Low and High KAP at Flag Ponds Nature Park

Flag Ponds Nature Park is a place with hiking trails, ponds, and a large beach in Calvert County, Maryland. The beach is wide open and features an observation deck and large tide pools with interesting shapes. I brought my kite and radio-controlled KAP rig to do some aerial photography. There was a reasonably steady north wind of about 12 mph, which my Rokker kite handled with ease, and the whole process of launching the kite, attaching the rig, taking pictures, and bringing everything back down was uneventful (a good thing!).

The first subject was the observation deck. I started with a very low shot and then proceeded to get one from a bit higher, looking down on it. Both turned out nice. I find it interesting how different the water color looks depending on the viewing angle. At low angles, it reflects the blue of the sky, but looking straight down, it takes on a deep green hue. For the first picture, I was standing very near to the launch point, and the camera was less than 50 ft high. The second one required me to walk along the shore of the tide pool and raise the camera up to 100-200 ft.

Next, I headed towards the shore, where many people were playing on the beach. Interestingly, I hardly saw anyone swimming in the water. That may have had something to do with the posted warning about jellyfish, which are abundant in the waters of the Chesapeake at this time of year. Hunting for crabs is a common activity, though, as is sunbathing. I lowered the kite a bit again to capture the a group of people on the beach, and I chose a 16:9 crop to remove extra sand and water from the composition.

Beachgoers at Flag Ponds Nature Park

Last, I needed to get a shot from up high to show the shape of the tide pools. I walked up and down the beach while I let out the line but ended up back near the south end of the beach, where I had started out. I had to let out all 700 ft of line and stand at the end of the beach to capture these tide pools, but it was worth the effort to get a picture of this very interesting geography.

Flag Ponds Nature Park

I learned later by looking at satellite imagery that this was low tide, and the beach looks entirely different at high tide. The placement of the observation deck also makes a little more sense when you consider high tide. Check it out here! That extreme difference in itself is an excellent reason to come back again when the tide is high. I also did a vlog documenting this KAP session. You can watch it below, and it’s also on my KAP Vlogs page.

Boats at St. Mary’s College Marina

Well, I’m slacking, because it’s been over a month since I did some kite aerial photography at St. Mary’s College Marina, and I am just writing about it now. However, it has kind of worked out, because in the meantime I came across a new RAW photo editor (ART), and I much prefer the results I was able to get out of it with this particular set of pictures than I had gotten from my other editor (DxO Photolab 5, an excellent paid program with some top-notch features, but no official support for my camera, requiring some hacks to get it to work).

Anyway, I had spied this location when searching for aerial photos of the college a few months ago. I have taken some aerial photos at the college previously, but they were always done from a field behind the school, not down by the water. It turns out there is a small beach and some docks with enough space to launch a kite, so I decided to go for it. Here is what the marina looks like from the air, courtesy of my kite:

St. Mary’s College marina (that’s me on the dock)

The small beach at the top left of the image was my initially planned launch location. The wind was around 10-15 mph from the southeast (from the upper right towards the lower left in the photo), with gusts as high as 20 mph, so I chose the smaller of my two kites, the Mini Dopero, for this session. Launching proved to be much more difficult than expected, however. The buildings were blocking the wind at the beach and causing severe turbulence, so much so that the local wind would change direction by 180 degrees within the span of seconds. I managed to get the kite about 100 ft in the air at one point but then brought it down for some bridle adjustments. After that, I only succeeded in crashing the kite into the water a couple times.

With frustration increasing, I remembered that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, so I decided to change my approach. Instead of launching from the beach, I walked to the end of the dock (where you can see me in the picture above) to get away from the turbulence. That turned out to be a great idea, because the kite immediately took to the air with no problems, and after letting out a couple hundred feet of line, I could bring it back to the beach to attach the camera while maintaining stable flight.

The plan was to get high and take a photo of the college, across the street from the marina. However, due to the distance and the school’s height above the water, I wasn’t able to get that shot. It may be possible on a day with steadier wind, so that the camera can be attached closer to the kite (to get higher) and maybe with a panorama. The two below were the closest I could get, which show some of the school buildings, but the main campus is farther to the left and across the street.

