Archive for March, 2009

You Gotta Know When to Hold Them…

Posted in General with tags , , , , on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


…Know when to fold them,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.

So goes the chorus of the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. I’ve always thought there were plenty of Life lessons in that song, and I was recently reminded of it again while reading Annie Leibovitz at Work. Ms. Leibovitz recounts how Dorothea Lange told the story behind Migrant Mother, the portrait of migrant farmer Florence Owens Thompson and her children, which became her most famous photograph, and an icon of American photography. For those who will read the book, please note that Ms. Leibovitz places this story in 1938, when in reality it took place in 1936.

Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother

After spending a month on the road in southern California she was finally heading home. It was raining and she was exhausted and she had a long drive ahead of her. She [Dorothea Lange] has been working up to fourteen hours a day for weeks and was bringing back hundreds of pictures of destitute farm workers. Somewhere south of San Luis Obispo she saw out of the corner of her eye a sign that said PEA-PICKERS CAMP. She tried to put it our of her mind. She had plenty of pictures of migrant farmers already. She was worried about her equipment, and though about what might happen to her camera in the rain. She drove for about twenty miles past the sign and made a U-turn. She went back to the sign and turned down a muddy road. A woman was sitting with her children on the edge of a huge camp of makeshift tents. There were maybe three thousand migrant workers living there. Lange took out her Graflex and shot six frames, one of them of the woman staring distractedly off to the side while two of her children buried their faces in her shoulders.

The image of the woman and her children became the most important photograph of Dorothea Lange’s life and the iconic picture of the Depression.

Dorothea Lange - Portrait
Dorothea Lange sitting on top of her car, the same year she made the U-turn that would put her name and photograph in history books.

We cannot be certain of many things, which is why we should follow our intuitions. We never know where they will lead us, but intuitions are the truest manifestations of our real feelings, and the simplest way we can allow ourselves to be…ourselves. Dorothea Lange wanted to fold them, but her intuition told her she should hold them. Needless to say, she was able to walk away, not run.

PS: If you’re wondering what happened to the migrant mother and her children, read here.

Shooting Weddings Part 2 – Equipment

Posted in Lesson, Photography with tags , , , , on Sunday, March 29, 2009 by Peter Zack

by Peter Zack


Shooting weddings can be a challenging and rewarding aspect of photography. I hope from these articles, you get some inspiration and tips that will help you develop your own style and business. The funny thing with a blog publishing setup, the articles are posted by date and you may be seeing the most recent first. If so, go to Shooting Weddings Part 1 and then you can follow each section in the series.
If you have a question or idea for this or other articles, contact us here.

Software: So to get started you must be prepared to do several things. Buy a good, powerful computer and get the proper software. Get a calibration tool for your screen. See our article here for some info on that. Editing work that is paid for, without a properly calibrated screen, is asking for trouble. You might see your red flowers as red but the printer sees them as pink. With software, the 2 programs you should have for editing are, Lightroom 2 and Adobe Photoshop CS2 and up. It’s expensive but these are important tools. You can do this with other software packages but Lightroom was designed for wedding photographers. You might have 1500+ images to catalogue and edit. Using the presets in LR can take what might have been days of editing and turn it to hours.

Cameras: You need good quality equipment to shoot with. The choices are very good these days and I won’t recommend a particular brand or model but to say that the entry level cameras are not suited for this work. You need the quality and features of the upper end camera models. I would strongly recommend that the cameras be weather-sealed. More than once, I’ve shot a wedding when the heavens opened up. The forecast was for showers and the guests all had umbrellas for that outdoor wedding. The best man and maid of honour had big golf umbrellas to protect the wedding party. You can’t just leave, and have you ever tried to shoot with one hand and hold an umbrella in the other? Not possible. You may also want to shoot at the beach or snow in the winter. The camera has to be able to take all of it. Bring a change of cloths unless you want to be wet the rest of the day.

Funny Photographer

Just don’t go so overloaded with gear that you can’t shoot! Image is not mine and commonly found on the web, author unknown.

