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How to Map


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Workshop 3: How to Map

Agenda: This workshop can take place over the course of several days.

  • Activity 1: Decide on which type of mapping you will do (10 min.)
  • Activity 2: Prepare your mapping materials (1-2 hours)
  • Activity 3: Go map! (You should dedicate a full 4 hours to mapping your site, this is outside of travel time.)

Activity 1:

There are three main types of DIY mapping techniques identified by the Public Lab Community:
1) Balloon Mapping
2) Kite Mapping
3) Pole Mapping
** some people have also done a hybrid mapping technique that uses both balloons and kites

You should choose the mapping technique that best suits your needs and environment. Here are a few pointers in deciding which will work best for you:

Balloon mapping

Balloon Mapping is best done when:
1) There are no competing overhead obstacles (trees, power lines, buildings etc.)
2) The winds are fairly calm (no more than 10mph), and
3) You are looking to capture single images that are larger than one acre in size.

Limitations of Balloon Mapping
1) Because balloon mapping requires helium, which can be expensive (about $60 worth of helium for each flight, as of 2015), if you’re on a budget you might consider kite or pole mapping.
2) Balloons will need to be replaced every 4 or so flights.
3) Balloons should not be used on windy days, they become uncontrollable.
4) Unless you are pulling your balloon (for example in a boat), your balloon will be prone to moving with the wind currents, if the wind is not blowing in a desirable location for your mapping site, you will need to move or change your strategy. 5) With balloon mapping, it is better to have at least 3 people.

Kite mapping

Kite Mapping is best done when:
1) There are no competing overhead obstacles (trees, power lines, buildings etc.)
2) The winds are 10mph or above, and
3) you are looking to capture single images that are larger than one acre in size.

Limitations of Kite Mapping
1) Can take some time, we suggest you always run a practice flight without a camera first, here are some great tips for kite mapping
2) Best done with at least 2 people.

Pole Mapping

Pole Mapping is best done when:
1) You have competing overhead objects,
2) You don’t need images that show larger than a single acre in size, and
3) You are mapping on your own. You need a lightweight pole for this, such as the one the Public Lab store sells

Limitations of Pole Mapping:
1) Pole mapping will only capture small areas at a time. This can make the images hard to stitch.


Once you have decided which type of mapping to do, you can plan your mapping trip!

Activity 2: Prepare your mapping materials

Building your rig

Unless you will be using a pre-assembled rig for your camera such as a KAP rig or a clamp for pole mapping, you will need to build a rig for your camera. Here is a great video that shows one example of how to do this.

A short video by Mathew Lippincott on setting up your camera.

Materials you will need:

Kite and Balloon Mapping:: Materials for kite mapping are very similar to balloon mapping, except that they require a kite instead! The kite mapping wiki can help you decide which kite will work best for you. This link also includes a helpful list of materials you’ll need for your balloon or kite mapping trip

Pole mapping:: For pole mapping you will need your pole (again here are some models you can look into, or the pole sold in the Public Lab store.) To attach your camera to the pole you will need to either attach it directly using hardware such as those found in this research note or by employing a rig and attaching it to the top of your pole. Before you go to your site, be sure to check that the pole will support the weight of the camera. You should also make sure that it is something that is easy for you to manipulate around, (so you capture the site you’re looking to catch and don’t hit any obstacles that might be in your way). Note that your pole may seem light in calm conditions, but windy weather can add pounds of weight on your pole, stressing yourself and your equipment. If your pole is sturdy, but harder to handle, one thing you can try to do is attach tethers to it and work with other people to map your site holding the tethers.

Preparing the camera to launch

Here is a wiki that can help you prepare your camera for mapping. 8gig SD cards are generally large enough to support an hour of flight/picture time. Make sure that your SD card is clear of all previous photos. Once your rig is ready to go, point your camera to a spot in the distance and turn it on. This ensures that the focus is set to take photos at a distance. Make sure you hear your camera taking continuous photos (you should hear the clicks).

Best practices for balloon mapping:

Balloon mapping generally takes at least three people, one to fill the balloon, and two to hold it.
- The balloon mapping wiki has great tips and steps on how to get started.
- Materials Needed

Best practices for kite mapping:

Kites can be made to fly in different directions based on the tails you put on them, longer, heavier or multiple tales on one side will make your kite slant in the direction of the tails.
- Here are some Kite Mapping tips:**
- Kite mapping tips for urban areas

Best practices for pole mapping:

Make sure that your camera is angled over your desired target, for example, if the camera is right above you, you will end up with a lot of photos of yourself. Here is a guide for pole mapping However this wiki can help you decide which type of pole you’d like to build (or buy).

Gulf Coast specific mapping needs and considerations:

Make sure you pack:

  • Sunscreen and protective clothing to keep you safe in the sun and from bug bites.
  • Extra water
  • Bug Spray
  • Waders (or sturdy water shoes)
  • First aid kit

Watch out for :

  • Alligators
  • Water moccasins and other poisonous snakes
  • Chiggers (Chiggers are hard to see, but showering and washing your clothes immediately after your mapping trip will help you reduce the risk of being bit)
  • Ticks

Gulf Coast Site Access Considerations

Access to your site: Assess all the nearby locations where your site can be accessed and mapped from. This might include boat access, land, public property, private property etc. **Make sure you have permission if you plan to map from private property.

Deciding where to kite or balloon map from: You should choose the site you map from based on the wind directions of that day. You want to make sure your kite or balloon will drift over the site as you map it. Doing a test launch of your kite or balloon will help you figure this out. Sometimes winds on the ground are different from the wind directions higher in the air. You should be prepared to change your mapping location to accommodate for the wind.

Mapping from a boat: Wetland mapping is sometimes most effective when done by a boat. Mapping from a boat is similar to mapping from the land. Be sure that you have supplies to be safe on the water and a captain who knows the area well.

Best times to map: - Generally the best time to map is in the morning.
- Be cautious of planning afternoon mapping trips in the summer, this tends to be when thunderstorms happen.
- Clear weather days are always good.
- You will want to think about what you’re aiming to capture, for example, if you’re hoping to catch near infrared images of the marsh vegetation, it might be best to avoid the winter months.

Activity 4: Go Mapping!

See "Best Practices" section for tips!


balloon-mapping kite-mapping kite polemapping balloon pole pole-mapping

parent:wetlands-toolkit