe
If you are legal, then staying safe is a no-brainer. Never endanger yourself or anyone else. Kites can have significant pulling force (for example this death at a popular kite flying site in the UK) and haul heavy loads. The most obvious points being don't fly near overhead wires or where your payload might obviously impact anyone.
3. Use the Right Kite
You need to get the loft of your kite right for the weight of the camera and wind conditions. If you have too much loft, then the kite becomes difficult to control. On one occasion, the combination of my big kite and a strong wind required two of us to haul it back in; at one point, we lost control and it reeled out, burning a hole in our clothing. If you have too little wind, then the kite falls out of the sky with the camera attached. I've since become adept at catching a falling camera!
4. Don't Fly Near Anyone Else
This point is closely aligned with staying safe, but a specific scenario that might catch you out as it did me. I use 1mm Dacron cord for my kites, which has high load strength; however, when you cross lines with a small leisure kite, the thinner lines will cut through yours like a knife through butter! Watch in horror as your kite sails off uncontrolled!
5. Stay Insured
Just as with any other genre of photography, equipment and public liability insurance are sensible for obvious reasons. Accidents happen, and that's why we have insurance.
6. Launching the Kite
Remember that KAP requires a two-stage launch: the kite itself and then, the camera. The bigger the kite becomes, the harder it is to launch solo, something exacerbated with soft kites, so it's helpful to have an assistant. Launch into the wind, holding the front corners (of the soft kite) so that the vents inflate and the kite lifts. It's usually necessary to throw the kite into the air in order to catch faster wind. The air just above surface of the Earth is relatively rough, and you need to get the kite into less turbulent air as quickly as possible. Generally, this is above tree height, at which point you can attach the camera to the line so that it can be lofted more smoothly. With the kite bobbing about, an assistant can be invaluable. At this point, it's simply a case of letting out line until the camera is at the desired altitude.
7. Managing the Kite
The practical side of actually managing your kite while it is in flight is often overlooked. To stop friction burns, use leather workman's gloves for handling the lines and wear a long-sleeved top preferably made of natural fibers. I also use a climbing harness (although there are specific kite harnesses) with a carabiner to allow me to clip the kite line off and free my hands for using the remote control. You can also semi-permanently fix the line using a ground stake (make sure it is a big one) or sand bags. The benefit of the harness is that you can move around with the kite, changing positions for a range of different shots.
8. Carry Spares
Remember, things go wrong, so it's worth carrying a set of spares to cover common eventualities. The rig, controller, and camera all have batteries, so have appropriate (fully charged) spares. Rigs are largely mechanical, so it pays to have a small wrench set and screwdrivers for emergency repairs. A spare line and reel, along with a number of carabiners are handy, as are a spare set of gloves. And of course, gaffer tape is immensely useful for just about everything!
9. Cameras and Modifications
You may want to have bespoke modifications made to your camera, such as the removal of an IR filter or addition of a wired shutter release. I've happily used Advanced Camera Services in the UK. Of course, with a DSLR, you can use any of the lenses or filters you would use normally use to creative effect. For example, James Gentles has some great panospheres on his site.
10. Useful Websites
There are a number of a great KAP sites around the world. A small flavor includes James Gentles, James Aber, Scott Haefner, and Charles Benton. And of course, don't forget the KAPShop and Brooxes KAP Shop.