Digital Camera Set-up

How we started KAP

Further down on this page:

Our Basic Kit (John and Rosie)

Techniques for Triggering a Camera Shutter

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One of our original rigs. The camera is now converted for near infra-red use.

N.B. The camera is attached to the rig at more than one point.

A more recent simple coat hanger wire rig (Transverse pendulum) for a keyring HD video camera

January 2013

With some cameras, like the digital Fuji F30 above, there is a special mode which allows photos to be taken continuously if the shutter button is held down. The camera is used in 'shutter priority' mode and set to 1/1000th second and ISO 100-400 for use on sunny days. The above camera will produce 340 best quality images on a 1GB card in about 10 minutes. Ideally, the camera should have a lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8.

Cameras that do not have a 'shutter priority' mode can be set to the 'sports' or other high speed shutter option instead e.g. Pentax Optio E35 and the Pentax cameras listed below.

For most situations where we cannot select a specific shutter speed (using Optios E35/W60 and Fuji F100fd), we usually choose an ISO setting of 200 or 400. With high ISO settings, you are always trading off image quality, with the ability to take photos at a high speed (camera 'shake' versus noise).  A camera that can take relatively  low noise images at ISO400 is recommended and image stabilisation (not to be confused with cameras that simply choose a high ISO) is an added bonus. The Optio E35 produces noisy images at ISO 400.

Many cameras set the exposure and focus at the initial press of the button, so have the camera pointing at something the same brightness and distance as the subject that you want to photograph.  We normally pre-set our visible spectrum cameras to infinity for aerial shots.

Normally, it is advisable to set the camera's exposure compensation to minus 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop, so highlights are not lost.  When working in the near infra-red, exposure compensation is essential and minus 2/3 of a stop may not be enough, minus 2 is not unusual.  It is easier to pull details out of a dark image at the processing stage than one where the highlights have been burned out.

As an alternative to using a clamp, a cable-tie (or elastic band) can be used to hold down the shutter button. The smaller loop is slid forwards along the larger one (see above) to hold the shutter button down. The small loop can also be placed over the button by sliding the large loop along the camera. Variations in the cable-tie configuration are appropriate for different cameras. If access to any buttons is restricted a plastic toothpick can be useful.

This continuous shooting technique is also useful if you want to take pictures using the camera on a conventional monopod (or long telescopic or sectional pole). Alternatively, you can take a single shot on a shutter-delay setting. See here.

This is a simple alternative to wireless control and can also be used in conjunction with a 10 second delay. We no longer use radio-triggered SLRs.

The easiest technique is to use a camera which has an interval (time-lapse) mode, giving user control over a sequence of shots eg Pentax Optio W60. Such cameras are less common and usually more expensive than many with a continuous shooting mode. The Optio W60 is now our preferred camera for normal KAP and PAP.

Update Feb 2009  The Pentax W60 and W80 have now been replaced with the Optio W90 which appears to be compatible with GentLED products for increased versatility.

Update April 2011 The current version of the camera is the Pentax WG-1

Update Spring 2012 Pentax WG-1  Subsequent models (WG-2&3) do not permit selection of both sports mode (for fast shutter speeds) and interval mode  together.

The WG-1 was donated as part of our Scottish National Aerial Photography Scheme. This has now been replaced in the Scheme by the similar WG-10.

Another non-wireless approach is auto-KAP. One of the advantages of using an LED trigger, over the continuous shooting mode, is that the exposure is re-set for each shot.

A Premier Power Sled 24 or HQ 1.7 is suitable for compact cameras and a Power Sled 36 for SLRs, or compact cameras in a light wind. Sleds smaller than the 1.7 and of a simpler design, can be very unstable.

The Power Sled 24 was our routine choice for KAP (Rosie, John and Jim), but we now use other kites including a Sutton FF16, Becotized FF16, HQ FF2.0 & FF4.0, Large Longbottom Delta Sled and Dan Leigh Deltas (Jim) and others. For use in strong winds we also had a Nighthawk Delta which lasted for two full days of continuous use, flown tethered in harsh conditions.

Rosie with a Premier Power Sled 36

We find the drogue operates more efficiently if attached with a swivel but we prefer a fuzzy tail.

The rig can be a very cheap DIY job, as shown at the top of this page (and below), or the Brooxes Simplex can be bought (~30) from the KAPshop.  If you are based in north America, you can order the Simplex directly from Brooks Leffler. We have one of these and it is a good choice if you are new to KAP and do not want to construct one yourself.

The primary requirement for archaeological work is that the camera can be pointed vertically downwards. A low distortion lens is desirable, although software corrections can be applied to digital images. The free program GIMP has an easy to use correction tool (via Filters>Distorts>Lens Distortion). Simply take a calibration photo of a brick wall, or for more accuracy a grid, and apply the correction tool to the image, making a note of the settings needed to correct any distortion. Then apply the same correction to any other image. The correction needed will depend on the focal length used, but in most cases this should be your widest setting i.e. shortest focal length. Unless specifically stated, our images are not corrected for lens distortion. See also (1), (2)(3) and the free Agisoft Lens.

