Kite Aerial Photography: Kites
I have five kites that I use for KAP: A Rokkaku, a Maxi Dopero, and three Sutton Flowforms.
Photo by Thomas Dewez
The Rokkaku, a classic Japanese kite, has become my favorite kite for KAP. For a framed kite, it is quick and easy to set up. Also, it is my most versatile kite, enabling me to lift my camera in the widest range of typical wind speeds, including relatively light breezes. In my experience, if it will fly, it also has enough pull to lift my camera. In contrast, my Flowforms are sometimes notorious for being able to fly in a given wind, but unable to lift my camera.
The kite has a high flying angle, allowing me to maneuver in tight spaces. Perhaps surprisingly, it provides a very stable platform, despite the fact that it is often used as a fighter kite in “Rok Battles,” a Japanese tradition. In a battle, flyers intentionally set the top and bottom tensioners differently (see photo—just below my hands, a string going across the back gives the kite its characteristic bow when tightened), throwing off the balance of the kite, and allowing them take down an opponent’s kite. The key for KAPing with a Rok is to be certain both tensioners are set identically.
I use an ultra-lightweight carbon fibre frame. In addition, I acquired a heavy-duty fiberglass frame to extend the upper wind range of the kite with excellent results.
The photo is of me silhouetted behind my Rokkaku at Le Mont-Saint-Michel in France.
Photo by Kevin Shannon
The Dopero was conceived by fellow KAPer, Ralf Beutnagel, especially for aerial photography. It is an excellent low wind kite, providing enough lift to raise my camera in surprisingly low winds. However, I only fly it when other kites will not suffice because it is relatively complicated and time-consuming to set up. Like the Rokkaku, it has a high flying angle, which is often an advantage.
I use an ultra-lightweight carbon fibre frame.
Photo by Susie Ng
My three Flowforms are identical except for size: the smallest kite is 8 square feet, followed by 16 square feet, and the largest one is 30 square feet. I typically choose the large Flowform, but sometimes it is windy enough to fly one of the smaller kites. The Sutton 8 occasionally allows me to fly in very strong winds where it would be unsafe to launch my other kites.
The beauty of the Flowforms is that they pack down extremely compact (all three fit in my daypack with the rest of my KAP gear) and they are very easy to set up and launch. I simply take the kite out of the bag, unroll it, and let the wind catch it!
Flowforms are typically quite stable, so they’re great for aerial photography. They do occasionally dive down and sideways, but I’ve always been able to recover and avert disaster. A fuzzy tail is required for added stability (see photo).
Flowforms require stronger winds to fly than framed kites, which can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on wind conditions. One disadvantage is the low flying angle relative to the Dopero and Rokkaku. However, I recently “Becotized” my Flowform 16 and 30, which is supposed to increase stability and allow slightly higher flying angles.
The photo is of me flying the Flowform 16 next to Antelope Poppy Reserve in Southern California. Winds were very strong, as evidenced by a lower-than-normal flying angle.
Below is a wind chart showing the approximate working range for each kite. Just because a kite can fly in certain wind conditions does not mean it is ideal. For example, in steady 18 MPH breezes, I could probably fly the Rok, or either Flowform. But 18 MPH is at the extreme upper range of the Rok, leaving one of the Flowforms as the ideal choice. I always choose the “least” kite for the job, meaning the one that is at the lower end of it’s range. In this example, the Flowform 16 would be easier to manage.
As the chart indicates, my kites complement each other quite well, enabling me to lift my camera in winds ranging from approximately 3-5 MPH all the way up to 25-30 MPH.