The View Up Here

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Posts Tagged ‘Lighthouse’

Join the Club

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/10/2009

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took the kids to the county fair.  (Yes, even islands in the middle of the Pacific get to have county fairs!)  It was a great day, full of rides, surprisingly good food, and a stop at a booth where the Hilo Photography Club was showing some of their member photography.  Seeing other people’s prints on the wall got me to thinking about how isolated I am with the photography I do.  I trade notes with two of my co-workers who are into photography, but for the most part that’s it.  Every other interaction I have is online through Flickr, or through various forums for aerial and kite aerial photography. It’s strange, because for the most part I really am a loner.  But I found I really wanted to join a photography club.  Bad.

But driving to Hilo, especially on a weekday night, really didn’t hold much appeal.  I work during the week, and it’s an hour and a half to Hilo.  This would be like driving from Sealy, Texas, to the middle of Houston and back.  On a Wednesday.  So I looked around and found there is a second photography club on the island, based in Kona.   It’s not exactly in town, but forty-five minutes is still better than an hour and a half!  I liked the photography I saw on their web site, so I figured I should give it a try.

Still, things are never that easy.  The first person I had to convince was my wife.  It may be my idea to join the club, but our time belongs to the both of us.  Once I told her it was one night a month, though, she was ok with the idea.  As it turns out the club met the following evening, so with my camera bag in hand and an address written on a scrap of paper, I jumped in my Jeep after work and headed out.

One problem with addresses on this island is that they assume you know the roads.  Despite its being a fairly small island, there are still a lot of roads!  I didn’t exactly get lost, but I didn’t know where I was, either.  It took a while, but I finally got there.  The meeting was low-key, the folks were pretty friendly on the whole, but I was surprised how little interest there was in talking to a newcomer.  I literally sat in the corner, and despite working up the courage to speak up during the critique session, no one showed much interest in me, or even asked what kind of photography I was into.

Nonetheless, I liked what I saw.  The critiques were constructive, but they were also pretty direct.  No bubbles there!  If someone didn’t like a thing, they said so.  But they also said why, which is the real point of a critique.  At the end of the meeting I was determined to come to a second one, and to bring pictures to show and get feedback on.  The president of the club took down my name and email address, and invited me to the next meeting.

Choosing which pictures to bring took some work.  I didn’t necessarily want to show my flashiest images, but I did want a representative sample.  I also didn’t want to have to wade through the opinions that KAP was just a cheap alternative to helicopter aerial photography, so I tried to include images that showed things that helicopters can’t do.  I intend to bring my KAP bag to the next meeting as well, when I’ll be able to show these pictures, so I also tried to include images that demonstrate the portability of KAP.  This is the set I came up with:

Here There Be Dragons

Here There Be Dragons – I wanted to open with this one, mostly to show that KAP can be used around people, and at an altitude that could also be done using a ladder.  This is a common technique on the ground when a little more height is called for, so it’s a situation I hope enough of the photographers have found themselves in to have a feel for the angle I was after.  But a ladder would’ve cast a shadow here, whereas my KAP rig did not.  So even inside the scope of vantage points available to a photographer on the ground, KAP can offer possibilities.  (Plus making that dragon was fun!)

Flying in a Blue Dream

Flying in a Blue Dream – Most aerials I’ve seen are obliques, typically taken out of the side of a helicopter or airplane.  I wanted to include an ortho image, not as an example of remote sensing or mapping, but as an example of an artistic image.  I really liked the feel of this when it came off my camera.  It felt more like a 4×5 ground glass composition than a digital camera composition.  The honu in the upper center are almost secondary to the sweeps of color in other parts of the frame.

Gemini North

Gemini North – This is one of those “KAP is portable!” pictures.  It also indicates a place where doing the photography from a full sized helicopter would be difficult.  This is at 14,000′ above sea level.  There are only a handful of helicopters on the island that can hit this altitude, and none of them are available for photography.  It could’ve been done with an airplane, but not easily, and not without violating FAA airspace regulations.  As an added benefit, this also shows how RC helicopter photography and KAP don’t necessarily overlap, either.  I doubt many RC helicopters can fly at 14,000′ altitude, either.  For KAP, I just used a bigger kite to compensate for the thinner air.