Threading the picavet line is much easier than it may first appear:

Published with the kind permission of David Hunt ( http://www.kaper.us/basics/BASICS_picavet.html )

David Hunt

The threading sequence is: R1-Rc-A-R2-Rc-C-R1-D-R2-B-R1

Flying a simple rig will give the experience to decide if a more sophisticated set-up is needed and what system may be appropriate for the intended application. A visit to the website of our local KAP specialist, James Gentles, is recommended.


Update Summer 2008

Small modifications have been made to our original setup. The larger cross (our preferred choice) can now be packed flat.

N.B. Here the camera is attached to the rig at three points, base screw, strap and cable-tie.

(infra-red modified Pentax Optio E35 left, Fuji F30 right)

A later modification to the Optio E35


Our Basic Kit

Strong, well padded gloves are essential.


Our first Sled 24 kite (June 2007)

Premier Kites Power Sled 24 and 36

HQ FF 2.0 and 4.0

Sutton FF 16

HQ Flowform 2.0

In spring of 2011, we flew a HQ FF2.0 continuously for over 4 hours (with looped fuzzy tail) in variable wind and rain and we were very impressed. This is a well constructed kite. 

Rosie with her KAP bag, containing HQ Flowform 2.0 kite and fuzzy tail, gloves, 8 inch reel, rig with attached near infra-red converted Fuji F30 camera and a Pentax Optio W60 camera in a side pocket.

Reel and Line

8 inch (20cm) ring spool with 100 metres of Climax Dacron 110daN (240lbs) line for the Power Sled 24, HQ Flowform 2.0 and the Power Sled 36 (at lower wind speeds only).

Attachment clip as used on the kite line (From 1 camera bag strap - Poundland)

See also ebay (swivels).

(The Brooxes Simplex comes with its own 'KAP-Klips')


The waterproof Pentax Optio W60 (with time-lapse mode) was our preferred camera for both routine kite and pole aerial photography in the visible part of the spectrum but we have now updated to a Pentax WG-1 GPS  (Jim uses a Canon S90 - see below).

Modified Fuji F30fd cameras are used by us all for aerial near infra-red photography.

We use Flir PathFindIR cameras for thermal infra-red photography.

For occasional use:

10 inch (25cm) ring spool with 200 metres of Climax Dacron 110daN (240lbs) line for a long reach in low wind speeds.

10 inch (25cm) ring spool with 100 metres of Climax Dacron 260daN (570lbs) line for lifting heavier equipment with the Power Sled 36 (or FF2.0) in strong winds.

Optio W60, waterproof, no external lens movement and integral time-lapse (ie press and release the button and it takes a set number of images over a set time interval). Discontinued, now use the Pentax WG10  as part of SNAPS.

Folding cross now jointed to lock into place

Fuji F30fd (unmodified) ultra-violet set-up, with Hoya U-360 UV-pass + Schott BG39 IR-block, 25mm filters.

Filters are joined around their edge with a strip of aluminium adhesive tape. Adhesive tack was used to attach the filter assembly to the front of the lens mount, taking care not to impede lens movement.  This is not a practical set-up for routine use as shutters speeds are very slow.


Rigs used by Jim Knowles



A simple ready-made auto-KAP rig as used by Jim of our archaeology group.

Jim Knowles' dual camera (visible/near infra-red) rig  May 2010

Jim's GentX rig  August 2010

Jim Knowles

Another of Jim's rigs.  March 2011

This is Jim's basic auto-KAP2 rig. The rig itself was purchased from a friend. The rig has pan and tilt servos. The rig is auto controlled via SDM (Stereo Data Modeller) which can control many functions of the camera itself, as well as controlling the servo motors. The rig also has a video down link attached. The signal is picked up via a receiver connected to a small monitor for viewing. The SDM control provides on screen display through the camera LCD, which is transmitted to the monitor. The rig also incorporates GPS.

Video Down-link Receiver

Jim Knowles


Update October 2013

Jim's new gyro stabilised KAP rig with Sony Nex 5R and 16mm lens



Update July 2013

Jim and John each have a set of the following cameras but with different rigs:

Old 720nm IR converted Fuji F30

830nm IR Converted HD808#16D video camera

Sony Nex-5 and Nex-5R with

Samyang 8mm, full-frame, fish-eye lens and

Sony 16mm wide angle lens




Techniques for Triggering a Camera Shutter
Shutter timer

External or internal (only 2 and 10 seconds standard on most digital cameras).

Continuous shooting mode

See top of page.

Exposure is usually determined by the first exposure, which may not be ideal for subsequent shots.

Interval timer / Time-lapse

Some digital cameras allow you to choose a sequence of shots where you select the number, interval and start time (eg Optio W series as above and some Ricoh cameras) -  by far the simplest approach (requiring no DIY).

An alternative, for Canon owners, is to use the Canon Hacker's Development Kit (CHDK) (1) (2) (3). For a quick, simple installation use STICK.

More common are cameras with infra-red remote capabilities which can use an infra-red LED trigger to provide interval timing (a small box with time-adjustable, flashing infra-red light) - This approach can provide more versatile timings.

Radio remote control

Numerous DIY techniques can be found on the internet.

Commercial units are also available (eg  JJC WR-100 or Phottix Cleon wireless controller) which plug into the camera's cable release socket (mainly SLRs).

Radio-controlled infra-red LED triggers are especially suitable for (easy-to-fly) compact cameras with infra-red remote capabilities.


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