My favorite images ended up being these lower-altitude shots of the boats docked at the marina, below. The first one is actually one of my personal all-time favorites, so I especially like that one, of course. (As an aside, as I’ve progressed with my kite aerial photography, I’ve come to appreciate low-altitude shots much more than I originally did. At first it was all about getting as high as possible and seeing what familiar places look like from hundreds of feet in the air, but the novelty of doing that wears off after a while. Now it’s become more about art, which is often best created with low-altitude shots of specific subjects. Of course, there are still times when you need to get high to capture the subject, though.) I also liked the boats anchored out in the water, looking out the other direction from the marina.

It started out frustrating but ended up being a successful and very enjoyable KAP session. I’ll definitely come back again sometime to see if I can capture that high-altitude panorama of the college.

The Pier at Solomons Island

The Pier is an aptly-named and very popular restaurant in Solomons Island, Maryland. It’s been on my list of KAP subjects for a while, but it requires a primarily east wind to fly a kite there, which is not very common around here. June 5 seemed to be the day for it, as the wind started out from the northeast in the morning, and it was supposed to remain that way for most of the day before slowly decreasing in speed in the late afternoon.

I was able to get there in early afternoon and was happy to find that there was still plenty of wind — actually greater than 10 mph rather than the forecasted 8 mph, which might not have been enough — but it was from the southeast rather than the northeast. The plan had been to fly from the north side of The Pier, but that wouldn’t have worked out so well with a southeast wind. That turned out to be a good thing, though, because the south side had better accommodations for kite flying, including a thin strip of grass with trees beyond the sidewalk, and it also allowed me to get the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge connecting St. Mary’s and Calvert counties in the background.

Once I found a suitable place to set up the kite, I waited for a clearing in the people walking by on the sidewalk and released it into the air. The 10+ mph wind presented no problems in getting this kite up and away. Once it was about 150 feet in the air, the next task was tying it off somewhere and attaching the rig. I normally use a dog stake for this purpose, but I couldn’t get it to go into the hard ground underneath the grass strip. Thankfully, the trees made a good alternative option, so I wrapped the line around one of them a few times and waited for another lull in the number of passersby. Once attached, I let out another ~200 feet of line and started taking pictures.

It ended up being a fairly short session. Upon checking the video downlink from my KAP rig, I decided that the first shot was higher than I wanted. I still took a bunch, of course, and edited the best of them, which is the first one above. For the next shot, I moved closer to The Pier and took in about half the line. I was happy with that composition, and since I’m always wary of wind forecasts that say the wind is going to die down, I decided that was good enough for the session. That shot is the second one above. Which do you prefer?

During the course of the flight, I had some nice interactions with people walking by. Most thought the kite and aerial photography rig were pretty interesting. One asked me if I had caught any fish, thinking I was fishing instead of flying a kite. She must not have been a fisherman (fisherwoman?) or kite flier to have made that mistake, but that’s okay. It’s probably good for me to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people even though I usually like to be in solitude while flying.

Here is a video detailing this KAP session. There are more on my KAP Vlogs page if you like that format.

A Row of Posts in the Chesapeake

Last year I did some KAP at Elm’s Beach Park, a beach on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the subjects was an interesting row of posts out in the water. I couldn’t get as close to it as I wanted at that time, though, and I also decided it looks better in a vertical (aka portrait) orientation, but the rig I was using at the time was not capable of that. My new radio-controlled KAP rig can be switched from horizontal to vertical orientation, so I decided to take another shot at this challenging subject.

An osprey eying its prey. Elm’s Beach Park is home to lots of wildlife.

The forecast called for a west wind around 10 mph, which should be perfect for flying out over the water with my Rokker kite. At the beach, the wind seemed much more unstable, with infrequent gusts that must have been close to 20 mph, and many thermals. I had to adjust the bridle twice and add a drogue to get the kite flying in a way that seemed steady enough to risk attaching the rig. After those adjustments and letting out 200 feet of line, it was ready for KAP. I attached the rig and started wading out into the water, equipped with a bathing suit to get as far as possible.

