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HOW-TO: Take digital photos from a kite--Part 2, the kite and the pictures


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This week's How-To Tuesday is the second part of our series on taking digital photos from a kite; last week we showed you how to convert that old digital camera you're got in your closet to one that takes a picture automatically every second until the memory card is full, which will we use in this week's How-To, where we'll put that camera on a kite. There are many other applications once you hack a digital camera to take a shot a second, and we'll also go over those in future How-Tos, for example we've mounted one to a car with a GPS and next week we'll show you how our house pets are now taking photos on their own as well.

Before we get started, let's recap how we hacked our camera to automatically take pictures.

kite photos

A couple years ago we bought an Olympus "Camedia" D-360L 1.3 Megapixel digital camera which took "okay" pictures and used that goofy SmartMedia format. At the time it was a good camera, but eventually we moved on and it's been sitting in the basement waiting for a project, dreaming of the day it'll fly, fly away like a bird.

There's been a lot of interest in taking digital photos from kites over the last few years, but all the articles we've seen involve really complicated gear and remote controls, most being very expensive—all we want to do is take as many photos as we possibly can until the battery dies or the card is full. Most importantly, we wanted to do this on the cheap since there's a good chance the camera will get smashed. We checked eBay and places like Fry's Electronics and found a lot of crappy digital cameras that people will be able to use to take photos from kites. The project shouldn't cost more than $30 for the camera and the parts.

1 digital camera that will be hacked apart
RadioShack 1 LM555 Precision Timer - 8 Pin DIP
Wires, solder, hot glue

Many cameras will work with this hack, but we realize digital cameras are different—so this week we're going to show you the theory behind our digital camera automation, and next week we'll show you how to string it up to a kite. As we get feedback from the folks trying this at home, we'll add more ways to automate the digital camera hack.

The Camera
Our soon to be airborne camera is an Olympus D-360L. A little bulky for kite pictures, but a good experimenter camera to get started.

kite photos

Only 4 screws held the camera together, and quickly the camera face and back plate were off—this is another reason that old digital camera is good for hacks.

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We located the shutter mechanism and popped the button off. Under the button there are 4 contacts, one was labeled "shutter" and that was the one we were after.

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We then found positive and negative leads coming from the batteries (red and black). We're going to tap in to these and power our timer chip. To do this we simply soldered two wires directly from the leads.

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We also soldered a wire directly to the lead that says "shutter" this is what triggers the camera when the black wire (negative) it applied to it. If you're testing your own camera this is a good way to test how the camera takes photos, once you figured that out, solder the wire from that button/lead.

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For kicks we tested how many volts were going through, just to see what's flowing through there (it was 5.98v) which makes sense since the camera takes four 1.5v AA batteries.

The Timer Chip
The LM555 Precision Timer (8 Pin DIP) is available for $1.49 or less at every RadioShack we've ever been in.

 kite photos

This chips allows us to simulate the button being pressed continually once we wire the power from the camera through it and then in to the shutter.

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Once you get the chip, you can solder it up according to our diagram below or you can use a breadboard to test. A breadboard (also available at RadioShack) will allow you to test wiring and the chip before you commit to soldering it all up.

The Wiring
With the chip pins down and the little round dot at the upper left, the numbers are 1 to 4 going down on the left side and 5 to 8 on the right side going up.

kite photos

The black wire (negative) goes to the 3rd pin, Red (positive to the 4th pin). Run a wire from the 2nd to the 6th pin (or just fold the pins over the back and solder) then connect the 6th to the 7th pin. Last up, run the shutter wire to 6th pin. For the hardware geeks out there, you can of course add resistors and capacitors to change the timing (and possibly do a better job of not frying the camera than we did).

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Once we tested the chip and the camera snapped dozens of photos without having to press a single button we then added the wires to the outside of the camera.

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We used a small plug found in a pile of spare parts just so we could unplug it when not in use, or if we want to use for other projects. You don't need to do that, but we did for ease of use.

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After that, we hot glued the chip as well as the wires to the outside of the camera.

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The finished product. It works! Now we'll show you how to mount the hacked digital camera to a kite (and other things) to take photos automatically.

Cheap Mount
We need to mount it to something to hang from the camera line. For our example, we wanted to just use something cheap, so we used a coat hanger and made a loop.


At the bottom of the loop we used electrical tape to hold the camera on, it worked great (as in: no camera fatalities in really high winds).


For more ideas on cradles, click here.

gps plus camera

Since we could, we also strapped a GPS for some of the photos so we could tag them later. That way others could not only see the photos, but find out where they were taken. To learn more about that, click here for our How-To.

The Kite

We have a parafoil 40 x 52-inch kite; it's got some pretty good lift, but you can use just about any type of kite provided there's enough wind to pull the load up.


It's a good idea to have a friend to help launch and/or catch falling digital camera if it happens to go down.

up and away

The first time we tested out the camera and kite combo, we tied the camera to the portion of where the teather and the attachment strings meet. This wasn't very stable, so we found placing the camera about twenty feet down the line worked better.

Since we were taking photos at about 800 per hour (640 x 480 on a 64mb card) we tested a lot of options without having to worry about running out of pictures.

The Pictures
We got caught in a rain storm at GasWorks park out here in Seattle (shocking, we know) but the pictures turned out pretty well. Here are a few (the last one is when the kite actually went into a low-flying cloud, and if you look closely you can see the Space Needle in the background):

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Phillip Torrone can be reached via his personal site:

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