Flying a Camera on a Kite over the Statues on Easter Island

Melissa did a video that chronicles my difficulties putting a camera (and eventually in frustration, a computer) up on a kite string to shoot an aerial photograph. I needed a different angle on the Moai of Easter Island because they have been photographed to death. There are so many ways to get a camera up in the air these days. You can look at Nick Nichols’s Field Test in National Geographic about flying helicopters over lions, but you have to realize there are many people and a lot of time and money involved in that. This was not the case. I went through my equipment closet before I left and the guys in photo equipment at NG went through their equipment closet and we patched together a bunch of stuff that MIGHT WORK. I don’t even own a kite. NG sent me a “fighting kite” they had left over from an arctic assignment that would be good for cutting the strings of someone else’s kite in Lahore in a fight, but not to carry a camera. Luckily my 85-year-old father is still paragliding and he arranged for his instructors and their friends to help me get a kite big enough to carry a camera and a computer. I had to get a camera up in the air quickly, so this ended up being a “seat of the pants” experiment that only netted one photograph. One is all you need, however, and that photograph was in the layout for awhile, but disappeared with some later decisions. This aerial-by-kite was a side-note to my main mission, which was to photograph the place and the culture. I was particularly interested in the people because there are direct descendants left on the island and I did a search through all the agency and photo sites before I left and there were 30,000 photographs of the statues and about two of the people in their homes living their lives. But in the middle of the real work, if the light was good, and if the wind was good I would run out with my little team and try to make a kite photograph.


  1. oh my gosh… i wish i could tell you how many times i laughed out loud while watching this… it was at least 25!! thanks for the smiles, and i’m glad you finally got something! 🙂

  2. awesome! What a fun video. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury says:

    Its awesome, I am thrilled to watch the video and the passion behind taking a better picture. I salute. Roy

  4. Robert R. Llewellyn says:

    I enjoy NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and will be on the look out for your photography. I suspect that you know this. There is a whole community of KAPers–kite aerial photography enthusiasts and practitioners. There is a wealth of information on kites, lines, cameras, cradles, triggering devices, downlink connections, etc. Anyone of us would have eagerly joined you on this expedition to Easter Island!

  5. Fun video! I like the problem solving in this video. Easter Island is on my list of places for this year… Cant wait to see it!

  6. In the future, get the advice from the Kite Aerial Photographers forum, as they could have save you tons of headaches.

    Here is a book from 2009 which has a fantastic easter island image you were looking for:

  7. Great location and Kite Aerial Photography is indeed a wonderful approach for a subject like this.
    A little research (Google) and proper equipment (an appropriate kite for the wind) would have made the task a lot easier and safer (it is plain stupid to fly such a kite without gloves).

    Okay, I know, I’m just being jealous… 😉

    Tip: see the KAP group on flickr for great examples of kite imagery.

  8. Maybe NG need to purchase this little helicopter or hexacopter devices that can carry a camera with a support similar of a steady cam. This are operated by a remote control. You can use them if you have not heavy winds.

  9. It gets easier with practice.
    With practice you may have realized that there are better kites, better kite reels, and learned techniques for dealing with the kite line. Gloves are important, as are anchors.
    Looks like you were using a DuneCam system for controlling the camera. I’ve had good success with it. The DuneCam system employs a low power preview technique where a frame is transmitted each time you push a button. After seeing the preview you may push the shutter button to take the photo. I have mine configured to shoot 5 frames in quick succession (sometimes with exposure bracketing) and will often grab hundreds of frames as the camera is constantly moving and the framing won’t match the preview exactly. I also shoot fairly wide when subjects like this are close up. This allows for cropping/framing in post.
    Perhaps you seen the success others have had with kite aerial photography at Easter Island?

  10. What great fun you have on assignment (sometimes)!!!

  11. Stuart Knoles says:

    I think if something like this were to be done again, consider using a simple box kite design. Rather than suspending the camera from the kite line, it might be mounted in the center of the box kite, viewing out between the upper and lower lift panels. A box kite has quite a bit of lift and is most stable in flight. The construction is rather simple, and a variety of materials can be used. Estimate the size needed would be 8 to 10 feet tall.


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