Photographing kites

My wife and youngest daughter went to the annual Kite Festival in Arlington, Texas, today, with my brother-in-law, his wife and their daughter. Of course, I took a few photos. I don’t think I’ve ever photographed kites flying before. It’s harder than it looks.

Think about it. What’s the photo here, that is, what will you be trying to include in the frame? The easiest and perhaps safest photo, is one of the kite in the hands of the person who is about to fly it. No problems of scale or perspective here.

But the thing about kites is that they go up into the air. Now, as photographic subjects, kites are more like hot-air balloons than, say, birds. But, again, as photographic subjects, kites differ from hot-air balloons in several ways. For starters, kites are much smaller than balloons. A hot-air balloon in the sky may still be a pretty good-sized target. I was shooting with a Pentax 18-250 zoom lens, but even at 250mm (=357mm full-frame equivalent), it’s hard to get a kite to fill the frame, after it’s in the air. And worse, it’s hard sometimes to guess the size of a kite in the air. A hot-air balloon has a basket with people in it, and you may be able to see the people. So you can tell how big the balloon is and perhaps even how far away it is, just from the size of the basket. Not so easy with a kite. In this picture, the traditional blue kite on the right helps the viewer get a sense of the size of the less-traditional kite on the left.

Another problem with kites, from the photographer’s perspective, is that the most interesting thing about the kite is that it is linked to the ground. But the string is hard to see—in the photo above it’s barely visible. And it’s even harder to show the kite and the ground together. Well, you can do this:

But now both the person and the kite are too small to be recognizable and interesting. You can emphasize the person, and put the kite in the background. But to do this, you probably have to stand behind the person, and people’s backs are not so interesting.

And that only works if the kite is low in the air; otherwise, you have to take the following perspective.

I guess that’s kind of fun, but, well, remember, the kite is really the thing of interest here and it’s nearly invisible. Now that I think of it, the ideal perspective from which to photograph a flying kite, would be from the basket of a hot air balloon floating a little above the kite. Then you could have the kite in the foreground, and the person on the ground in the distance.

I didn’t have a hot-air balloon handy. The best I could do was suggest perspective by getting the tops of trees into the photo.

You can’t see the strings, but the tree tops establish the connection to earth. I think this was my best shot from the day.

The tree-tops provide perspective, and it was luckily emphasized here by the somewhat narrower depth of field (that is, by the fact that the trees are blurred). It’s a bit of luck that you can see the string here (exiting the frame lower right corner). And it also helps that this was one of the more interesting kites in the air today.

Larger images here.


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