Go Fly A Kite

The author at “work.”
100m is about my maximum kite altitude so this map is a pretty decent resource for seeing if your region has KAP weather. 3.9m/s is about 9mph and that’s probably your minimum wind speed with a decent payload.

My Process

George R. Lawrence’s famous SF shot taken weeks after the 1906 earthquake. He used a stack of small kites strung together to lift a large camera on a timer.

The Rig

Many kites will work for KAP but rokkaku, deltas and box kites seem to be the favorites for their stability and wide wind speed range. For a decent payload you’ll probably need at least .5 square meter of sail.
You can get a very nice rugged and waterproof camera like this for about $150
Givin’ a lil’ kickstart
Simple slip loop on a bight, sometimes called a trucker’s hitch.
Tuna clips

Making Orthophotos

A bubble style panorama made with a rotating motion. For this to work, the camera needs to be mostly stationary while rotating. The farther away the subject is, the less important it is for the pictures to have been taken from the same spot.
An ortho image from Alameda CA. I’d like to fly a camera with a polarized filter to circumvent the glare off the water but those filters need to be manually rotated which would require a servo or remote.
A stitched perspective shot from Albany Bulb. You can see the image sort of fall away at the edges so this is not an ortho image. You could probably clip out the edges and use the middle.

Making 3D Meshes

You can’t measure accurate distances between these points until you scale them appropriately but when you do, this turns into a pretty nice altimeter for your camera after you’re done.
  1. Get as many photos of the region in question. You can scan rolling hills with a kite flown at constant height just by walking around the area. The more photo overlap, the better the quality of the resulting model so consider how this will inform your coverage strategy. Since any object that moves is going to appear differently between your photos, reducing the amount of people or waving vegetation is going to be important. With decent resolution and a simple subject, you should be able to get a pretty good model with less than 40 images. If the objective is to scan a building or more complicated shape, you’ll need more photographs from around the sides and inside crevices, overhangs and concavities.
  2. Click and drag the photos into a program called Meshroom which will turn your photos into a textured mesh. It really is as simple as clicking “run” and there aren’t many settings to fiddle with. Having a good graphics card and hefty RAM is essential because this is a processor heavy project. The more savvy technicians might set up an S3 account to run the processing through a cloud server.
  3. The completed mesh will have some noise and ragged edges. To clean up errors and artifacts, trim the mesh in Meshlab which is also a good platform for exporting the model into different file types like .obj or .stl depending on where your model is going to end up. Just get rid of the errors and export your final mesh. You might even want to show off your new mesh by posting it to Sketchfab which is a cool resource to see what other folks have done with these techniques. Here’s a simple beach from the Shetland Islands done with KAP.
Sand is not an easy medium to record because it has a tendency to shift. This mesh was made with photos that were taken over the course of an hour so people, footprints and umbrellas moved a bit between the images and introduced error.

Alternatives to Meshroom:


Digital Elevation Model

Things I want to Try




Maps, conservation, insects, film, boats, scuba diving

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Andrew Middleton

Andrew Middleton

Maps, conservation, insects, film, boats, scuba diving

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