Kite Aerial Photography Mosaics: My Neighborhood

For some time, I'd wanted to take pictures from a camera on a kite. But how to trigger the camera was always a problem for me. I didn't want to take apart my camera to install an electronic timer-trigger, as friends recommended. I was tempted to launch a video camera, recording the whole flight, but was afraid to loft something so heavy high into the air. I was told there are nice digital cameras for which you can program the picture-taking instructions in advance. But I didn't want to buy a $1000 camera, then send it up in a kite.

(See other Kite Aerial Photography web sites, like Charles Benton's, with pointers to more, for other solutions, including radio controls, mechanical timers, and an ice-shutter.)

I went to K-mart, looking to buy a cheap, auto-advance film camera, and saw a cheap digital camera ($50, sold by Polaroid, but probably made by some other company). I used to work on digital cameras at Polaroid, so I bought it.

It turns out, if you hold down the self-timer button on that camera, it repeatedly takes pictures, delaying 15 seconds between each shot--perfect for kite photography! The camera can hold 40 or 50 pictures, about 10 minutes of shooting time, and it's very light. It's almost a toy--the pictures are 320x240 resolution. I wrapped a rubber band around the camera, put a Lego brick under that, on top of the self-timer button, and I was set. I used a 9-foot delta wing I bought from an on-line kite store.

For me, having a digital camera was essential for the quick feedback. I first hung the camera from the kite by a short string, but the pictures were very blurry. I eventually duct taped the camera on two sides to the kite, and on a third side to the string, for the camera stability that gave the sharpest pictures. That would have taken a while to learn, waiting for film development between trials.

Below are shots of the camera, ground crew, etc., and a set of self-portraits from the kite.




I made a mosaic of my neighborhood, overlaying the photos on a map of the area. I did it in Adobe Photoshop, which let me put each photo in a different layer, and move, rotate and scale each one independently. The pieces, each taken from a different angle, don't fit together exactly right, but I like that effect (like a Hockney photographic montage).

The montages are cumulative over the course over a year. First is a montage from Fall, 2000. Then Fall, Winter. Then Fall, Winter, Spring. The last adds a second set of photos from Spring, 2001

I like the mixture of seasons in the later composites: fall colors in the trees, with sledders, and green grass. The orange string in some of the photos is part of a new kite I used for the last set of photos. But the later composites get a little cluttered with photos, and I appreciate the sparseness of the earlier versions of the composite.


Fall, winter

Fall, winter, early spring

Fall, winter, spring
large size: 3510x2805 pixels


I also played with temporal montages—little time-lapse histories of a single flight. Some of those are below.





Bill Freeman, Feb. 2002