Public Lab Research note

Aerial Photography Rigging Needs

by mathew | June 24, 2016 23:33 24 Jun 23:33 | #13243 | #13243

I want to assess our community's aerial photography rig needs for kite, balloon, and pole mapping. To that end, I sent out the survey below. Its not too late to fill it out!


Most people are happy to take straight-down photos with PET bottle rigs for their photo rig, and a few variations such as the faucet bottle rig and are also popular, as are juice bottle variations. That said, the limitations of choosing an angle for the camera with this option are definitely felt.

Oblique photography with the automatic KAPtery Saturn V is also a popular option. The automatic pan and tilt functionality makes getting the shot much more likely than other fixed rigs. Several PET bottle users were interested in oblique photography as well.

Many people have trouble getting the camera settings right (Focus, motion blur, blowout from light changes/clouds), as well as checking that the angle, location, and knowing when one gets photo coverage of the target area.

Next Steps

@Ranon is working on lower cost fixed oblique rigging as well as low-weight and low-cost automatic panning. These should help bring down the cost of automatic panning and simplify getting obliques.

I'm going to review and update the PET bottle rig instructions for more internal stability as well as some options for oblique shooting.

I'm also going to add some guidance to the kite and balloon mapping guides to estimating the horizontal location of the kite or balloon based on its angle and the amount of string that is out.

Since settings have been an issue, I'll look at perhaps doing a tutorial, or summarizing other tutorials, on using CHDK, as that should improve the settings issue.

Ideal rig features

I really like @eustatic's list of features for an ideal simple rig:

  • attach easily to a good suspension
  • have a suspension that prevents spinning and damps swaying
  • allow free access to all camera controls
  • accommodate easy switching between nadir and oblique shooting
  • protect the camera from hard landings (but not all crashes)
  • disassemble easily for compact transport
  • be easy to modify and attach things to

Survey Responses

What do you use aerial photography for?

    1. stitched panoramas, 2. individual oblique or nadir photos, 3. stitched nadir orthophotos (mapping). general interest
  • Environmentally advocacy. Urban development monitoring. Landfill monitoring. Squares documenation with neighbors.
  • intended detection and mapping of Malaria mosquitoes breeding grounds using NIR camera. Subsequent larviciding using biological larvicide produced locally by affected population.
  • monitoring wetlands, in particular, plant cover and land/water and monitoring oil sheen and pet coke pollution
  • cultural projects
  • I use it in my research, woking with people, groups, all sorts, around issues that concern them. Mostly about land rights, In Israel-Palestine, also around urban planning issues, and for developing civic science in Architecture school curriculum.
  • mapping
  • For participatory mapping and development planning

Describe the flight system you usually use for getting aerial photos.

  • I use a kite instead of a balloon because wind is free. balloon/kite
  • Usually balloon, as I usually do it in urban environments. Kites for the countryside.
  • intended "Slow Stick", or any other fixed wing low cost platform
  • 7' Delta plus Saturn V or soda bottle rig. alteratively, a ballon flying these rigs or Titan 2. just purchased a double coyne delta for larger lift--including the titan 2.
  • helium balloon
  • Balloon, kite
  • balloon and kits
  • Kites, PET-bottle rig and digital cameras.

What types of camera rigs do you attach to your flight system?

    1. pan/tilt auto rig (easier and more reliable than remote control for stitched panoramas) 2. fixed rig for nadir mapping photos, 3. dual camera rig for VIS and NIR for vegetation analysis. I mostly use PowerShots and CHDK.
  • juice bottle and power shot A800
  • Basic 2-5 liter bottle rig with simple connection to the string. Various compact camera: powershots. For the mobius: cardboard protection or small plastic bottle.
  • Raspberry Pi NoIR Camera - Infrared Camera
  • soda bottle faucet cover Saturn V Titan 2
  • a wooden box like made to fit the camera with a line attached to the balloon line
  • and the bottle rig, the simplest, because I think it is the best for workshops - engaging, transparent and fun. in short, the basic public lab kit.
  • canon
  • PET-bottle rig

Can you get the photos you want? What challenges do you have?

