The Nuts and Bolts of Kite Aerial Photography

On our second date, my soon-to-be husband, Ben, showed me the film Jean De Sud by Yves Gelinas, featuring a man sailing solo around the world...
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 A still shot taken shortly after launching a kite camera from the cockpit

A still shot taken shortly after launching a kite camera from the cockpit

On our second date, my soon-to-be husband, Ben, showed me the film Jean De Sud by Yves Gelinas, featuring a man sailing solo around the world. For 120 minutes I watched him do the silly things people only do when they are alone: swim naked, perform a rain dance, talk to himself—all things that, in the years since, I’m proud to say I’ve done while sailing solo as well!

It was also Yves who introduced me to kite aerial photography (KAP), as his film culminates in the launching of a kite-borne camera. As it climbed higher and higher, Yves and his Alberg 30 got smaller and smaller—until he looked like a dot on a toy boat.

A few years later, Ben and I set sail for Newfoundland to make a film, and we brought along a kite aerial photography rig. As amateur KAPers, Ben and I kept our rig simple, with just a kite, camera, bridle and sledgehammer. KAPing, we discovered, is easy to master, fun to practice, and is a brilliant way to shoot unique footage of a sailboat. In short, it’s worth trying on your boat, especially if you love to chronicle your sailing adventures through blogs, videos or posts of any sort. The footage you’ll get of your boat under sail will leave your friends and followers in awe.

We chose a colorful delta kite with an 11ft wingspan, which I named Songbird. A delta is great for light-wind flying, yet also performs well in stronger winds. A single-line kite is necessary for the beginning KAPer, because they require less skill to fly. Songbird was cumbersome to launch, because she was a foot wider than our boat. Once past the wind generator, boom gallows and mainsail, she flew best in about 15 knots of wind.

When it came time to select a camera, we didn’t need to look very hard. Small cameras are becoming more rugged and have fine picture quality. We were pleased with our GoPro because it is small and light and can shoot video or photos. Best of all, the waterproof case provides protection against crash landings when the wind dies.

 There are many small cameras capable of kite-filming; we like our GoPro best

There are many small cameras capable of kite-filming; we like our GoPro best

The camera can be attached directly to the kite, but will be steadier and remain level if it is hung below. We chose a Picavet suspension system for our camera mount. Once the kite was launched and at least 30 feet above the top of our mast, we attached the system to the kite string at two points. The cord then passes several times through blocks on the camera mount and the kite string attachment points allowing the mount to always hang in a level position. Be careful when you order your Picavet system. Ask for pulleys, not blocks, because not all KAPers are sailors.

A sledgehammer was an integral part of our rig. Yes, you read that right! Shifty winds will cause the camera to swing. In strong winds, to get smooth footage, we found that a 3lb sledgehammer provided just the right amount of weight for stabilization. We simply lashed the hammer to the base of the GoPro and let it fly.

We first tried kite aerial photography hoping to obtain great footage of our boat under sail, but our focus changed. Now we launch Songbird for the pure joy of flying and retrieving the kite, and of laughing at the silly things captured on film. You can see our first attempt at simplequestionmovie.com/kite.

Photos courtesy of One Simple Question

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