Helium Balloon Aerial Photography

aerial photography

So, you’ve got an itching desire to inflate 150 helium balloons, but have no idea what to do with them afterwards? Well, readers Stefan and Michel decided to build a simple aluminum frame to mount a cheap digital camera and do some aerial photography. Instead of building a complex timing system they just attached a strong motor from a security camera. It’s powered by a AA and is geared really low so it only triggers the shutter every 12 seconds. They deployed the rig from the fortifications surrounding Wilemstad in the Netherlands. There are several pictures of the city (and the occasional envious child) on their site. If you follow the “continue reading” link you’ll see a couple more pictures of the camera mount.

camera rigcamera rigcamera rigcamera rig

19 thoughts on “Helium Balloon Aerial Photography

  1. With this method assuming you had a decent teather system you could use a little more expensive camera than with a kite. Although i still would not stick a $500 digital camera on that thing. It would be cool to see one of these built with a weather baloon and a stabilizing platform for the camera.

  2. I really want to do this, it looks cool. You could connect the motor to a switch on the kite handle thing that you hold on to (what is it called? I can’t think of the name) and then take pictures only when you want to.

  3. Cool project.

    I had an idea similar to this some time back. The local office supply store here sells “kiddie” cameras (640 x480) for about 20 bucks. My thought was to wire up a 555 timer to fire the camera at some regular interval (say, every 5 minutes) and then attach the whole thing to the spine of a kite.

  4. #1 – “It would be cool to see one of these built with a weather baloon and a stabilizing platform for the camera.”


    HAM radio operators do this sorta thing all the time. They send up full camera/gps/repeater/etc “payloads” to the edge of space. Coworker of mine chases them on a regular basis.

    Although this “hack” is kinda neat in that anyone can do it without the bother of HAM licensing and wotnot. I agree that I wouldn’t want to send up a $500 camera, but a $150 5MP Kodak (or cheaper) would probably do just as well.

  5. I just watchted the “pop” version of March of the Penguins the other day – the pop being random facts.

    In some of the nicest clips, they used an experimental helium balloon rig to take the video, and the result was simply fantastic.

    I’d try it if I was into this sort of thing :p

  6. No need for a motor to trigger the button, I hacked a minolta digital camera about 6 years ago to do this and simply opened the camera, soldered two small guage wires in parallel with the camera’s switch and brought those outside the camera to interface to a timer circuit with a pot to vary the frequency of the snapshots. You could use the timer to trigger a transistor to power a small relay tied to the switch wires…

  7. a hacked cvs camera would work nice with this, since they’re only $30.

    #2 – you have to be careful with planes and the such, this might not be a problem for most but I live right under a approch route for the airport and this hack would be tricky with planes only 500 ft above

  8. here is an interesting (and related) article from the most recent “Invention and Technology” magazine.


    Its about a guy who phtographed San Francisco in 1906 after the quake. He used a huge kite to lift a 50 pound camera up to an altitude of 2000 feet.

    ps: Invention and Technology is a great magazine if you’re looking for reading material in the john and your wireless network craps out.

  9. Related and of interest: the Vienna (Virginia, USA) Wireless Society has flown several camera-and-GPS-equipped balloons. Some photos from a relatively recent flight to 98,000+ feet along with associated telemetry are available at:




    Lots more info about these flights is available at:



  10. I would like to take some aerial pictures of my house and the surrounding neighborhood, but I also like to do things on the cheap. Right now I’m looking at garbage bags and hydrogen produced at home through electrolysis, since garbage bags are much cheaper than mylar and I’ve got enough stuff in my garage to peice together a small hydrogen generator. I believe ten ten-gallon bags should provide enough lift to get my Nikon Coolpix S3 (six megapixel shots, huge memory capacity, and a time-lapse feature to snap shots every thirty seconds) and a couple of spools of 6 lb. monofilament line off the ground. I’m hoping that using two or three seperate lines might give me some axis control over the camera. If it works there should be some notes in our blog come March.

  11. So I actually tried this with the garbage bags, but bought a $23 helium tank to lift it. It worked, sort of. You can read the results on the blog entry for Sept. 19, and see a couple of pictures in the following entry. If at first you don’t [exactly] succeed…

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