Thankfully, once the kite got away from the beach, the wind was steadier, so there were only a couple scary moments where I feared the rig would come down in the water and had to take action. Unfortunately, with the R/C transmitter hanging near my waist, I couldn’t wade too far without risking getting it wet. One mistake that I made was forgetting to remove the lens cap from the micro FPV camera that provides the video downlink for composing pictures. It is translucent, so it was still possible to see what the camera was pointing at, but not easily, especially since the picture on the monitor is sideways with the rig in portrait orientation. After about 45 minutes of KAP, I decided to head back to shore and bring it down.

Here is the best photo of the posts I got from the session. It ended up not being as close as I was hoping, and I had to crop quite a bit to get it, but I still like how it came out. At times when the prevailing wind direction was west, it also tended not to be that strong, so the viewpoint is not that high.

This may not be a “portfolio piece,” (not that I have a real portfolio, but it probably won’t go in the Favorites gallery), but I have some ideas for improving it. Next time I’ll use a shorter strap for my R/C transmitter so I can wade farther into the water, and I’ll attach the rig closer to the kite and let out as much string as possible to get the camera closer to the posts. Regardless, this was a fun and rewarding session!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy some video footage of the kite, camera, and wildlife below.

Radio-Controlled KAP at Point Lookout

It was spring, and we were finally starting to get some nice weather after a long winter. Late one afternoon, I headed to Point Lookout, MD to take advantage of some wind and hopefully nice lighting for aerial pictures of the lighthouse. The wind was stronger than I expected, but it was well within the range of my Mini Dopero kite. It was from the southeast, so I went all the way to the end of the peninsula, past the lighthouse, thinking I could fly the kite out over the water and take pictures from the northwest side, which should be nicely lit up by the low sun. I was also excited to use my new radio-controlled (R/C) kite aerial photography rig to take the pictures, which I tested in my previous post and vlog.

I hadn’t flown the Mini Dopero since last summer, since the Rokker is now my workhorse kite, but I remembered that the last time out with it I’d had a couple nervous moments where it had lost tension and veered over towards trees before I was able to regain control. Because of that and also because the R/C rig is somewhat heavier (which would exacerbate such problems), I decided to adjust the bridle knot downwards towards the tail of the kite. A somewhat lower tow point increases stability and pulling force, and I wanted to do everything possible to make sure there were no problems while I was busy composing pictures with the video screen.

It was no trouble at all getting the kite flying in the robust sea breeze. As is my normal practice with this kite, I attached a drogue for added stability, and then I attached the KAP rig about 100 ft below the kite. The flight was very smooth, with no stability problems at all. Here is the first picture I took of the lighthouse, with the camera a couple hundred feet up.

Point Lookout Lighthouse

It’s not a bad picture, and composing it with the R/C transmitter and video downlink worked perfectly, but it’s not quite what I had in mind. I wanted to see more of the surrounding land and water in the frame. Part of the problem was that the wind direction was not actually moving the kite out over the water like I had anticipated, so the camera was more directly over the lighthouse than intended. I decided to walk out to the front of the lighthouse right by the water’s edge and let out a lot more line to get more in the frame. Here is the result.

Point Lookout Lighthouse

That’s better! As a bonus, the kite line and pilot (me, and is pilot the proper term for someone who flies a kite?) are in the frame but not distracting from the main subject. I really like this picture, but the angle was still higher than I wanted. It’s easy to misjudge the perspective of a kite, especially one that flies at a high line angle like the Mini Dopero.

The wind was increasing, and I knew it was going to be hard work hauling in the kite, so I got started on that. When that was finally almost finished, I took a peek at the video feed and realized that there was an unexpectedly beautiful view of the lighthouse available from the south side. The sun was now lower but still out of the frame, and the low angle made the peninsula and water fully visible in the background. This one turned out to be the best shot of the day and actually one of my favorite KAP shots to date. I only wish it had some interesting clouds.