There are two schools of thought when shooting a wedding: One camera or two? It’s a personal choice and depends on your comfort and skill. You might find it too cumbersome to be switching between bodies and always having the second camera on your back. Or you might like having one camera with a prime lens or wide zoom and the second with a longer tele to get those candid shots. Not changing lenses has its advantages. There is less concern about dust showing up on the sensor. You can react faster by switching bodies instead of changing lenses.

Regardless which method you go with, you need to have backups of everything. You should have 2 camera bodies and they should be the same model or very similar. The controls and quality need to match. You can’t fumble between two different setups when things are moving fast. You need to have backups for every lens and flash that is part of your kit. Equipment failures happen, count on it. Shooting a long, fast paced day is tough on gear. As much as you try, you just can’t baby the gear as much as you might like to if it were just shooting for fun.

Lenses: The lenses have to be top quality and fast. Consumer zooms will not cut it. Lenses can be a wide and varied choice. Everyone has favourites and I can’t really advise which is better. I’ll just describe my kit. I shoot with 2 cameras and carry 3 for the day. Each camera has a power grip for better portrait handling, the extra battery and memory storage. The primary camera has an 18-50mm ƒ/2.8 lens and the second camera has a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens. Around my waist is an equipment belt that contains a backup wide zoom, a 28-75mm ƒ/2.8 zoom and 2-3 prime lenses (28mm ƒ/1.8, 50mm ƒ/1.4 and 105mm), spare batteries and a portable hard drive. This might not suit your shooting style, maybe you want to shoot with primes only or a mix of lenses. But get the best lens in its respective length. Speed and quality matters.

Flashes and lights: This will be a brand specific choice to some degree. If you are shooting wireless, then you can use just about any flash* required to fill the area but on-camera may be different. I try to stay away from direct on-camera flashes. They just produce a flatter look. Add a flash bracket and get the flash off the camera. The added benefit is you can rest the flash bracket on your left shoulder and (if you can shoot comfortably with your left eye) use the bracket to steady hand held shots. Get a diffuser for your flash to soften the light where bouncing off a high ceiling might not work well. If your system allows an external battery pack, get one. Generally they speed up recycle times and you won’t have to be changing (or carrying) extra batteries at a critical time.
* Some older flashes put out a higher than safe trigger voltage for today’s digital cameras. Make sure you test the safety and compatibility of any flash/camera combination.

Video lights have a place here as well. They are often not considered a photography tool but with a battery pack you can have a constant light source that assists focus and helps give you creative control over the dance shots and reception. They can be held off camera with a bracket or on a light stand.  This tool can offer a lot of flexibility and the plus is you can see the effect of the light on the scene before you shoot. Add a diffuser and you have a great indoor or low light tool.


Accessory Equipment

Memory cards: Get the best quality memory cards and consider replacing them each year if you are doing a lot of paid work. Cards are relatively cheap and you don’t need a 4GB card failing just as the ceremony ends. Have enough memory to handle 2-3 times the number of shots you expect to take. Do not use 1 or 2 large cards (8GB plus). Use a bunch of 2-4GB cards to cover the day. If one fails, you haven’t lost the entire day, just a small part of it. I carry 14-16 top quality 4GB cards and usually only half fill them before switching to a fresh one. Have a good quality card case and develop a system to remember which are used and which are not.

Batteries: Use good batteries and battery chargers. The quick charger units are handy but hard on batteries. LaCrosse and Sanyo Eneloops are the best in my opinion. They take hours to charge (not minutes) but deliver high capacity power that will last. The quick chargers heat the cells too much and degrade the quality quickly. I keep one of each charger I need in the car with me. I’ve added a couple of DC>AC inverters to my portable kit and if I need to recharge a battery while away from the office, I can do it in the car.

Wireless flash triggers: There are a number of brands available. Skip the cheapo auction site versions. They don’t work reliably enough. You really can’t afford to miss even one shot and a failure rate of 5 or 10% is not acceptable. If your camera failed to fire the shutter that often, you’d throw it out. Wireless flash is a cornerstone setup for good wedding photography. The wedding dances, dark churches, fill flash outdoors. I use Flashwaves, and mine get heavy use. Sure, I’d like to be a natural light shooter, and try as often as possible to avoid the flash, but it has an important place. Raccoon eyes in bright sunlight just don’t look attractive on the bride.