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse – I wanted at least one picture where the camera was suspended over the water.  This is that picture.  I don’t know of any vehicle-mounted mast photographers on the island, but I’ve run into enough online to know that there is a misconception with some of them that a mast answers all needs.  Many of the places I fly don’t have roads, much less solid ground directly underneath the camera, so shots like this really couldn’t be done with a mast.  An RC helicopter or RC airplane could’ve done it, but the air was pretty heavy that day, and unfortunately fairly rough as well.  Even with a kite it was a tough day.  With an RC helicopter or airplane it would’ve been pretty nasty.  My hope with sharing this photograph is that this is a lighthouse that the club has visited in the past.  I wanted a subject at least some of the people in the club were familiar with so they could contrast this one against pictures they had done and see some of the vantage point possibilities KAP can open up.

Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach – I know the club did a trip to South Point.  I don’t know if they made it all the way out to Green Sand Beach, but most of the residents on the island have been there at one point or another.  It’s a fantastic place to do photography, but 99% of the photos are done to the left of where this one was made, so none of them show the backside of the cindercone that forms the beach.  Even when helicopters overfly the beach, they tend to come in from the same angle every time.  So far as I know this is the only photo of Green Sand taken from this location.  It’s well below 500′, so KAP or an RC aircraft are the only ways to get there.  Add to that, it’s pretty far off the beaten path.  A kite really is the easiest way to get this angle.

Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay – I included this one for a couple of reasons:  It’s recent, so it’s more or less “what did you shoot in the last month?”  I’m not cheating here by going back to the archives.  It really is a recent photo.  It’s also a good poster shot for portability since there are no roads out here.  It’s a half hour walk across the lava, or you don’t get to see it at all.  This is also one of my more planned images, so it makes a good conversation starter for the idea of planning a KAP session, or any photography session for that matter.  KAP isn’t random by any stretch of the imagination, any more than any other form of photography is.  This photo does a good job of demonstrating it.

I cropped and sized the images to work with the 1920×1080 format of the projector the club uses, and packed them off in email to await the next meeting.  The date is set for October 15th, so I hope I have good things to write about afterward.

– Tom

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Why Take Pictures From A Kite?

Posted by Tom Benedict on 28/05/2009

“Why take pictures from a kite?”

It’s a question I hear fairly often when I try to describe kite aerial photography to someone who’s never seen me at work.  Oddly enough I never get this question when I’m out in the field.  The reason for this, I’m pretty sure, is that once you see it being done the answer is fairly obvious.

Lighthouse from Up High

In short, because I can.  And because it works so very very well.

The related questions, “Why not do it from an airplane?” or “… a helicopter?” or “… a UFO?” also have a pretty short answer:  Because I can’t.  Or at least I choose not to.  For starters, I don’t have access to a UFO (though as it turns out I do.)  By the same token, I don’t have access to an airplane or a helicopter, either.  Sure, I could rent one, but I’m not a pilot.  I could rent a pilot, too, but they cost a lot.  In Hawaii where I live, an hour in a Robinson helicopter that’s had its doors removed, but not its pilot, costs roughly $350.  Not too expensive on the face of it, but it comes with some restrictions.  First, it’s only for one hour.  I regularly leave my KAP rig in the air for hours at a stretch, waiting for just the right light or just the right action.  Next, helicopters and airplanes all have to stay over 1000′ above ground level.  A KAP rig stays less than 500′ above ground level.  The views really are different.  And finally, three hours in a Robinson would pay off all of my KAP gear with change left over for making prints.

Top of the Lighthouse II

The second point in the previous paragraph, the one about viewpoint, is often lost on people.  If some altitude is good, wouldn’t more altitude be better?  If your goal is to look for camouflaged rocket batteries or some other secret military facility, sure.  This is why a great deal of the military’s reconnaisance is done from satellites.  But if the goal is to produce an intriguing photograph, more altitude often spoils the view.  If greater subject distance was always preferable, landscape photographers wouldn’t need wide angle lenses, would they?

Top of the Lighthouse I

Besides, the camera equipment necessary to render fine details from even a thousand feet away is not the most affordable, or even the most portable thing in the world.  I would argue that the previous photograph could not have been produced with a long lens and a longer subject distance.  But even if it could, without a stabilized camera platform and a truly remarkable camera and lens, the level of detail avaialble from such a photograph would not be all that impressive.

Too Close for Comfort!

It’s one thing to stand at the base of a lighthouse and wonder what it looks like on top, and only be able to satisfy your curiosity by driving to an airport, renting a helicopter, convincing the pilot to fly to the lighthouse, and only then find out the answer.  It’s quite another to reach into your backpack, pull out a kite, line, and rig, and by golly find out right then, right there.

Why take pictures from a kite?  Because I can.

Green Sand I

— Tom

The photos used in this post were all taken from a camera suspended from a kite line during World Wide KAP Week 2009.

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