My general technique is as outlined here – I am still learning massively here and am open to any comments or help.
After a couple of years of getting to grips with various aspects of this mad idea, and having the travel a lot, I have simplified my approach signficantly from how I started out.
The equipment with me
- Usually 2, sometimes 3, kites covering a wide wind range. The wind conditions on site are often different to the forecast. (see the Equipment page for info on the kites used).
- Camera (& Intervalometer if needed), spare batteries and memory cards.
- Wire-rope pendulum & lightweight locking carabiner.
- Camera rig – either the KAPshop Simple 1 rig (commonly used now) or Mod1 rig.
- Kite line on a halo reel – usually 200m of 110daN, but occasionally to fly lighter 85daN or 65daN.
- A fuzzy-tail and swivel.
- Trauma shears – better than any knife.
- Gardening gloves
- Small climbing pulley for walking kites down
- 1m loop of nylon rope with a tie-off climbing Eight – to either hold the line on me, and free my hands up, or secure the line to a post or someone on the ground.
- Wind meter.
- Sunglasses & hat – a bald man needs sun protection!
I check the weather forecast for the week or day, load the car and deal with family protests about dragging them out again.
- On-site I check the location for safety aspects, wind speed, direction =, where to land safely etc.
- Set-up the camera and rig so I am all ready to fly once the kite is assembled.
- Put the loop and carabiner across my chest. I hang the camera and rig on this, so it is ready for attaching to the line later on. I can l also use this to secure the kite to it if necessary freeing my hands up or take it off and attach it to something permanent like a ground anchor or park bench etc.
- Before assembling the kite I work out the wind direction and lay it out down-wind. I don’t want a whole load of kite, tail and line suddenly bellowing up and into my face.
- I attach the tail and swivel, if using one, and let it blow in the wind away from me.
- I attach the line to the tow-point using the larks-head and pigtail method. If there is no pig’s tail, I loop the line back over the reel (as shown in the lower image).
- Put on my gloves. I have a nice scar on my finger which taught me this essential step!
- Finally, assemble the kite. I set-up everything else before, attaching reel and tail etc., so that if it takes off unexpectedly I want it to be ready and have things to grab hold off (in gloves).
Camera Settings & Timer
The camera settings I use generally are:
- Shutter priority, 1/1000th (will drop to as low as 1/500th)
- Auto ISO
- White-balance custom set on the conditions – am going to use RAW anyway, so don’t worry too much about WB at this stage.
- RAW capture
- Autofocus (depending on the camera) locked at infinity
- Start Delay = 20 seconds – just saves wasted images taken as it is being reeled out
- Exposure Time = 0 (if using the intervalometer) – meaning the camera controls the shutter
- Interval time = 3-5 seconds.
- Unlimited shots – until the card runs out.
KAPshop Modular 1:
- Pan at 20 or 40degree
- Tilt at 0-45-90degree
- Shutter Trigger not used (I use the intervalometer)
- Launching is usually easily from hand. If the kite has a variable bridle, like my Rokkaku and Triton, I will play with the angle of flight by pulling on the top and bottom bridles to see the effect and then set the bridle position accordingly.
- I then let the kite go and reel out about 10-20m (no exact science) to get a better feel of what the conditions are. I sometimes attach the anemometer to the kite, at the tow-point, to see what the wind speed is higher up.
- If all things look good, I will reel the kite back in a little and attach the carabiner for the pendulum to the line, about 4-8m away from the kite, by wrapping the line around the carabiner. Again no using any exact science on the distance from the kite, just what works in keeping everything nice and stable.
- I then attach the pendulum, rig and camera as one to the carabiner, lock it (I use side lock carabiner) and say a prayer to whichever god of wind I can think of.
- Reel out the kite under control, stopping and correcting the kite as necessary.
I may then walk the kite and camera around or just stay-put, sing a little and keep an eye on any changing conditions and people nearby. Occasionally in strong winds, on the edge of a kite’s range, I have a wrestling match with the kite as it tries to pull my arms off.
It is not unusual for the wind to change and the kite drop, stall or even collapsing if it is a soft foil. Thankfully, quite a bit of practice with the kites, before putting cameras on them, has given me an insight into when they are genuinely in trouble and when they are just trying to scare me (and will recover). Even so, my heart can stop for a few seconds.
I may, if all is very stable, attach the kite line to the carabiner on the loop over my chest and shoulder, but only if absolutely necessary to temporarily free up my hands. For safety reasons I don’t like being attached to the line, so I only do this if it is really necessary. Again I don’t use big kites in strong winds, so the need for me to be the ground anchor is rare.
With a 3-second interval setting, I usually aim to fly for 10-20 minutes, to get 200-400 shots.
With taut-line kites, like the Rokkaku, it can often be about picking the right moment, when there is a lull, to bring the kite and camera down. The key for me is being patient and doing it when the kite is stable and the line is not under huge tension.
Occasionally, if the wind is constant and stable, I will walk the line down; either working with a second person (one on the reel and one walking the line) or putting the rope loop around something fixed and attaching the line to the carabiner. Walking the line down is not just easier and less physical stress on me and the line, but it lets me be much quicker and in control to get to the camera, the thing I care most about. A few times, when I have just reeled in, the kite has dumbed the camera into the ground before I could get to it. 🙁
When walking the line down, depending on the line tension I can use just my hand (with glove) on the line or I use a little climbing pulley and carabiner.
With the rig off the line and kite in hand, I just sit on it and dismantle. Depending on the conditions, I often end up quickly getting the kite and tail messily into their bags, and out of the wind; then tidying them up later at home or in a cafe.
A video of walking a kite down: youtube
Back home I will repack the kites and tidy up the line – letting it de-stress if wound back on taut.
Then the sorting of the images begins. My hit rate (sorting rubbish from good and interesting) is around 2-5%. The interesting ones I copy off the SD card, as RAW files, and process.
Common issues or things that have gone wrong (normal with me as the primary cause):
- Forgetting to put gloves on before the kite goes up. Ouch.
- Not switching the camera on before sending it up – dooooh !
- Forgetting to put the tail on (but not done this one for a while). Especially an issue with my deltas, which can then quickly slam the camera into the ground – nothing is ever nice slow and predictable with a tailless delta.
- Not securing the batteries on the rig with cable ties and having them jump out with the movement force/swing of the kite and line.
- Turning up to the location with the wrong kite for the conditions (which are different to what was expected). ALso not happened for a while, given I now take with me at least 2 kites, for different wind conditions; usually 3 and sometimes 4.
- In strong wind, not holding the kite down sufficiently when assembling it (sitting on it) and it whipping up into my face and once, with my Cody, breaking a spar and puncturing a hole in the material. My Cody is a kite that needs time to assemble it; in a strong wind, it really needs two people. I tried this once on my own with disastrous results to me and the kites. It has also happened a couple of times with the Rokkaku and Trident, which thankfully haven’t broken. Lesson learnt.
- Leaving my loop, hat, sun glasses in the bag and having to scramble them out while trying to fly the kite at the same time.
- Not getting to the camera quick enough when reeling it in; hence, why I prefer walking the camera down.
- Misjudging, or not aware of, the strength of the wind higher up and the kite getting into difficulty.
- Forgetting my ground anchor, when I am on my own, and having nowhere to tie the kite off and walk it down.
- Expecting my family to be enthusiastic about it all as I am ! I often have to monitor my family as much as the kite and weather.
- Not putting enough time on the parking meter! Nothing worse than wrestling with a kite and at the same time spotting a parking attended looking at your car.
Knots that are useful
There are 8 general knots that I use and find continuously useful: