Aerial kite photography uses remote sensing to collect information in picture form. It is actually a very old form of remote sensing since kites were used to take aerial pictures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was done for military reconnaissance, disaster assessment, and scientific purposes. Once aircraft became more common in the 1930s, aerial kite photography lessened in popularity.
Aerial kite photography uses the lifting power of a kite to provide an aerial platform for a camera. With the camera in the air, there is a unique and refreshing view of the earthbound subjects. This type of photography gives the most profound images from heights below what an aircraft could provide. Since the kite flies low, the viewer sees clear figures, buildings and the environment from a human scale with recognizable features, unlike photos taken from much higher elevations and much faster speeds.
In one method of launching, the kite is first flown without the camera system. Once it has risen and achieved a steady state above ground turbulence, a radio-controlled camera system is attached to the kite line. Then, the line is let out further and it carries the kite and camera further skyward. The operator can now walk around and direct the kite line by hand, move the camera with the control system, and snap photographs.
The components of a typical aerial kite photography system include:
- A fairly large kite about 10 feet in span.
- Strong kite string, often braided Dacron.
- A compact camera.
- A radio control to trigger the camera. Alternatively, the camera can be set to take pictures at predefined intervals.
- A suspension system to attach the rig to the kite line and stop the inevitable swinging and swaying movements.
- A means of moving the camera remotely in two or three axes, called the rig. Some systems rely on a fixed camera mounting; the camera positioning is achieved with the remarkable controlability of modern multi-line kites.
Since the early 1990s, aerial kite photography has become a popular sporting pastime as well as being used for commercial and scientific purposes. Some of the reasons for the resurging popularity of this method of photography include:
- A rebirth of the enjoyment of high-performance sport-kite flying.
- Development of low-cost, light-weight, automatic cameras of high quality.
- Need for low-altitude observations in situations where manned aircraft cannot operate well.
- Low-cost alternative to conventional airplane or helicopter aerial photography.