  • Every year I can get better results, and every year my expectations increase. As soon as I get good at it I start using a more complicated system. So there are always technological challenges. I wonder if most people are in the same situation -- before they master their current system they change it and must learn how to avoid the new pitfalls.
  • unusable images (focus, movement, shutter speed, clouds) - Do the usable images coverage the area of interest? - Have I gotten enough usable images? - Did the camera start properly? - Is the camera still taking pictures?
  • yes, I am quite satisfied. Sometimes wind makes it difficult in urban dense areas. Also don't know how high I should fly in some circumstances, it is always a trial and error.
  • have not tried flight operation. Ground set up of NoIR camera easily detects open water from simulated flight altitude of 20-50 m.
  • targeting is a challenge, that is why I fly as high as possible. this is easier with a balloon than kite, which can fly off target as it gets to 1500 ft. The saturn V is a nice rig for that challenge.
  • yes , balloon can get shot down / place is dense with building electric cables are on towers that makes moving the balloon sometimes impossible
  • there are all sorts of challenges, but in most cases I got the photos I wanted. - It is hard to work with all sorts of cameras, it really needs to be a symmetrical one so it wont move inside the bottle and rubber bands. I still use the one I bought 5 years ago the canon A490. which is great. - the exposure part and controlling the camera is always a bit awkward, it works, but there is always a risk it is not completely in focus or with the right exposure.
  • yes,it was amazing and the photo resolution was approximately like HD
  • The main challenge is to keep the camera in the right position inside the rig and take the camera shooting.

What features would your camera rig ideally have to help you get the photos you want?

  • A fixed rig, e.g. for mapping, should have some way of alerting the user if it stops taking photos. That was once my primary request. Now I am better at making sure the rig works as expected so I am not that interested in an alert system. For a while I wanted to see what the camera was seeing so I could aim the camera. Now I usually use an autoKAP rig that shoots every angle, so problem solved. The simplest rig should: 1. attach easily to a good suspension, 2. have a suspension that prevents spinning and damps swaying, 3. allow free access to all camera controls, 4. accommodate easy switching between nadir and oblique shooting, 5. protect the camera from hard landings (but not all crashes), 6. disassemble easily for compact transport, 7. be easy to modify and attach things to.
  • Answer the above issues.
  • i am quite happy, but always would be better to have better control of the direction of the shots, don't just let the wind decide. light weight, inexpensive and therefore disposable as is the plane and camera
  • A radio controlled Saturn V would be the bee's knees.
  • stable in the air
  • I think the bottle rig is a great invention! I would try to develop a kit that includes improvements for a bottle rig, other rigs can be also great but the bottle rig has such a powerful impact on people, the simplicity, making them feel they can do it themselves. I would try to think about supporting some of the issues I mentioned above. I know there is the skycam - haven't tried it and maybe I should - but it works for a phone and this means lower quality photos... as much as I understand. I was thinking about all sorts of partly silly ideas, but I might as well share one of them - adding to the kit things you can attach to the bottle, like something to blacken the upper part of the bottle so that you can look inside and see the photos, something like a black cardboard - like the one used for the foldable spectrometer - that can fit on the bottle neck. I also want to have a more permanent rig for use with long term work - when it is not based on one time workshop - so it can be very helpful to have 1. an option to tilt the camera 2. a way to switch it on when it is already mounted on the rig 3. some idea on how to send picture to the ground while in the air - well that's not necessarily part of the rig.
  • light,stable,strong, protector *A place to fit and attach the camera.

Besides aerial photography, are there other types of data would you like to collect from the air?

  • GPS data can be useful for visualizations, structure from motion, and maybe auto-placement. Other sensors can be useful for niche projects. Really useful environmental sensors (gases, particulates) are still too expensive or heavy.
  • Orientation and location of camera; remote status (see above list) More photos for 3d reconstruction ;)
  • variations in magnetic field ?
  • particulates, perhaps
  • active green areas
  • not at the moment.
  • no,i don't think so
  • At this moment, no.


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