Other items: Ah, you noticed I said portable hard drive earlier. There are a few quality drives available and they are small. I carry an 80GB model that can quickly transfer each card. I’ve never needed it, but I like the peace of mind of knowing that the entire wedding is backed up as each section is done. It offers another advantage: I have already downloaded the entire wedding to a hard drive that can be connected to my computer when the day is done. When I return from a wedding, all the images are loaded off the portable to a main backup hard drive for storage, editing and sorting. With everything already on the portable, I can just come home, connect the portable to the computer and begin the transfer and the file conversion. It takes 5 minutes and I’m off to bed. In the morning, everything is ready and waiting to get to work. No wasted time watching the computer transfer and convert files.

Tripods, light stands, scrims and reflectors: I carry my tripod at all times and it does get some use. But with today’s anti-shake systems and improved high ISO camera performance, it’s less than in the ‘old days’. It has a place though. When taking the group and family shots, people get self conscious with the photographer holding the camera to her/his eye, so setting up on a tripod can allow you to move away from the camera and use a remote. Talk to the people and take shots at the same time. You’ll get much more natural looking images. I would recommend you have enough quick release plates for each camera and lens that has a collar. You don’t need to be moving the QR plate from one part to another when there is little time to do it. That sort of makes the ‘quick’ in QR useless. Use the same head system on any tripods or monopods you carry with you.

Light stands are invaluable to me. Add a flash bracket/umbrella holder and I can now light up the dance floor much more evenly or in unique ways. It really helps avoid the harsh shadows and glare of a flash. They can be used outside in bright sun as well to balance a shot or create fill flash. With a battery operated flash and wireless trigger, the entire stand is portable and takes seconds to set up. Reflectors also have a useful place, particularly when shooting outside, and you need a little light fill but don’t want to use a flash. Get one that has a few different surfaces: mylar, solid white, shoot through and gold. Holding arms are available that can be added to a tripod center column or a light stand to put the reflector just where you need it. I don’t use the gold version very often and prefer the look of natural light in most shots. Software filters can add that tint later if needed. Scrims are the reverse of reflectors. Large panels that can be set up as a diffuser. If you want to avoid the harsh light of the sun in an otherwise beautiful outdoor setting a scrim can be used to diffuse the light from the sun by placing it between the subject and the sun’s light. These can really help reduce the harsh contrast and squinting eyes that follow.

Carry a step stool or short collapsing ladder. Shooting from an elevated position can produce more flattering portraits and give you unique angles. Climbing trees with a camera can be challenging at best.

On the day before you should have a checklist ready of everything you need. List everything you are carrying. It’s a handy way to stay organized and a good way to prevent loosing equipment. Clean your cameras and lenses and have everything prepared.



Make sure you have the backups you need: extra lenses, cables, flash, batteries and a backup camera. Generally you won’t need it but it’s better to be prepared than get caught with a busted camera in the middle of the ceremony. It seems expensive to be buying the best computers and camera gear for this, but it’s a business you want to grow. You could invest $20,000+ very easily to be properly set up. Your best source of clients is referrals from the past clients. So every job has to be done professionally and to the best of your ability. The new bride has plenty of choices, why would she want you to shoot her special day? Because you are skilled and prepared.

Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack

If you would like to visit my site, the link is below.

Prince Edward Island Wedding Photography

Street Photography in Madrid

Posted in Miserere's Photos with tags , , , on Thursday, March 26, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Or as the Spaniards would say: Fotografía callejera.

I took a walk around Spain’s busy capital yesterday and enjoyed the sun and mild temperatures of a beautiful Madrid Spring day. With my camera, of course. Just because I’m on holiday doesn’t mean I forget my dear readers, so here are some of the shots I took, having been hurriedly processed on my laptop. I hope you like them.

See you soon!


PS: Click on the pictures for a larger version.


Miserere - Madrid Plaza de España


Miserere - Madrid Metro Underground


Miserere - Madrid Templo de Debod


Miserere - Madrid Plaza de Cubos


Miserere - Madrid


Miserere - Madrid Templo de Debod


Miserere - Madrid Vespa


Miserere - Madrid Templo de Debod


Miserere - Madrid Waiting Dog

Shedding Light on Marc Langille

Posted in Interview, Shedding Light with tags , , , on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 by Peter Zack

by Peter Zack

Today we have an interview with Marc Langille, avid wildlife photographer whose wonderful work can be seen here. He resides in NW Arkansas.

