Here is a LINK to some of the photos I took.
I wanted to take aerial shots over the streets New York so I spent the last few months designing, building, and rethinking of ways to not only get my camera up in the air, but to make it fire some shots when it was up there.
The idea boiled down to this: I was going to build a platform for my camera to mount to attaching balloons on one end and a kite reel to the other end. The platform took on a few designs before my friend Josh (an engineering student) redesigned it to make it more efficient with better stability. I cut my platform out of grey presentation board using an Xacto knife and attached any pieces that needed support (like the tray that held the camera) with the same kite string I flew the balloons up with. This was really the longest part of the process since problems with usability kept surfacing and the mount need to be rethought and reconstructed.
Once that was done the next big hurdle was to figure out how to capture the photos when my camera was up in the air. My initial thought was to use the 30 second self timer feature and try to hoist the balloons up as quick as possible. This meant that I would have needed a lot of upwards pull to get any decent height but that could be expensive buying all those balloons and hard to travel around the city with. Randomly, I stumbled on a site that had tutorials on how to hack the firmware of my little point-and-shoot camera. With the help of one of my web developer friends from Vimeo, we loaded this hack as well as a time lapse script onto my memory card. The software was confusing to navigate at first and caused some problems during the test flight but I soon figured it out and the capabilities were amazing. It allowed me to set how many photos I wanted my camera to capture and at what intervals I wanted it to fire.
With picture-capturing no longer a problem, it opened up the possibilities of a lot more height. So the next challenge was to find an easy way to carry around a ton of string (500ft) without it getting all knotted up. My first plan was to buy a little wooden spool-like kite reel, but after some research I found a heavy duty one from a serious kite store online. The reel was only $30 and it was able to wind lots of string, really fast.
When all this came together, my friend Josh and I went out, got two 3ft red balloons and tried sending my camera up running the script. The script wasn’t working properly and the balloons seemed to hit a ceiling around 15/20ft. We quickly researched the script and worked out the kinks as well as bought a dozen more balloons, this time, they were the normal sized balloons. That was all it took to break the tipping point - the balloons could now go way beyond 15ft so we started snapping shots. We took photos around Union Sq, Astor Place, and the traffic triangle over on 9th and 3rd.
The first run of this project had some hurdles but after they were worked out, it was a complete success. It drew more attention than I thought it would have and everyone would stop and watch as we sent the balloons up. We ended up talking to a dozen people about my project that day as well as collected a few email address of people we had captured who wanted a copy of their photos. We had a lot of cameras pointed at us as we were preparing to launch so I’ll be checking flickr to see if anyone has posted anything.
We are going to launch again in 2 weeks in Central park and possibly take the balloons on the go through midtown. We’ll see.