Three MIT Students Take Near-Space Photos On a Budget of...$150?!

After looking at the photos, you'd swear they were taken from a NASA spacecraft. But NASA didn't have anything to do with these images.

Oliver Yeh, Justin Lee, and Eric Newton, three students at MIT, constructed a high-altitude research vehicle using a latex balloon, a plastic parachute, and a styrofoam beer cooler. Inside the cooler was a payload consisting of a $50 Motorola prepaid GPS-enabled cell phone, a $40 Canon A470 point-and-shoot camera, and disposable hand warmers to protect the electronics from the -55˚C temperatures of the upper stratosphere.

The rig flew to a calculated altitude of 93,000 feet. The 5-hour, 20-mile journey produced stunning images that show the blackness of space and the curvature of Earth's horizon.That's right. Return-trip flights to 18 miles above the Earth's surface, with pictures, on a budget of $150.

One of the coolest things about this project is that anyone can do it. In fact, the team will be soon offering plans on how to build your very own high-flyer. Think about the possibilities! With the economy downsizing and the scrutiny put on NASA in recent months, what better way to rekindle the fire of the space program than by high school science teachers encouraging students to take on such a project?

Chase Jarvis Releases Best Camera App for iPhone

A few days ago, Best Camera was released for the iPhone by Chase Jarvis, and it's swept through the photography community with great approval and praise. In the first 24 hours of launch, photographers and camera lovers swarmed the app and its community sharing website,

Before now, we had to use several different apps throughout the process of creating images. One to take the picture. One to do some editing. Then an app for each website to share to.

Chase's app consolidates all that into one fluid process and really makes the iPhone live up to its reputation. Take a picture, and you are immediately presented with a small arsenal of filters that can be applied to your image. Here's the real beauty: it's a non-destructive editing program. Apply as many filters as you want, and remove those you decide you don't need.

Get your picture just right and hit the Share arrow, and a list pops up of a few major photo sharing sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and the Best Camera community site. Also included is the option to e-mail images.

The online community at is growing exponentially every day. Within the app is a page that shows a live feed of images being posted to the site (the same feed is shown at the site's home page). The site's home Users can click on a thumbnail and place votes for those that they like.

Don't miss this app! Chase has delivered a quality program that streamlines the shooting and sharing process. For the amount of features and ease of use it provides, it's a steal at $2.99 via iTunes.

Have Text, Will Laugh

Just playing around with some pics from a recent party. I picked a simple technique that yields a great alternative to basic snapshots. Pick a base color and tone your image (sepia, cyanotype, etc) to taste. Then throw in a quick description of the picture, whether it's one word or twelve, in a simple font and your picture will be ten times more interesting than before. (Yes, exactly ten times better. Trust me. It's really complicated math. I had to hire six physicists, two statisticians, and some guy who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express to come up with the number.)

Looking at Things In a Different Light

Many visually impactful images are such because of their departure from the norm, whether it be composition, exposure, processing or printing technique, or lighting.

Notice how the message of the image changes by simply moving the handheld flash behind the subject to create a strong conveyance of shape and form. Much different than the first, which implies a straightforward documentation of something's existance.

One of the hardest (and easiest) tricks in photography is to see the light that isn't there. Keep your mind's eye continuously searching for alternative ways to capture a subject and you'll come home with a better percentage of keepers.

A Visit to Cypress Gardens

Man, it's been a while since I've posted! I've been focusing on other hobbies--specifically, my day job--and haven't made time for shooting in the recent weeks. It also hasn't helped that my Macbook Pro has been out of commision for a few days.

But I did take a trip with a couple of friends out to Cypress Gardens, a beautiful, lush swamp plantation in Moncks Corner, SC. You can walk the lengthy nature trails and find all kinds of flower blossoms. Take a trip to the butterfly house and fill up a memory card with macros. Hop in a rowboat and take a self-guided tour through the heart of the swamp.

Truly, some great shooting is to be had here. You could spend an entire day and not shoot everything you want to. It's virtually impossible to come back with less than a dozen keepers.

That being said, here's a handful of some of the better shots of the day. Let me know what you think!

Sunrise on the bridge

I took a trip down to Charleston to shoot the sunrise from this beautiful piece of art in itself, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Spanning 1,546 feet, it's the largest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere. Quite a walk from the parking lot, too--one mile to the first pylon.

I got there about twenty minutes before daybreak and had just enough time to snap a few long exposures of traffic. It's really interesting to see how a fisheye lens can put an entirely new spin on an old subject. Straight lines, for example, become curvy, flowing patterns that you wouldn't normally see.

After the sun broke, I turned around and got some great gold light on the bridge.

That's it for now. What do you think of this watermark? I've been signing my initials like this for years and it just dawned on me a few weeks ago that it might make a good logo.

Creepy sights at the old naval base

Last night I was invited to come out shooting by a couple of fellow local photographers. It's always great to shoot, and even better to shoot with friends who enjoy it too! So the three of us brainstormed ideas for a while (actually, since I'm new to the area I basically just stood there and said, 'uh huh') and then went down to the old naval base to see what we could find.

I always pack heavy. I'd rather carry too much than not enough.

So after we found this building (which creeped me out from the moment we drove up), the first thing that came to mind was if I could possibly make the shot any more creepy. Eerie. Spooky. Whatever.

I pulled out a 580EXII, gelled it red, and stuck it in various doorways to get that look. For the later shots, I added a 430EX to light the outside walls and add some depth to the scene. Not much, but a subtle light to kinda show you where the ominous glow of red spookiness is coming from.

Chrys was actually shooting bulbs at f22, so I was trying to give him an opportunity to get some shots without flash. He got a great one by taking advantage of them, though!

Shooting Ken, Stacey, and wonderful little Harper Grace

Over Christmas, I had a chance to set up a quick photo shoot for my sister Stacey and her husband Ken. They recently had a beautiful little baby girl, Harper Grace, so I set up a single Canon 580EXIIon a stand and we started clicking. Of course newborns aren't ones to sit quietly very long, but we ended up making some good shots.

Special thanks and congratulations to the new parents. :)

The Right to Sublicense Derivative Works?!

If you post a photo to Facebook, you're basically giving them worldwide free reign over reproduction of your pictures--for free.

I should have seriously read the fine print in Facebook's Terms of Use more carefully.

"By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing."

Are you serious?

Funny how they throw the words fully paid into the mix. I don't ever remember receiving a check for such an exhaustive license. Hell, if any other business wanted to license one of my images with all those options, they'd be paying thousands for it. Now if I could just find such a business...

I think I'll be pulling a few images off Facebook now. At least until they can look at the issue from a photographer's perspective.

Photowalk @ Waterfront Park

I went downtown this morning to meet up with the 21st Century Photography Meetup Group for a photowalk. There's a bunch of great, fun people in the group and if you're looking for local shooters to rub elbows with, this is the group for you.

We were hoping for a good sunrise, but instead we were greeted by a dense fog that just didn't quit.
So after a little while of waiting for the fog to clear, some of us decided to walk around the streets and see what we could find. Being an overcast day helped diffuse and soften the light.

Here's a few I came out with. These are also available as prints in my online gallery.
That's all for now. 21st Century Photography's next meetup is on January 14. If you aren't doing anything, come on out!