Kite Aerial Photography has a large and active community of practitioners -- see if there are any living or kiting near you, and ask for help.
With kites and a 5-20 mph wind, many of the objectives of balloon mapping can be achieved without purchasing helium or balloons. If you want to map a site with consistent winds, you may be in luck.
Kites can also be used in large flat areas with no power lines or trees, such as on oceans or lakes, beaches, or deserts, by towing them behind a boat, car, or bicycle. Keep in mind that it's typically impossible to turn or travel downwind.
recommended commercial kites
Kite Aerial Photographers, or KAPers, often select expensive kites which can lift large weights, and many use heavier, customizable cameras such as digital SLRs with remote control targeting or stabilization. If you just want to put a camera in the air for the lowest cost and highest reliability, we recommend a few different relatively inexpensive kites, paired with the PET Bottle Rig.
9ft. Dazzle Delta is only $46 and a very good, easy flier. It doesn't pack down very small, but is a very affordable and high quality light wind kite.
Levitation Delta - ($65) 9 ft. wide - a strong and stable flyer in 7-20mph winds. In high winds it can take some effort to reel in, as it has a lot of lift. The spars all split in half and it packs down easily to 40." Good, high flying angle.
Zenith Delta - ($70) 7 ft. wide - This one is fantastic, a strong and stable flyer in even light winds (7mph). Not as much lift as the Levitation and it doesn't break down as small, but it is much easier to handle in high winds. A great all-around kite.
Fled - ($110) stable, strong, light-wind kite that flies at a line angle of 65 - 70 degrees. This kite is very quick to set up and simple to adjust. It flies in a wide range of conditions, and is a "go-to" kite for many KAPers. The high line angle is very useful for flying in tight spaces.
Gomberg Delta Conyne - ($37) - Harder to launch, but once it's in the air it's a stable flyer. I think it's optimized for stable flight high up. Nice also that there's a space in the middle which we're going to try putting a camera in.
to see the latest research notes on DIY kites, see the tag DIY kite.
Delta kites are a quick build, and very effective
Mathew has step by step instructions as well as a spreadsheet of dimensions for a quick-to-build DIY Delta Kite. This is a proven design that flies well. He uses tvvek and bamboo, but wooden dowels and plastic sheeting will work as well.
Jeff Warren and kids at Parts and Crafts have gotten good results from a mylar copy of the Dazzle Delta..
Mathew also made a series of Tyvek and Bamboo Fled kites based on the designs of Brooks Leffler. The third has been extremely successful at lifting cameras to very high flying angles, and he can now recommend others to build the same. follow his instructions in the link above.
Leo Famulari has notes on kite bridle adjustment
Other Kite Building Resources
Kiteplans.org and the Kitebuilder forums are great online resources. The book One-hour Kites by Jim Rowlands provides excellent plans and construction details. Dan Kurahashi's Japanese Kites, Concepts and Construction has more great plans, great charts on predicting lift, and some excellent instructions on making plastic bag kites.
Published literature pertaining to KAP
Nathan Craig's Mendeley Group may require setting-up a free, public account.