Marc Langille

Marc, can you give us a little background? Where you’re from, your work and what inspired you to get started in photography. What inspires you today?

I was born in Montreal, then moved the Maritime Provinces during my childhood. I lived in or near Ottawa from the time I was 11 years old. I originally became involved in photography after retiring from elite amateur endurance sports so I could still be involved with the sport in some fashion. The second roll of 35mm film I ever shot ended having a travel image published in Photo Life magazine. It was a national contest with roughly 15,000 entries. I also had two more images published that year—one in a newspaper for an article on a local athlete, and another in a full page shot in a sporting publication. I seek inspiration from both competitions as well as the constant challenges that photography can bring to me, often on a daily basis.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough that people believe my images are worthy of being printed for their private collections and in books, or an online selection. What inspires me a lot is the challenge of nature/wildlife photography, because unlike a studio, you often have very little control over the environment (light/weather) that your photos are captured.

I also enjoy introducing newcomers to digital photography—this is a favourite of mine and I teach classes at Bedfords Camera & Video. There are other venues, and I hope to take them off the backburner at some point.

Final Moments for a Frog/Tadpole - Great White Egret

What photographers have influenced your work or approach to photography?

Art Morris, Jason Edwards and Chase Jarvis are some of my favourites. Arthur Morris is considered one of the best photographers in birding photography during the realm of film. Jason Edwards because his imagery for National Geographic is simple yet stunning. I am not sure if he continues to shoot a film Pentax system or has moved to digital. He is often somewhere in the middle of the wilds. Chase Jarvis because of his very diverse portfolio of both commercial and nature images, and he is the current president of the Blue Earth Alliance.

Union Captain rallies the troops

You’ve entered some work at a museum project. Can you tell us what it is and what type of shots you have submitted?

I am working with Taylor Studios in IL. They are museum exhibit designers/fabricators and are in the initial stages of the Prairie Grove Battlefield museum’s project design. I am initially supplying approx. 200 images for placeholders and part of the selection process. The museum contains the historical and documentary information surrounding the American Civil War battle that occurred on Dec. 7th, 1862 between the armies of the Confederacy and the Union. It is a unique battlefield in that it is one of the most intact Civil War battlefields, yet one of the few that is run by the state. This means that on even years, the Civil War Re-enactments (CWR) are run on the first weekend in December. I have photographed those events since 2006. I have taken a large number of battle and camp life images during those events.

What’s your favourite personal shot? Care to share it with us?

War Eagle Mill and Falls and Misty Morning—Devils Den are two of my favorite landscape shots. It’s the first image to load on my website home page slide show. Misty Morning holds a special place because it’s one of the first landscape images I ever took.

War Eagle Mill and Falls

If you were to pick one quote, what would it be and why is it important to you?

I guess my own motto: “The camera is only a tool: the image is the product of your mind and vision.” I chose this quote simply because I’ve always believed that the photographer is the ultimate part of the equation.

The Valley Land Fund “South Texas Shootout” was a challenging competition, what difficulties did you face and do you have any interesting stories from the event?

A 7 month drought and high temps were the significant obstacles, and in another way the biggest boon. The behaviour of the animals obviously included regular visits to watering holes, so that helped you track their movements to some degree. A big issue was the fact that I was completely new to the area, and basically a rookie bird photographer. Ensuring I correctly identified the birds when submitting was another consideration. I had to spend a good amount of time observing and sometimes documenting wildlife movement to get a better handle on where the best photo opportunities were was a constant challenge. The dust/sand and wind were constant considerations on the camera equipment. Luckily some of the gear used was weather sealed (Pentax), so that really gave me peace of mind!