Point Lookout Lighthouse

I also made a short video documenting the KAP session set to relaxing music. In it you’ll find footage of the kite and camera from the ground, video from the downlink that I use to compose photos, and the three photos appearing in this post. If you like the video, you can find more on my YouTube channel and my KAP Vlogs page.

Building and Testing a New R/C KAP Rig

While it’s been cold this winter, I’ve been busy designing and building a new KAP rig. I have used an R/C rig one time before, almost a year ago, with my Canon Powershot S100 camera. Unfortunately, I had a mishap and lost the entire rig the next time out, so I didn’t get to use it much. I eventually replaced that camera with the Sony RX0, which I am still using now, and an AutoKAP rig, which I used for the rest of 2021. While I like the simplicity of an AutoKAP rig, at times I wished I could manually compose and choose when to take my pictures, so I decided to build a new R/C rig around the Sony RX0.

The design was done using the free, open-source 3D CAD modeler, FreeCAD. It is very similar to my previous rig. The main design goals were:

  1. Pan, tilt, and shutter control
  2. Video downlink via a smaller, secondary FPV (first-person view) camera
  3. Capability to remotely switch the video transmitter off to save battery
  4. Under 400g total flying mass
  5. Ability to rotate the lower section of the frame between landscape and portrait orientation

After completing the design, I had the wood parts laser-cut out of 3mm plywood. Building it was fairly simple, and everything functioned as intended. Once I got a nice enough day, I took it to St. Mary’s College for flight testing, which is a relatively scenic location with a large field that makes a great KAP test location. (This is actually the same location of the one and only successful flight of my first R/C KAP rig. Hopefully this one will not meet such an early demise.) I made a video detailing the build and testing process, which can be viewed below.

Here are a few of the aerial photos from the KAP session. Not exactly “portfolio pieces,” but nice enough anyway. I look forward to my next flight with this new KAP rig!

A Second Look Reveals a Hidden Gem

KAP is a very weather-dependent activity, and sometimes the wind and lighting don’t come together just how you want. That’s what happened back in July, when I went to Buffalo, New York’s Outer Harbor to take some pictures of the city skyline with my kite. There were wildfires raging on the other side of the country, and a thick blanket of smoke had drifted all the way to the east coast, resulting in gray skies with very low visibility.

At the time, I was a bit bummed with the conditions, since I wanted a nice clear view of the skyline. And indeed, the original photo is a bit dull and boring. For example, compare the two images below, the first taken on the smoky day, and the second taken when I returned to the same spot a couple days later:

The second one is a lot better, with colors and a sky that “pop,” and not as much distracting stuff in the foreground. I ended up just writing off all the pictures from the smoky session. After all, I got the shot I really wanted a couple days later.

That is, until yesterday, when I was looking through photos of mine that had “atmosphere” as examples for an online photo challenge I am running. The smoky picture stood out to me, and I realized that it really could have a lot of character with a little bit of editing. It’s unusual to get conditions like this with KAP, since normally weather that’s suitable for flying kites is not suitable for maintaining interesting atmospheric effects like smoke, fog, or mist, so it would be a shame to waste this photographic opportunity.

First, I applied a 2:1 crop to get rid of some of the distracting foreground elements as well as a good chunk of the gray sky that wasn’t adding anything to the photo. Then, since the colors are dull and muted anyway, I just went ahead and made it black and white. I added some contrast too to make it a little more dramatic. The end result was what you see at the top of this post: a dark and ominous shot that I think captures the mood of the day quite well. Here are the original edited versions again. Which do you like better? How about the smoky shot versus the clear one?

Original and edited image

Patuxent Panorama

In the final weekend of October, we finally had some good weather for KAP after weeks where the weather and my schedule didn’t line up. I had a new location in mind: Flag Ponds Nature Park in Calvert County, which has a beach featuring some small cliffs and a pier that I was thinking of using as the subject. However, when I arrived there, the park was closed despite it being during the usual open hours. Forced to improvise, I decided to head to Jefferson Patterson Park, a nearby location along the Patuxent River.

