Pole “Aerial” Photography (PAP)

A while ago, I was trying to think of a way to take low-level aerial photographs with the purpose of documenting and photogrammetrically analysing things such as archaeological sites and sand dunes. Renting an airplane was out of the question, and model airplanes, helicopters, quadrocopters or octocopters appeared to be technologically too complex (and costly). Finally, I came across Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) and Pole Aerial Photography (PAP).

To begin with, I am not sure why this is called Pole Aerial Photography. Nothing is airborne here. I am standing with my feet firmly planted onto the ground, holding the bottom end of a pole which has a camera at its top end. Of course, you get elevated views which do sometimes look as if they were taken from an airborne platform.

While spending quite some time trying to find out how to do things best, I got lots of inspiration from what PAP people wrote on their websites. The first thing you need for PAP, of course, is a pole. It should be lightweight, stable, easy to set up and easy to pack up for transport. People use all kinds of poles such as professional window cleaning equipment, 9 to 13 metres long carp fishing poles, GPS poles and the like. They are usually made of carbon fibre, fibreglass, steel or aluminium.

One of my requirements was to be mobile – both when travelling and when shooting pictures. Can you take a ten metre window cleaning pole (which is still more than two metres long when packed up) on a flight without having to pay extra? No. The solution was a collapsible ten metre fibreglass pole sold by DX-Wire as a ham radio antenna mast. Packed up, it is only 0.67 metres long, so I can just put it in my backpack. The top segments (above approximately seven metres) are too weak to carry a camera. As I was not aiming for great heights, I decided to use only the lower 5.7 metres, weighting less than 1 kg.

To attach the camera to the top of the pole, I used epoxy to glue a 1/4′ tripod screw into the top of the uppermost pole segment. To this I attach a small, light-weight tripod ballhead after expanding the pole. Attach the camera, adjust the viewing angle, ready. The camera (I am using a Canon G12 and a Canon A3000IS) runs CHDK with a simple intervalometre script that takes pictures at intervals of a few seconds.

Camera attached to tripod ballhead on top of the pole.

A useful addition is a bubble level which can easily be attached to the lower part of the pole to help keeping it vertical.