News Column

Flying the Friendly Skies... by Kite

August 28, 2014

By Joyce Godwin, Prosper Press, Van Alstyne, Texas

Aug. 28--Kite flying has evolved to great developments since the mid 1700s when Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite during a thunderstorm. With a little ingenuity and the right equipment to harness the wind, one can take beautiful photos from above. This is what Prosper resident Kelly Fitzhugh has learned over the past 10 years with his kites rigged to carry a camera. One of his photos of Saturday's Prosper Eagle Band performance may be seen in this issue of the Prosper Press.

Fitzhugh, a pilot by trade, said this hobby combines three of his interests -- photography, kites and radio controlled planes. It's relaxing for him to just sit back in a yard chair and watch the kite sail, all the time the camera flying below it is snapping photos. He also like to walk around to give his camera a chance at varying sights.

"When I started, there were 600 people doing this and now there's 3,000 doing this all around the world," Fitzhugh said. "I'm friends with people all over the world that do this. They're on my Facebook page, and there are all kinds of forums about cameras, kites, techniques -- what works and what doesn't work."

The origins of aerial photography can be traced back to a Frenchman, Arthur Batut (1846 -- 1918), who discovered he could lift a camera attached to a kite to get aerial photographs. Its potential applications at the time were aerial reconnaissance for the military, agriculture and archeology.

Today, Fitzhugh uses a Rokkaku kite (Japanese term for six sides). The fabric that catches the wind is a ripstop polyester. Fitzhugh said it's like a ripstop nylon but doesn't absorb moisture and it's very sturdy.

"It can be expensive," Fitzhugh said. "But it doesn't have to be." The price tag is not as expensive as one might expect. A good kite and rigging can be had for around $300. The camera will be an added expense. "I use an Olympus Pen Mini and Sony makes the best ones. I try to keep my cameras under a pound. This kite is made by a friend of mine. This is a Jones Airfoils in Kitty Hawk, N.C. The stitching is perfect and they are like works of art. They are a little pricey but they fly awesome. Mike signs every kite and they're made in America. He also builds kites for "National Geographic" and oceanographers who are doing glacier studies and a lot more."

It's a family affair for the Fitzhughs. Brandon, an eighth grader, usually goes with Kelly to help him the most. It's a two-man operation to get it going. But the family also spends time together. Sara Fitzhugh, Kelly's wife, said they often spend time with the kites at Frontier Park and make it a family time with their dogs and 17-year-old Garrett.

Comparing the photo results with those that come from the tiny mechanical drones, Sara says the quality from kite photography is better. Kelly agrees. There is less vibration with the kites because of the drone's motor. Also, the drones can only be used in winds that are 5-10 miles per hour.

The kite stays about 200 feet above the camera. Fitzhugh said he normally takes about 2,000 photos in a couple of hours because the camera is shooting the whole time it's in the air. But out of those shots, usually only 10 or so are good ones he might use. "I call it fishing for pictures," he said about trying to sort them out. But Fitzhugh noted that the camera will often get shots he wouldn't have thought of composing himself.


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Source: Prosper Press (Van Alstyne, TX)

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