Gloucestershire and West Lothian Aerial Archaeology

John Wells

Radiation Biophysicist

Kite Aerial Photographer



Armadale (Scotland) & Stroud (England)


Primary Interests

John and the late Rosie Wells are the yellow dots (Cairnpapple 2011)

Visual Aids for the Partially Sighted

Photomicroscopy and Macro Photography

(Near UV to Near IR ~300 - 900nm+ and fluorescence triggered by wavelengths from ~185nm)

Photography (Near UV to Thermal IR)

I have been interested in photography since the 1950s. At around the age of eight, I remember contact printing negatives without chemicals using a day-long exposure to sunlight. In the 1960s and early 70s (working with fully manual cameras) I enjoyed capturing night scenes, one of which won a national competition. The prize was an auto-exposure SLR, a technology that was not overly helpful for long exposures due to reciprocity failure. Wet streets following rainfall were often a key ingredient of the nightscapes, a consideration that would reappear for thermally imaging archaeological residues over 40 years later.

Kite aerial thermal infrared selfie with a dog published in 2011

My training and profession have involved a range of image gathering techniques ( X-ray crystallography, photomicroscopy, corona discharge photography and autoradiography etc). Geophysical methods of archaeological investigation often involve logging soil resistance or magnetic data points, one at a time, which are used to form an array of 'pixels', which is then refined through appropriate processing to form an image. Both within and outwith the visible spectrum, imaging is mass data point collection and should be performed under optimal conditions (for the technique and site of choice) and the resulting images processed to extract the maximum amount of inherent information. Standard photographic visualisation is only a starting point.

  Our Register of Kite Aerial Photographers and Kite Remote Sensing Specialists

Cairnpapple 2009

West Lothian Archaeological Trust 2012-2019 Archive

Rathrar, Rathbarna Quadrivalleted Enclosure Complex, Co. Roscommon, by SNAPS recipient Christy Lawless.

Our Scottish National Aerial Photography Scheme (SNAPS - UK & Ireland) 2013-2016 Archive

Helicopter aerial photo over Bussage village

Family outing in a helicopter over our village, Bussage, Gloucestershire, in the 1980s.

Chichen Itza, another aerial image before we did kite aerial photography.

(Note the nostalgic scratch from the days of film)

Archeoscan Excavation of a Roman building at Nesley Farm, Gloucestershire, in 2011.

John is on the right and Rosie is out of shot flying the kite.

(click on image for larger version)

How We Started Doing Kite Aerial Photography

2006 - 2012

A section from one of seven West Lothian Council display boards on our work.


West Lothian Aerial Archaeology

West Lothian Aerial Archaeology Archive 2007-2018

with Cade Wells

Cade is a Chartered Engineer with an MEng in Computer Systems Engineering awarded by the University of Bangor and a Doctorate (Image Processing and Machine Vision SoC) awarded by the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot Watt and Strathclyde. Additionally, he has a postgraduate certificate in business administration (Edinburgh) and a graduate certificate in psychology (BCU), along with training in digital forensics elsewhere, including Shrivenham (Cranfield University).

Left to Right - Rosie, Cade and John Wells, Jim Knowles and Heidi (Wells) Walker on Cairnpapple. Jim was the only qualified archaeologist in the group. He also has an MSc in computing.


Kinneil Roman fortlet with excavation features on the extreme right (North) from ~30 year before.

An inverted, near infrared kite aerial photo captured in wind-free conditions.


Peace Knowe hillfort viewed from the northern side.


Gloucestershire Aerial Archaeology

with Heidi Walker

Heidi is a design manager who initially studied at the Stroud School of Art, with some time at The Slade, followed by degrees in illustration and design at the universities of The West of England and Brighton. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are areas of expertise.

A field east of Coaley: Google data, Houseprices Lidar Map and the same emphasised with GIMP.*
When out and about, you can use DETAILS or ACCENTUATE (several times) in Snapseed on your phone to produce a similar result.


* Edge Detect > Difference of Gaussians > Auto Equalise > Auto Levels

Parch marks (left) at Gyde House, Painswick, emphasised with GIMP by manipulating the colour channels.


A vertical view of Whitfield's Tump (centre) through an 850nm infrared filter with a golfing green below (west) and the site of the old Stroud Water Company reservoir to the top right (south-east).


Another Way to Take Aerial Photos

North Cerny

Heidi 'Wing' Walker


Heidi in flight

The Simplest Approach to Aerial Thermography and Photography

The simplest way to start kite aerial photography is with an ActionCamera, selfie stick (2) and ~1m2, or larger, kite. A larger ~3m/9ft delta with fuzzy tail is a good general purpose kite, eg 1 & 2.

GoPro type set-up and variant for a phone, with or without a Flir One thermal imager which must be secured, eg with PVC tape. The larger stick has lockable sections.

An even simpler approach is to use a 2D, full-screen phone headset:

Ground-based archaeological thermography

Thermal delineation of a reservoir's wall footings below grazed grass in sunlight.

Heidi, John and Cade.