Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Building an Actobotics Kite Aerial Photography Suspension Rig

The Kite Aerial Photography community is one of those groups where the members are sort of eclectic, and get tons of enjoyment from capturing unique aerial imagery by hanging a camera from a kite.  Anyone who has tried KAP gets not only the satisfaction of flying kites, but the reward of seeing a bird's eye view in the images.  I was hooked from the first session, and have been flying cameras on a string ever since. You've decided that you want to be part of "that" group, and want more information on ways to get started.  As a KAP nerd, I think I speak for the entire group by saying, "Welcome!"

People have been using Kites to capture aerial photography for over a hundred years.  George R. Lawrence made a name for himself using a series of kites to lift a 50 pound camera in 1906 to document post-earth quake San Francisco.  Most modern day kite photographers use a suspension rig which was designed by Pierre Picavet way back in 1912. What has changed is the quality of the cameras, the design of the rigs, and even instant gratification in seeing the images through wireless networks.  I will focus on the actual rig that holds the camera in this thread, and show how you can create your own.  

I'd also like to suggest that you check out the Kite Aerial Photography forum.  There are hundreds of photographers that discuss everything KAP, and should be your primary resource when you start your journey towards kite photography.  Before you even think about launching a KAP rig, please keep in mind that hanging a camera from a kite string can be dangerous.  If the kite fails or the camera falls from the rig, you could potentially cause serious damage to your camera, and injury or death to anything underneath.  I would recommend that you never fly your rig over the top of people, and ensure that there is a safe zone in case of failure.  

What sort of Kite do I need?

I have 4 kites that I use in my KAP quiver.  3 of them are soft kites called FlowForms that do not have any struts or a rigid frame.  Unfortunately, they do not make the original Flowforms anymore, but there are similar alternatives.  The nice thing about these kites is that they are very stable in the sky, which is critical for capturing great imagery.  The less the kite moves around, the less the camera will move around as well. Many fly a Delta kite, which comes in many sizes.  Hopefully it's obvious, the more wind the smaller the kite you need and vice versa.  

What kind of camera do I need?

I once told a worrisome friend of mine when he watched me hang a camera over the water from a kite, "There is always risk in being awesome."  Just understand that with the risk of launching a camera hundreds of feet in the air, there is a chance that you may lose or break it.  So, don't send your shiny new dSLR camera up when you don't know what you're doing.   There are plenty of low cost solutions that will get you amazing results while you learn the ropes.  That being said, you need a camera that has the capability to take pictures automatically.  This is called an intervelometer.  Some cameras have it built in, some use external triggers, and some can be hacked with custom firmware to accomplish this.  I'm not going to go into a lot of detail on what camera to use.  For this thread, I'm using a GoPro HD Hero 3, which has a built in intervelometer.  It's light, wide angle, and easy to use.  My first camera used in KAP back in 2009 was a Canon SD900 running the CHDK hack.  Since then, I have used 7 different cameras.  There are many options.

Do I need to build my own suspension rig?

Not really.   You can buy Kite Aerial Photography rigs that are ready to go.  I suggest browsing the options at  I think that one of the most enjoyable parts of the hobby is building your own rig. I've created many different rigs from static to full remote control.  At this point, I fly 95% of the time with an Auto-KAP rig.  It's simple, and I still get the shots I'm looking for.  Auto-KAP basically takes and rotates the camera while it's in the air.  You can also add tilt to the mix.  Since Kite Aerial Photography is many times a solo activity, I find that Auto-KAP is the simplest way to get the most out of your session.

For this article, I've built a panning rig using Actobotics parts from  I've used a channel mount servo gearbox and hub gear reduction to slow down the rotation, so that the camera has time to take pictures for a number of seconds before rotating to the next stop.   I've also added the AuRiCo, Automatic Rig Controller, which operates the continuous rotation panning servo.  I've set it up to rotate a small amount, and then wait a few seconds before moving again. This really works great on a rig that has Pan and Tilt.  

