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January 4, 2011 > Fly a kite, get a photo

Fly a kite, get a photo

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Charles C. Benton

Learn how to capture a bird's eye view of the world using kite photography at Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, January 8. Led by Cris Benton, Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley and kite aerial photography (KAP) enthusiast for 15 years, an afternoon demonstration will introduce the art of KAP, a type of photography in which a camera is lifted by a kite and triggered remotely or automatically to take unusual and at times spectacular pictures.

An indoor talk about the history of KAP, an overview of the equipment, techniques, and experiences will precede a demonstration, weather permitting, Benton will show how equipment is set up, launched, and operated. A kite is launched and monitored until steady air is found and the kite is performing well. A string and pulley suspension attached below the kite holds the camera in a radio controlled robotic cradle that can change camera angles and take pictures on command. A photographer using this technique can maneuver a kite to a desired camera position at altitudes of up to 400 feet.

In an interview with online hub Conservation Maven, Benton says:

"I'm notorious in my family for picking up pursuits, going through the learning curve, and then discarding them rudely to bounce to the next new thing. I've stuck with the kite photography because it's a challenging blend of many different activities. There's definitely an aspect of invention to it. In building apparatus from scratch - camera cradles, electronics, and various control devices - I spend many an enjoyable hour tinkering at the workbench.

"And then there's the whole aspect of kites and becoming proficient with flying them. I now sew a variety of kites on an old 1938 Singer Featherweight sewing machine, so there's the joy of creating elegant and sturdy flying contraptions. The tactile pleasure of tuning and flying kites is quite satisfying.

"Once the gear is in order kite aerial photography is a great excuse to get outdoors. Over the last ten years I have been out on average once a week to hike and photograph. These have been wonderful explorations of the Bay Area and beyond. There's also a social dimension to KAP. If you have a dog or baby more people seem to come up and chat with you; if you flying a kite with a camera on it everybody seems to want to talk about what you are doing and that's often entertaining."

Benton's images help Don Edwards with their research, providing visual documents and details about the landscape, tracking plant movement and coloration of salt ponds that aid in the refuge's wetlands restoration project and conservation efforts. He has conducted KAP workshops for POST, UC Berkeley, and Bay Nature in addition to working with Don Edwards.

General kite flying, however, is not permitted at the refuge because their movements mimic predator birds, which poses a threat to wildlife. Benton is under permit with the refuge and is restricted from sending up kites during nesting season and other critical times of the year.

No reservations are required for the demonstration; seating is on a first come, first served basis. The event is free and open to all. Go to for directions. To learn more about kite aerial photography and view images, visit Benton's website at

Kite Photography
Saturday, January 8
1:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Environmental Education Center, Alviso
(408) 262-5513 x 106


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