Small Format Aerial Photography 
Aerial Images of Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area
Preston Johnson 
Summer 2008
ES 555  Small Format Aerial Photography
Prof. James S. Aber, Instructor

Table of Contents
Abstract Introduction Cameras Photography Conclusion References



Small format aerial photography (SFAP) is a useful tool for the gathering of geographical information over a larger area than can be photographed at ground level. Most photos are taken at a height of 50 to 150 meters above the ground. (Aber 2000) The information gathered by these pictures can be used for many different areas of study. Typical uses include geospatial analysis of such subjects as geomorphology, land usage, vegetation patterns, etc.

SFAP photos can be taken by digital and film cameras, as well as specialized equipment such as infrared and near-infrared cameras. The 35mm or 70mm format is used in film camera applications. There are also several ways to elevate the cameras, including blimps, kites, ultra-light aircraft, and even parasailing.


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The purpose of the field trip to Cheyenne Bottoms by the 2008 SFAP class at Emporia State University was to photograph the area owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization whose mission at Cheyenne Bottoms is to return the area to its natural state and to protect the wetland habitat. Emporia State University has been in partnership with TNC for remote sensing study since 2002. (Aber 2008)


Cheyenne Bottoms is a 41,000-acre lowland located six miles northeast of Great Bend, Kansas. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks operate 19,857 acres as a wildlife management area. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages 7,300 acres adjacent to Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. (Cheyenne Bottoms website) According to The Nature Conservancy website, “Nearly one-half of all North American shorebirds migrating east of the Rocky Mountains and up to one-quarter million waterfowl stop at Cheyenne Bottoms to rest and feed during seasonal migrations.”


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Camera Equipment

Kites were the format of choice for this field experience. KAP, or Kite Aerial Photography, has been used since the 19th century, and because of the low comparative cost to other formats, is having a renaissance in popularity. (Aber 1999) During this day of kite photography, we used four digital cameras suspended with a Picavet system, and controlled by a radio controller. The four cameras used were: a six megapixel Canon Elph PowerShot SD600, a seven megapixel Canon S70, a six megapixel Canon Digital Rebel SLR, and the new near-infrared Tetracam ADC, in which I had the honor of controlling on its maiden flight.


Camera Images taken from Kite Aerial Photography Cameras and Rigs website by J.and S. Aber


Canon Elph series PowerShot SD600 rig


Canon S70 camera rig with Picavet suspension system


Canon Digital Rebel rig


Tetracam ADC near-infrared camera rig


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We enjoyed a near perfect weather day for this field trip; temperatures reached the mid-80's with very clear skies and low humidity, thus no haze. In the morning, thermal lift and wind were minimal, so we used the giant rokkaku kite.

Giant rokkaku kite (Image from Kite Aerial Photography Equipment J.and S. Aber 2008)


This 7½ by 6 foot kite has about 36 ft² (3.3 m²) of lifting surface and is designed for use in light wind conditions. (less than 10 mph (15 km/h). We were able to keep the kite up long enough to go through an entire photographic sequence with the two lighter cameras, the Canon Elph, and the Rebel SLR, in spite of the times that we had to move quickly to save the kite and camera rig from going swimming.

Select Photos of Cheyenne Bottoms: (Some photos modified by author)

Canon Elph


Canon Rebel SLR



The conditions during the afternoon were a little more favorable, but the decision was made to deploy the giant delta.

Giant delta wing kite (Image from J.and S. Aber 2008)


This kite has a wingspan of 19 feet and a total surface area of 88 square feet (8.2 m²), thus providing more than enough lift to fly the Canon S70, and to deploy the Tetracam for the first time.

The drawback to having so much lifting power is reeling in the kite, taking 3-4 people to do the job.

Hauling down the giant delta kite and camera rig. From left to right: Preston Johnson (author), Juli Matthews, Matt Unruh, and Lida Buster (Aber 2008)


Canon S70


Tetracam ADC


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The SFAP project was very successful. We were able to use all the camera rigs we had available, as well as use the new Tetracam for the first time. There were many quality photographs taken from the four camera series, and the near-infrared was new and interesting. Many of these photos could be used for various analyses of the Cheyenne Bottoms area.


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Aber, J.S. 1999. Kite Aerial Photography for Environmental Site Investigations in Kansas. KansasAcademy Science, Transactions 102, p 57-67

Aber, J.S. 2000. Potential of Kite Aerial Photography for Quaternary Investigations in Poland. Geological Quarterly 44, p 33-38

Aber J.and S. 2008. Kite Aerial Photography Cameras and Rigs 

Aber J.and S. 2008. Kite Aerial Photography Equipment 

Aber J.S. 2008. ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography: Announcements

The Nature Conservancy: Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve

Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks: Cheyenne Bottoms webpage.


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Required for ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography,
Emporia State University
, Emporia, KS

Created by Preston Johnson - June 25, 2008