Jefferson Patterson Park is a pretty nice place; it has lots of open space, walking paths, the waterfront, a museum, and historical displays. There’s no really interesting landmark that I could find, though, so I walked to an open field near the water and decided to just fly the kite high to take some pictures of the shoreline with its fall colors now in full display. Here are a few pictures I took during the walk out to the flying field.

The wind at the field was just about perfect; about 10 mph and fairly steady. I set up my workhorse Rokker KAP kite and had it up in the air in no time. I decided to try something new and record a vlog of my KAP session this time. Here it is below, and you can also find it and any future ones I do in the new vlogs section of this website.

The sky conditions were changing quickly during the KAP session, with predominantly overcast skies periodically giving way to to a few minutes of sunshine at a time. As a result, I got some nicely-lit pictures of the shoreline also featuring moody clouds. The best looking photos were towards the north, away from the sun. There were even a couple instances during the many rotations of my autoKAP rig where the wind was smooth enough to stitch panoramas from the resulting photos, which are taken in 5-second intervals each separated by a rotation of about 15 degrees. I’ve put the best one first in the gallery below and also as the cover photo at the top of this blog post. This panorama was stitched from two images (actually not consecutive ones; the horizon was too tilted in the middle of three) using a program called Hugin. A few other aerial views of the park are also included in the gallery.

The wind picked up during the flight, which made getting the kite back down hard work. It wasn’t that the wind was too strong, but with the bridle set up for the lighter winds at the beginning of the session, a lot of force was required to pull it down. That’s okay, because I could use the exercise! It was a very enjoyable and successful KAP session, even though I had to improvise on the location. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to fly at Flag Ponds Nature Park at some point in the future. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the photos and video!

Point Lookout Lighthouse

The weather has not cooperated with my schedule to do much KAP lately. Today, the forecast was overcast with a chance of rain all day, but there was finally some wind in a direction suitable for taking aerial photos of the Point Lookout Lighthouse, so I decided to head over there and see what would happen. Overcast can be good, because it avoids the harsh highlights and shadows of bright daylight and can also produce dramatic-looking clouds sometimes.

I was planning to go in the morning and fly by myself like I normally do, but this time my daughter wanted to come along, so we made a little trip of it. She really enjoyed playing on the rocks and at the beach and watching the kite fly.

When we got to the location, it was quite overcast but with no sign of rain. Since it wasn’t very bright out, I pushed the shutter speed all the way down to 1/800 sec, which is longer than I’ve done before. From experience, the Sony RX0 images start to get noticeably noisy above ISO 400, so I was trying to avoid that. I figured that even if more images than normal had some motion blur, at least the sharp ones would have good image quality. This strategy worked out well, as all my images came out below ISO 400, and plenty of them were sharp.

There was plenty of wind, definitely in the Beaufort 4 range. This would have been plenty to fly the Mini Dopero kite, but I still chose to fly the Rokker instead. It is the most stable one I have, and that stability would be needed for the longer shutter speeds. I adjusted the tow point to its forwardmost mark on the line, which helps keep the aerodynamic forces manageable in stronger winds while still maintaining adequate stability. Once the kite was up in the air, it was moving around quite a lot, so I decided to bring it down again and attach a drogue. That did a good job of stabilizing it, so I attached the rig and started the timer to automatically take pictures.

This time, the plan was not to fly very high, since the lighthouse is not large, and I wanted it to be the main subject. We started on the northeast side of the lighthouse. My original plan was to fly the camera to the south and get the end of the peninsula in view looking towards the north. The wind direction ended up being more east than north, which would not have allowed the kite to fly offshore to the south and capture the view I had in mind, so I changed the plan and flew to the north instead. We walked around to a few different spots, hoping to create plenty of options to choose a good composition when I got the pictures back. The best one ended up being one of the last ones taken, which is shown at the top of this page and first in the gallery above. The kite and camera were flying off the west side of the peninsula here, looking back towards the southeast towards the lighthouse and the end of the peninsula. In addition to the main subject, I also really like the dramatic overcast sky and the posts in the water in this shot. The gallery also includes one of the first pictures I took, from the east side of the peninsula, and one more in the middle.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my latest KAP adventure. If so, consider giving it a like, subscribing, or sharing this page with a friend. Thanks!

