Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Photo Gallery

Life on the Playa
Burning Man 2001

David Wagner retiring his Edos after a fine afternoon display - the full moon can be seen rising in the top of the image and the night people are beginning to come out. On the right is another shot of Mort's door with the 'Man' illuminated in the distance. The blur is caused by a passing bicycle.  (Canon G1, August 2001).

Like many places, Black Rock City presented its own diurnal pattern of activity and rest. Beginning the day at sunrise (both arbitrary and unusual) I found near idyllic conditions -- temperatures mild, air often devoid of dust, and the low, clear light of a rising sun. I generally rolled myself out of the tent before dawn and took a stroll. On a couple of mornings I had a kite up before 7 am. As the morning progressed it became warm, then hot. The heat and unflattering light would generally end my photography by 10 am or so and I would retire to Flailing Camp for a bit of breakfast (generally fruit) and the beginning of my 'front porch watch' at Flailing Pit, a tent structure on the border of our camp and the Esplanade. There I would sit is a comfy chair, keep display kites aloft, and swill the occasional beer as the day progressed. 

An afternoon lounging session at our shady front porch adjacent to the Flailing Pit. David Wagner is seated with a dark colored shirt, three of the Semester at Sea reunion crew are visible on the left (having been lured by roast chicken), and there is a stranger sleeping among the cushions in the pit. And on the right is the water truck we all adored wetting down the playa (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

During the hot afternoons a water truck would occasionally appear -- once or twice a day -- and drive past while spraying water on the Esplanade. I never fully understood why. Perhaps it was for dust control or perhaps to make Esplanade more firm for bicycle and foot traffic. In any event the truck's passing provided an opportunity for an extemporaneous shower -- a compelling combination of cooling and cleanliness! The trouble for me was that every time the truck appeared I had a kite and/or camera aloft and could not join the obviously happy folks trailing the truck. My lucky moment arrived on the last afternoon I was at Black Rock when I decided to tie the kite off quickly and run after the truck. It was an unquestionably blissful experience.

The passing water truck provides a momentary, exquisite oasis (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

As dusk approached the whole scene began to change -- colors muted, temperatures dropped, and folks headed out for a night on the town. The pleasant conditions of evening last all night. As the full moon rose higher in the sky and the air became comfortable to the skin it was a great experience to wander out over the playa and look back on the Black Rock City scene from afar.

At Burning Man they are purposeful regarding the use of cameras and request that anyone with anything close to commercial aspirations get a press pass. Apparently my kite endeavor seemed sufficiently organized to place me in the set of 'press photographers.' I stopped by Media Mecca, the coordination center for the press, during my first afternoon in Black Rock City and they had me come inside the tent to fill out contracts and agreements. The process earned me a camera badge (#428) and as it turns out a half-roll of unanticipated photographs. 

Media Mecca -- a coordination/assistance center for journalists, photographers, and the occasional professor (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

I had arrived at Media Mecca with a kite flying and camera aloft. Thinking that I would just be inside for a moment I asked one of the Media Mecca folks to hang onto the kite and transmitter. Paperwork being what it was I ended up inside the press area for 20 minutes. During that time my temporary anchor had attracted a gaggle of bystanders and started to figure out how the transmitter worked. So, I ended up with a half-roll of images like the two below. These images tickle me, as do similar ones resulting from the loss of battery power aloft, because they remind me that I actually provide some value added in the process of KAP. In inexperienced hands the transmitter produces images but they almost uniformly lack compositional or technical clarity. 

Stewards of my camera take a few shots outside of Media Mecca as your author registers his camera. You can see a woman holding the transmitter in the right side of the left image as well as a man taking the shot in the left side of the right image (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

On a side note, the neophyte KAPers inadvertently broke my rig, its first mechanical failure in quite a while. The plan rotation servo is a high-torque, metal geared HiTec servo (HS-615 MG). These little beauties are powerful so I take it easy as I move the plan rotate stick on the transmitter. Failure to be cautious causes to the camera cradle to rotate violently. After reclaiming my kite gear I noticed that the plan rotation input caused an occasional loud clicking and that the rig would not turn a full 360 unless moved very slowly. It took me a week to diagnose the problem. The cradle rotates in plan around a vertical centerline 6/32 threaded rod and this is constrained by a wood block with an aluminum insert. The block was fixed in place by a half-lap joint and epoxy. Apparently the epoxy bond had failed and the block could move just enough to let the gears slip past each other (the source of the noise.) It was quick to fix.  

A shot taken as I wandered through the more residential areas (memorable because one of the subjects was strikingly nude) and an early evening shot of the motored paraglider that kept my kite grounded during the evenings (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

When packing film for this outing I took along some 800 ASA rolls to try and capture the evening scene from aloft. In my imagination I thought I might even get aerial shots of the 'Man' aflame. These plans were thwarted by someone flying a motorized paraglider at low altitudes around the camp. The paraglider generally appeared at dusk and flew into the night at altitudes of 100 to 300 feet or so. The flights ranged over much of Black Rock City and immediately above densely occupied areas. It was clear that my kite line would not be visible to this person and that I did not want to conduct the physics experiment associated with intersecting objects. Pity, for it would have been nice to try some aerial shots at night. 

The queue for ice wrapping around the Center Camp tent and a detail of ice-seekers in the queue (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

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