In the beginning of April 2009 I made a post on the Kite Aerial Photography forum and asked to recommend me a beginner rig and kite. I explained that I would join friends on a sailing trip from Breskens in the Netherlands to Lisbon in Portugal, and that that trip would be the perfect opportunity to finally get started in Kite Aerial Photography (KAP).
I ordered a Sutton Flowform 16, a BEAK-Servo and a GentLED CHDK from KAPshop. I had asked for the “Becot” variant of the kite, so Peter – the owner of KAPshop- had to do some modifications. And because I had posted the question only a week for departure, the kit didn’t arrive in time at my home address. Luckily, a fourth crew member was delayed for personal reasons as well, and when he hopped on board in Cherbourg, France, he had the KAP gear with him. As soon as he was on board we departed for a 4-day non stop sailing trip to cross the Bay of Biscaye, so the first time I actually opened the box with KAP items and could take a decent look at its contents was in La Coruña in Spain.
There is a small castle on an island not far from the yacht harbour (Castillo de San Antón) that looked like an ideal target for my first try at KAPing. The wind was quite light, but I did get the kite up without any problems. Since this was my first kite flight since childhood I used it mainly to get acquainted with the Flowform. At the end of the session I even attached the BEAK to the line, but the wind was too light to lift the rig. I unhooked it and carefully put the rig back on the ground. For this I used both my hands: one for holding the kite-line the other for unclipping and with the reel under my right foot. Just as I put the rig down on the ground the reel slipped from under my foot and the kite flew away! The reel tumbled down the rocks of the peer and the kite fell into the water. After climbing down the rocks to the reel, I easily dragged the kite back in (together with some seaweed), but first lesson learned: never let go of the reel. Since then I always made sure that I had my climbing harness on while KAPing, and attatched my kite-line to my figure-eight.
At that point I still hadn’t succeeded in putting CHDK on my G9 (due to the 4GB card being FAT32 instead of FAT16). A few days later I also broke the LCD screen of my G9 in a non-KAP related accident and hence the menu options weren’t accessible any more. That meant I couldn’t use the GentLED CHDK for triggering the camera. Luckily I had also ordered a servo mechanism for pushing the camera button (which I had intended to use with a watertight film camera) so in Vigo, Spain I installed that and went for my first picture-taking KAP flight. The conditions were very good, strong stable wind blowing in the direction of the peer I was standing on and I’m very happy with the results I got:
The four-masted barque in the background of the right picture is the 114.4 m (376 ft) Kruzenshtern which was in Vigo to participate in the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge 2009. (And yes, I have contemplated doing a KAP session closer to her, but since I was just getting started with this KAP thing I didn’t feel at ease doing this standing somewhere in the middle of the massive crowd visiting the boat nor did I want to have my kite line tangled up with her yards.)
A few days later we anchored in front of the Islas Cies, a group of islands near Baiona. Once a pirates’ haunt, Cies is now an uninhabited and pristine national park and the beach was number one in a list of ‘Top 10 beaches of the world’ in a Guardian article. Stunning vistas there so I tried to lift the kite several times, but each time there was barley enough wind to lift the kite, let alone the rig. We even hiked to the top of the island in the hope of finding more wind there, but alas. (As an alternative, I took some shots from the top of the mast.) The best shot I got was this, while anchored before the southern Illa de San Martiño, with the camera only one meter out before I had to reel it back in.
The second succesfull KAP flight was in Baiona, famous for its Parador (now a four star hotel) built in the style of a Galician manor house within the walls of a medieval fortress. The fort was built to protect (not always successfully) the port of Baiona from enemies and pirates. Again, I am very satisfied with the obtained results (except for the upper left corner in the fourth picture which was overexposed by the sun).
The four star Hotel Conde de Gondomar
The next opportunity I got to go KAPing was in Lisbon. I had chosen my spot carefully, and had positioned myself with the Torre de Belém on my right side, with the Padrão dos Descobrimentos to my left side, a nice lighthouse tower behind me, and the wind pushing the kite steady over the river Tagus. Except, this time I had pointed my camera way too low, so most of the 50+ pictures where of boring grey river water without any features. The few shots that did include some scenery also failed to impress: there was one with a small, unsharp Torre de Belém in the upper right corner and the shot from the Padrão dos Descobrimentos was heavily overexposed by the sun. I tried to save them in post-processing, but didn’t manage. So another lesson learned: besides looking for a good location and keeping an eye on the wind, take also in account the position of the sun and your camera angle.
So, in summary: a great hobby, I had lots of fun, got some mighty nice shots that I wouldn’t be have gotten otherwise and will certainly come back for more.
(For those interested, the complete set of pictures from my sailing trip can be found on my Flickr page.)