The picavet suspension, which helps keep the camera level to the horizon, uses aluminum beams with eye hooks on the end.  Normally, I use PeKaBe ball-bearing blocks, which are smaller precision pulleys that really give the smoothest possible picavet.  However, in order to keep the cost of the rig down, eye hooks work just fine.  

Here is the rig without the aluminum beams, and a compact picavet package from

With the rig ready, now you're set to go and fly your kite.  The camera suspension rig is not attached directly to the kite.  It's attached to the kite line about 100 feet below the kite itself.  This helps with stability.  The Actobotics rig above rotates 360 once every 8 minutes or so.

Unlike Ellen's selfie, this one isn't going to set any Twitter record.  However, one of the outcomes of using auto-KAP is the aerial self portrait.  The Actobotics rig worked well, and I was able to keep the kite aloft for about 45 minutes.  

The result is an aerial view of my current home town, Paddock Lake, Wisconsin.  My house is even in the shot as an added bonus.  No leaves on the trees yet, as spring finally arrived a few weeks ago.  

The internet has a wealth of information on Kite Aerial Photography, so do your research before making any design decisions.  I find it very enjoyable to build your own rig and play with different configurations.  Having a simple, auto-rotating platform for your camera will make Kite Aerial Photography easier and more enjoyable.  Fly safe!


  1. Really awesome tips for photographer also all photos are looking nice.

    Clipping Path Service | Clipping Path Service | Clipping Path Service

  2. Hey, ….
    I see your photograph pic , really nice I have a job if you want to see please visit my web..
    Clipping Path Service

  3. Very hard to capture those photos. But surely impressive your technology :) :) :)

    Sultan Sumit Arefin
    Photographer at Clipping Care
    Professional Clipping Path Service | Background Remover | Photo Retouching Services

  4. Absolutely Your tips is very helpful for me.Thanks a lot for sharing with us.
    Clipping path service India | Clipping path service India Blog | civil infoSignature allow forum

  5. Helpful tips and I am happy to see this kind of helpful post. Thanks for sharing
    Clipping Path Service (Multiple Clipping)

  6. I'm supper late to your post but your article is rapt me. I think that your advice help professional life. Thanks a lot.

    raster to vector service
    vector conversion service

  7. So amazing photography tips and ticks
    thanks for such a great post
    Clipping Path Service

  8. What a photography. Yah; I know photography is not easy. Need technique and also technology.

    Best Clipping Path Services

  9. I had never seen this type of appreciable photography. Really you're so creative and innovative . Keep continue your awesome work.

    clipping path service

  10. How amazing this blog is! I really love this topic...

    Clipping Path | removing background | image masking |

  11. What a great work done by Photographer, really awesome work.
    Offshore Clipping Path

  12. All is amazing. unbelievable post, really i appreciate it. Thanks a lot for your nice sharing.
    Clipping Path / Clipping Path service / new movies / civil engineering

  13. Kite Aerial Photography community use latest and modern technology for photography. They have a inhouse team. most of pic natural and can't need image editing in my opinion. Photoshop Clipping Path Provider

  14. Fantastic tips and tricks for professional photographers. Your suggestion can even be the first step to make the best photographers of the next editing service - clipping path service - background removal service

  15. These designs are very exceptional. Thanks for sharing such a nice info with us. I am very impressed through your way of presentation in this blog.

  16. This is an informative post you have shared with us . Great for this post on public . Cut Out Photo | Clipping Path | Photo Cut Out

  17. This is an outstanding one. I appreciate the thoughts. Thanks for sharing.
    Clipping Path Service

  18. This is the best blog! This article is very comfortable. It is an amazing post you have published here. I have seen your post carefully and liked it. Hope that you will share such effective post regularly, thanks
    Photo Editing


  19. Excellent! It is an amazing post you have published here. It must be very informative! I have seen your

    post carefully and enjoy it. I am very impressed with your article, tips, and tricks. Hope that you will

    share such an effective post regularly, Thanks.
    clipping path service provider

  20. Very helpful & informative article. Thanks for sharing this.

    Clipping Path Photo Editing Service