Squeezing Photons

Winter is coming to the Northern hemisphere.

Days are shorter. Nights are longer.

Daylight savings time has moved on too.

Darkness now greets me after work….complicating…..kite flying…..and taking pictures from the sky (Kite Aerial Photography (KAP)).

Into Darkness One Fair Kite

The light was interesting with the last echoes of the sunset fading fast and the city lights starting to turn on. Nearby athletic field lighting providing patches of bright light surrounded by darkness.

I located a small patch of open ground near one of the athletic fields and near an experimental wind mill. The wind was blowing 3-5 mph near the ground…..but the nearby experimental windmill on top of a tall tower gave me hope of better wind high above.

The cool easy breeze was blowing out of the South with just enough energy to encourage a 10 foot Rokkaku into the sky as the sun was setting over the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.

A few minutes later the BKT 10 foot Rokkaku was finding its way into the darken skies above gently lifting the light weight Dyneema 150 lbs kite line in search of stronger wind. The big Rokkaku flexed its carbon frame as the now stronger 10+ mph wind pressed against its sails.

Into Darkness One Fair Kite

Next up – the auto KAP rig fitted with a Sony A6000 camera.

Taking pictures in the dark….from a kite in the air ….can be a challenge….turning what you learned from taking daytime Kite Aerial Photography on its ear.

Start with the light….not enough photons…and what few you have are fading quickly as the sun completes its exit from the day.

The challenge …how to suck down enough photons to get a decent picture…in the dark…from a KAP rig on a kite line bouncing around like a piñata.

Experiment, experiment, experiment and after many failures…a few successes….

High shutter speeds are out. So are high f stops.

High ISO settings with low noise are your friend. Shutter speeds in the range of 1/30 or 1/50 of second are needed to scoop enough light from the sky. Wide open f stops are also needed to maximize light hitting the sensor.

Into Darkness One Fair Kite

Focus can also be problematic in low light or fully dark conditions. Auto focus fails in many cases. Tricky focus assist that are built into cameras…only work for 10-20 feet….thus useless for night KAP.

Choices, choices… trade offs….experiments….

Night KAP camera settings:
- Shutter 1/50 second
- Auto ISO
- F stop – wide open F 2.8
- Focus – manual

Still need more light…..the athletic fields…provide a splash of light to help illuminate the surrounding space. Lights from cars and trucks passing by on a nearby Interstate highway provide additional photos to add to the composure.

Into Darkness One Fair Kite

The results proved acceptable with usable images in about 50 % of the shots taken. This is down from approximately 95% sharp images in daylight KAP. The slow shutter speed is the main factor contributing to soft images.

Even got the moon and a planet captured from the kite.

I have experimented with very slow shutter speeds (1/2 second, 1 full second). The percent of soft images jumps up quickly with on one in a hundred shots producing sharp images.

Enjoy a few pictures below and in this flickr album.


Into Darkness One Fair Kite

Into Darkness One Fair Kite


  • Great results Jim, These Sony cameras are brilliant. I'm still chicken in the dark, the thought of loosing sight of the rig and the line terrifies me.

    The high ISO worked well for me waiting for the glimmer at dusk with the Rx1:

  • edited November 2016
    GREAT post, WW!

    FOR-WHAT-LITTLE-IT'S-WORTH, that {earlier after-work darkness} is why I personally would PREFER to stay on DST all year 'round. Really.

    'Nuff said....
  • Great WW,

    I suggest a new album THE DARK SIDE OF THE KAP

    I'm sure you could find a suitable sound track for better feeling

    wish you all the possible best

    SMAC from Italy
  • @ Bill and others
    When I did night KAP at Dieppe I attached cheap flashing lights to the tow point of the kite and just above the rig and so I could tell where the kite and rig were and more essentially that they WERE still in the sky. There were street lights which I had to shield my eyes from at times but the flashing lights were a reassurance that all was well. They became very dim when I "Flew High" but we're still (just) visible with 200m of line out.

    Dieppe Chateau where I launched from
    Dieppe Chateau

    About the highest I flew
    Night KAP at Dieppe 2016

    I kept the kite and rig in the air as I walked the full length of promenade and took this at low level over the skateboard park

    Night KAP at Dieppe 2016

    (More from that night when you click on the photo)

    I have now bought some flashing dog collars which I hope will be more visible as they have a greater surface area.

    Last year's night KAP at Stowmarket with Tim I used the glow sticks which were OK low down. The street lights lit up the kite most of the time.

    The low level night KAP

    And a bit higher with a supermarket lit up


    First night KAP trials are probably less anxiety making if you have a grass safety box and a steady wind. There may be less to photograph but it should give you the confidence to try it again.

    I usually have legs on my rigs unless over dry grass which also gives protection to the camera in case of hard landings.

    I used a Levitation delta and Ricoh GR both on the 'New tilt rig' at Dieppe and the BEAK at Stowmarket
    At Dieppe I had the camera settings off 1/50 second which was a bit slow as there were not many keepers from the 500 or so. ISO1600 and the aperture was on auto. I'm going to try 1/100 second and a high ISO next time. I think that the Ricoh GR will be OK at that.

    Fly High

  • dear Sue,

    and so,.... you are a DARK LADY,...

    well done

    SMAC from Italy
  • DARK LADY? Certainly not at the moment with the " Super moon " in the sky!
    14 November 2016
    Fly High

  • Sue, hand held, a minimum shutter speed of 1/60 is recommended to avoid camera shake, so not surprising you didn't get many keepers at 1/50 from a kite. I'm intrigued by the idea of night KAP. To me, night photography means the hated T word (tripod) but obviously exposures of a few seconds aren't an option. That means very high ISO so lots of noise, big aperture so very limited depth of field and the slowest fast shutter speed you can manage, and ideally a very well lit area to photograph. One day when I get the Samsung going...
  • Give it a go GertyX. (And anyone else) Give your Go-Pro a high ISO, go somewhere with lots of light (and enough safety space) and Fly (not too) High.
    I put cheap flashing lights on the kite bridle and the rig attachment point so I knew where they were.
    It doesn't have to be perfect to be fun!

    Fly High again.

  • So far this is as close to night KAP as I can get....

    Leica X1, ƒ/6.3, 24.0 mm, tv 1/1250, ISO 800 Auto exposure fixed ISO.

    ISO 800 seems to be ok shooting to the horizon but it didn't work so well on the nadir shots.
  • That's a very fast shutter speed Bill. You could shoot a lot slower than that. Not sure your subjects are conducive to night time photography mind.

    Sue, when I've used my newer GoPro at night the photos have been very noisy. It's really not it's thing. I do like the idea of putting kites up at night with lights on though. One day. Opportunity to fly at all at the moment would be good. More energy or less life!
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