Up, Up and Away

The story of the Flight of Icarus indicates that for millenia, humans have wondered about how the world looks from the top down or a bird’s perspective. The advent of balloons and camera’s allowed this desire to become a reality and since the late 1800’s, kites have been employed as a means to lift cameras into the air and photograph the landscape below. This technique has become a bit of an obsession of mine in recent months.

In July I attended a one day workshop in the University of Worcester hosted by the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (http://www.rspsoc.org.uk/). A wide variety of papers from a variety of disciplines were presented highlighting how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) should be seen as techniques in and of themselves and not just a compliment or an addition to a project.

The highlight for me was a paper by Dr. John Wells of the West Lothian Archaeological Trust in Scotland (http://westlothianarchaeology.org.uk/) who showed how aerial photographs can be obtained by anyone simply and cheaply using kites and black sacks filled with helium!

“In 2012, terminally ill Trust and Group co-founder, Rosie Wells, asked for some of her money to be set aside for funding a pilot project to investigate and introduce cheap, simple, low-level aerial photography techniques to children and students. Therefore, as part of our activities, we donate kite aerial photography starter and standard kits to a range of groups and individuals. This pilot project is partly to establish a reliable system for working with children and to encourage the progression to more interesting techniques, such as working in the near infra-red.” (Extract from website)

As part of this, John donated a complete kit to me to assist in my ongoing research. This includes a HQ Delta kite, line, Pentax camera and picavet rig to attach the camera to the kite line. For this I am eternally grateful!!!

I’ve been practicing it’s use the last few weeks in the wide open football fields in UCD.  (I’d love to practice over the fields at home especially over the arable land for cropmarks but given my fear of the electric fences we have for cattle I don’t fancy a dart from the many ESB lines which criss-cross our land).  Some things I’ve learned so far include:

1. Wear gloves! (My first time using it I got a nice bit of rope burn when I removed a glove)

2. The take a photo button is very different to the power button. (The camera was flying for about ten minutes one day in the off mode)

3. The wind has a mind of its own and it hates me.

Now that I’ve gotten used to handling the kit both with another person and on my own it’s time to take it out in the field.


The first attempt will be tomorrow in Glendalough, Wicklow, the site of the famous monastic site nestled in the Wicklow Mountains. Every year the UCD School of Archaeology run a fieldschool for undergraduates and for the past few years these have been centred near the monastic site itself. This year the focus is the area around the Caher.

While the football field offers a nice ground to practice using the kit on, there’s very little to aim for and to photograph as the photo shows. Image

Tomorrow offers the opportunity to practice targeting specific features as well as the wider upland landscape and will also hopefully contribute something towards the fieldschool in the form of a few aerial photographs of the excavation site.

After this it’s off over the misty mountains cold and into the dungeons and caverns of research


Watch this space!

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