Flying a Camera on a Kite Over the Statues of Easter Island

Melissa did a video that chronicles my difficulties putting a camera (and eventually in frustration, a computer) up on a kite string to shoot an aerial photograph. I needed a different angle on the Moai of Easter Island because they have been photographed to death. There are so many ways to get a camera up in the air these days. You can look at Nick Nichols’s Field Test in National Geographic about flying helicopters over lions, but you have to realize there are many people and a lot of time and money involved in that. This was not the case. I went through my equipment closet before I left and the guys in photo equipment at NG went through their equipment closet and we patched together a bunch of stuff that MIGHT WORK. I don’t even own a kite. NG sent me a “fighting kite” they had left over from an arctic assignment that would be good for cutting the strings of someone else’s kite in Lahore in a fight, but not to carry a camera. Luckily my 85-year-old father is still paragliding and he arranged for his instructors and their friends to help me get a kite big enough to carry a camera and a computer. I had to get a camera up in the air quickly, so this ended up being a “seat of the pants” experiment that only netted one photograph. One is all you need, however, and that photograph was in the layout for awhile, but disappeared with some later decisions. This aerial-by-kite was a side-note to my main mission, which was to photograph the place and the culture. I was particularly interested in the people because there are direct descendants left on the island and I did a search through all the agency and photo sites before I left and there were 30,000 photographs of the statues and about two of the people in their homes living their lives. But in the middle of the real work, if the light was good, and if the wind was good I would run out with my little team and try to make a kite photograph.

About the author

RANDY OLSON’s 27 National Geographic magazine projects have taken him to many countries in Africa, the Siberian Arctic, Abu Dhabi, American Samoa, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Dubai, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kamchatka, Newfoundland, Pakistan, Palmyra, Republic of Georgia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the South Pacific.
National Geographic Society published a book of his work in their Masters of Photography series in January 2011. Olson was the 2003 Magazine Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition, and was also awarded POYi’s 1992 Newspaper Photographer of the Year—one of only two photographers to win in both media in the largest photojournalism contest operating continuously since World War II. While working at The Pittsburgh Press, Olson received an Alicia Patterson Fellowship to support a seven-year project documenting a family with AIDS, and a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his story on problems with Section 8 housing. He was also awarded the Nikon Sabbatical and a grant from the National Archives to save the Pictures of the Year collection.
Melissa Farlow and Randy Olson are photojournalists in the documentary tradition. Their work has taken them to 50 countries over the past 20 years. Even though they are published in LIFE, GEO, Smithsonian and other magazines, they have primarily worked on 50 projects for the National Geographic Society. They normally work individually, but have co-produced National Geographic magazine stories on northern California, American national parks, and the Alps. They photographed the southern United States for a book by Collins Publishing and have collaborated on over 70 books by various publishers.