Fishing Pier at Point Lookout

It’s been a while since my last KAP session. The wind has been pretty calm during these last couple months of summer, and between that and my schedule, I haven’t had any chances for KAP. Finally, this weekend, there was some decent wind, and it was blowing from the southwest, just the right direction for a subject I’ve been waiting to photograph with my kite: the fishing pier at Point Lookout.

If you’ve ever been to Point Lookout, the fishing pier would be hard to miss. It is 700 ft long and, on nice days like this one, full of people fishing. The pier turns at the end, forming an L-shape. I figured this pier would look most interesting from directly above, so I did something unusual (for me) and pointed the camera straight down. The autoKAP rig was still set up to rotate, so I would get pictures with the pier in all different orientations.

I set up along the shore to the southwest of the pier, with the intention of flying the kite out over the water past the pier and hanging the camera directly above it. The plan was to get it high enough to capture most of the length of the pier, including the L-shape at the end. It can be hard to judge distances from the ground, but I did the best I could and was pleased to find out after getting the pictures back that the plan worked out. The map below shows the approximate locations of me and the camera with nearly all of my 700 ft of line released.

KAPing the Point Lookout fishing pier

Even though there was enough wind, launching the kite was surprisingly challenging. Below 100 ft, the wind was really turbulent, and on several launch attempts the kite zoomed all around before eventually losing lift while I did my best to work the line. The turbulence must have been because of the trees behind me, but it was still a little surprising just how turbulent it was. It didn’t help that there wasn’t that much room to move around or do a long-line launch. I encountered the same turbulence while bringing the kite down; as soon as the kite reached about 100 ft above the ground, it became very difficult to fly, and it actually took a dive and a loop at one point after I had already detached the rig. Thankfully, the Rokker kite eventually found smooth air and was its normal stable self again. I attached the rig about 150 ft of line below the kite.

Once the rig was attached, I let out the line quickly to get the camera over the pier, also moving back and forth along the rocks in an attempt to always keep it in the right place. I spent about half of the 33-minute shooting session at high altitude trying to get as much of the pier in view as possible and the other half bringing it back in to try to get some closer shots. Winding the line in was hard work with the moderate breeze at altitude, especially since I had a time limit and had to go fast. As I wound it in, I also moved closer to the pier along the rocks. My distance estimating skills turned out to be pretty good, because most of the shots had the pier in view, and plenty were directly over it. My three favorite shots, from high, medium, and low altitude, are shown below.

The most striking thing about these images is the green hue of the water, which I was not expecting. It was not nearly as noticeable from the ground, but it looks really nice from the air. Also unexpected were the quite visible turbulent wakes of the bridge supports extending down into the water, which are more brownish in color due to the dirt and sand that they entrain. Each of the images shows the popularity of this fishing spot on a nice Labor Day weekend, and the umbrella in the last two makes for a nice accent to the photos. This KAP mission was as much of a success as I hoped!

After the session, I drove down to the end of the peninsula to check it out. The last time I came to Point Lookout, the very end was closed due to lighthouse renovations, so I wanted to see if it was open again. It turns out that it was. I’ve been wanting to do some KAP of this place, so I’ll put it on my mental KAP to-do list. I think it will look good from a couple hundred feet high with the camera offshore past the end of the peninsula. Here’s a picture of the lighthouse that I took from the ground, and also, just for fun, a picture of the big fly that landed on my window (these things are all over the place at Point Lookout, and they seem to love cars).

Thanks for reading about my KAP adventures! Don’t forget to subscribe if you are interested in keeping up with the.