Parasailing: An Unconventional Platform for Small Format Aerial Photography

A Report for ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography in the Earth Science Department at Emporia State University

by Amy L. Uttinger
Spring 2005


Table of Contents
Introduction Photo Day
Conventional SFAP Platforms Uses for Parasailing in SFAP
Conclusions References

All Images taken by Allen & Amy Uttinger.


In early June of 2002, a newlywed couple from Kansas journeyed to the island of Nassau, Bahamas for their honeymoon. The two of them enjoyed the usual recreation activities available from beach resorts such as swimming in the ocean, beach volleyball and parasailing. Although only the husband was brave enough to parasail, his wife would unknowingly benefit from this bravery nearly three years later at which time she would be required to write a report on Small Format Aerial Photography.

Photo Day

The day of the adventure was warm as is the norm for weather in the Bahamas. The sky was overcast and the temperature was in the 80 degree range with a fairly strong ocean breeze. At around 1:00 pm the couple went out on the ocean in a small powered boat with another couple and two men who operated the boat and parasailing gear. After reaching a safe distance from the beach the boat was stopped and the husband was strapped into a harness with one end attached to a large, colorful, round sail and the other to a thick rope which was secured to the boat. The boat took off fast at first so the parachute would open, then it slowed to a speed of approximately 15 mph while the husband was steadily lifted into the air. The man brought with him a Kodak disposable, 35 mm camera allowing him to capture aerial photos of the North Atlantic Ocean as well as the Wyndam Nassau Resort on Cable Beach and Sandals Cay Private Island.

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Conventional SFAP Platforms

The type of platform used for Small Format Aerial Photography is basically up to the photographer and what he or she is trying to accomplish. Several factors apply when choosing a platform including cost, purpose and preference however, there are a few tried and true methods most commonly used by SFAP enthusiasts.

Unmanned Platforms

Kites are commonly used as platforms for SFAP because they are relatively low in cost compared to other methods and they don't require much time to set up or many people to operate (Aber, et al, 1999). The type of kite used depends mostly on wind conditions (Aber, et al, 1999). According to Dr. James Aber of Emporia State University, soft (airfoil) kites are better for windier conditions and rigid (delta) type kites perform better in low wind. Kite aerial photography involves attaching a simple or radio controlled camera rig to the line of the kite about 15 to 30 meters below it. The rig is then raised raised approximately 100 to 150 meters above the ground (Aber, et al, 1999). The simple camera rig requires the operator to set the position of the camera prior to flight whereas the radio-controlled rig allows the operator to manuever the camera's position from the ground (Aber, et al, 1999).

Kite aerial photography has been around since the late 19th century and is used by many hobbist, however, it is also utilized for surveying land and mapping purposes (Aber, James S., 2003). Both vertical and oblique views can be attained from this format.

Helium Blimps are another type of platform used in Small Format Aerial Photography. They, like kites are relatively low in cost, but the blimps require more effort to set up and almost no wind (Aber, 2004). In order to lift the blimp needs helium and the amount is determined by its size. Using the same type of camera rig as in KAP, it is attached to a keel beneath the blimp that leads to a braided tether line (Aber, 2004). One person must operate the helim tank valve while another inserts the hose into the blimp and the third person should hold the tether. Once inflated and depending on its size some blimps can lift up to 3kg which is 2-3 times more than the weight of the camera rig (Aber, 2004).

As stated before using a helium blimp for SFAP requires low to no wind so this method can only be used on days when the wind doesn't exceed 5 mph (Aber, 2004). Under the right conditions the helium blimp can capture photos from 150 meters off the ground and the heigh is determined by a laster altimeter (Aber, 2004). This type of platform can be utilized for a variety of purposes, but because the blimp requires more stable wind conditions, it might provide better large scale, low altitude photos then kites.

Low Altitude Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) are yet another type of SFAP platform. This platform is also moderate in cost, but has had its share of problems. Blurry photos from vibrations assocated with engine movement and flammable model airplane fuel are just a couple of negative issues associated with RPVs which resulted in past restrictions (Remote Sensing Research, 1997). In 1987 however, an electric powered RPV was constructed by Remote Sensing Research that eliminated the aforementioned problems and since then, newer planes such as the Sensoar have evolved from this company. The Sensoar is a hand-launched, electric powered, light-weight, remote controlled plane. The camera is secured tightly underneath the body of the plane which can obtain photos from 600 meters above the ground (Remote Sensing Research, 1997). This particular SFAP format can be used professionally for precision agriculture, archaeological purposes and analysis of wetlands or environmental features (Remote Sensing Research, 1997).

Manned Platforms

Manned platforms for SFAP are more expensive then unmanned and include helicopters, small airplanes, hot-air balloons and blimps. These platforms are also not generally for the novice as most require some sort of specialized training (Aber, 2003).

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Uses for Parasailing in SFAP

Parasailing while not a commonly used method for SFAP has something in common with both manned and unmanned platforms. Because the photographer is not on the ground, it could be considered a manned platform. Additionally, parasailing requires the aid of a trained crew which is also customary of manned platforms. On the other hand, the cost of parasailing is generally around $50.00, plus the low cost of disposable cameras together make this method easily accessible, which is more typical of unmanned platforms. Finally, the sport of parasailing is available in most states.

Aerial photos acquired by parasailing are generally for the hobbyist however, there are photographers who use this platform for professional pictures. Stock photography and footage taken by professional photographers is available for purchase on websites like Other websites such as allow amateur photographers to sell various photos including aerial photos taken when parasailing.

Professional photographers could possibly use parasailing as an exciting platform in which to gain aerial photos of beaches or hotels and use them for tourism purposes. These type of photos could also generate interest in the sport of parasailing. It is further possible that aerial photos of the ocean acquired by parasailing could be used to study shallow marine life or patterns in the ocean floor. Finally, one might consider using vertical views of ocean front property taken from this platform useful in accessing the property value or for archetectural purposes.



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Aerial photography has been around since the mid-1800's and various platforms have been utilized (Aber, 2003). Although parasailing isn't a widely practiced method for SFAP, it can achieve the same results as most other platforms. Parasailing may not be a suitable way to attain aerial photos for study, but this type of format is perfect for the adventurous hobbyist. This method allows the photographer to have fun in addition to providing he or she with a more controlled view of what is being photographed. Overall, the sport of parasailing can make an acceptable platform for SFAP.


Aber, James S., 2004. Lighter-than-air platforms for small-format aerial photography. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, Vol. 107, no. 1/2, p. 39-44.

Aber, James S., 1999. Kite Aerial Photography For Environmental Site Investigations In Kansas. Transasctions of the Kansas Academy of Science, Vol. 102, no 1-2, pp. 57-67.

Aber, James S., 2003. Professional Applications Kite Aerial Photography. Retrieved from on 4/25/05.

Remote Sensing Research, 1997. Retrieved from on 4/30/05.

Aber, 2003. Introduction, ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography. Retrieved from on 4/30/05., 2005. Retrieved from on 05/02/05., 2005. Retrieved from on 05/02/05.