The Technique of Kite Aerial Photography

In the late 1880s, Frenchman Arthur Batut combined a kite and camera for the first time in an attempt to take the first kite aerial photography (KAP) pictures.

Batut's kite had framing made with small rectangular section bars of hardwood. The crossbar was constructed by welding together two sword blades and it was fixed at about 50 centimeters from the top end of the kite.

Between the two bars of the longeron a box-shaped structure was attached to hold the camera support system. Two smaller wooden bars were used as fixing points for the bridle. The sail was constructed of strong paper reinforced with thin cotton cloth at the stress points.

The camera was constructed of wood and cardboard, and it was loaded with 13x18 centimeter film plates. Rubber bands were used to trip the shutter; activated by a burning fuse to allow sufficient altitude to be reached before taking the photo. The camera was attached by using two supports that could be combined in several ways allowing the camera to be aimed in different directions.

Kite ready to fly © BATUT MUSEUM

Weighing in at almost seven pounds, it must have been fascinating to watch Batut launch his handmade kite and camera.

Sixty-five years after Batut's first aerial photographs from a kite, Mechanix Illustrated published an article by E. J. Roy demonstrating his KAP technique and some of his photographs. The images below are links to full-sized scans of the 1954 article. It is amazing how similar their techniques and equipment were.

The modern KAPer has a multitude of high performance kites and compact cameras available for use. Many also utilize radio control transmitters, receivers and servos to control pan, tilt, shutter and even to change the composition from horizontal to vertical.

The use of digital cameras offer some opportunities not available with traditional film. The pictures don't require developing, you can re-use the digital "film," and many cameras can be adapted to control the shutter electronically instead of mechanically. For an interesting discussion of digital cameras in a related hobby, see Mike Shellim's radio control soaring site. In particular his digital photography pages which show how to build a radio controlled interface for digital cameras.

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