Interesting stories…
The classic conundrum:

I am also one of the few people in North America to ever touch a living Nilgai (Indian antelope). An older bull was startled when I came into an open area on the ranch owner’s property while driving the SUV. The Eland ran, but the Nilgai started running in an awkward fashion and then suddenly lost it’s balance or control and fell over in the scrub. I waited for a minute, and it never regained it’s footing. I could not see anything. Finally I donned my kevlar rattlesnake gaiters and walked over to where I thought it went down. I had my camera with me, and I decided at that point against taking any photos. I didn’t want any reminders of what I had done, albeit unintentionally. It had been startled and went down due to my intrusion, so I had affected the outcome of its life.

Nilgai - Indian antelope

Of course the ranch owners would tell me to leave the animal alone and let nature take its course. They would not treat a wild wounded or sick animal—too much risk of captive myopathy. Note: captive myopathy results from a “high stress-level” experienced by animals that have been captured and transported. Elevated stress levels lead to a lower immune defence system, decreased appetite and subsequent illness. Most of the animals that die due to this phenomenon do so within approximately three months after they are released.

By that time (5 minutes after the fall), vultures were circling overhead. With no cell service on the phone I was using and no other options, I wondered “what have I done?” Obviously I felt terrible for inadvertently causing the situation! Two times it bleated in stress/anxiety at my proximity. So I squatted down and quietly spoke calming words and eventually stroked it on the head between its horns. By then it seemed to figure out that I was not a predator seeking to kill it. A few minutes went by and I suspect it started to calm down (only calling out once more). Finally I got my hands under its shoulder and rolled the 500+ pound animal to a sitting upright position with its legs underneath it. This obviously incurred some risk, since I had no certainty as to what it might do. However, I suspected it was an older animal, since the muscle mass on the hindquarters showed some signs of atrophy.

The Nilgai easily pushed up on its forelegs, and with some definite effort, got up on its rear legs. Then it trotted off… that was a very good feeling. At least then I knew I could go away from the scene with a clean conscience. Some people might argue I am tampering with the course of nature and yet I was the cause of its fall. I did not wish to be the cause of its death. Normally I would let nature take its course, and the animal was not in its natural habitat.

Wow, quite a story and an experience few if any of us will ever have.

Morning Inspiration II

So, if you were to have lunch with anyone famous, who would you want to spend that hour with?

To be honest, no one really came to mind right away! There are several, yet I would really like to have lunch with Howard Buffett (Howard is the eldest son of Warren Buffett). He is very business savvy and could help the cause of conservation efforts with more fundraising, enlisting even more effort, etc. I’d like to be involved in several of them and/or bring forward more opportunities through the use of photography for conservation.

Howard Buffett serves or has served on the National Geographic Council, World Wildlife Fund National Council, Cougar Fund, Platte River Whooping Crane Trust Advisory Committee, Illinois and Nebraska Chapters of the Nature Conservancy, Ecotrust, De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust, and the Africa Foundation. Buffett founded the Nature Conservation Trust, a non-profit Trust in South Africa to support cheetah conservation, the International Cheetah Conservation Foundation, and was a Founding Director of The Cougar Fund. In 2007, Buffett was named an Ambassador Against Hunger by the United Nations World Food Programme.

If you were to pick one thing: what is your favourite or ‘must have’ accessory other than lenses and cameras?

Tripod… 🙂

You have been doing some teaching as well. Do you have a formal background in Photography or is everything self taught?

I have a formal education in other arts (painting, drawing) and technical related work—mechanical and architectural drafting (by hand), plus the health sciences. From a purely photographic perspective, I am completely self-taught and have taken several specific classes/workshops in my area. Those are primarily in portraiture, studio lighting, etc.

What challenges do you find the students face when getting started? What are the most common mistakes they make?

In order of most common challenges:
1. Understanding their camera’s functions.
2. Understanding light and reflectivity.
3. Understanding how aperture, F-stop and ISO/ASA sensitivity all work together.
4. Metering with the camera.

Most common mistakes: over/under exposure of an image or unintentionally blurred images.

What advice would you offer your students to improve their photography the most?

This is a shortened summary from a post on my blog:
1. Study, read and learn often—it’s a lifelong journey.
2. Master your tools.
3. Critique your work well.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
5. Learn from your mistakes.

Misty Morning - Devils Den

Marc, I see that you also do some charity and non-profit work. Care to tell us a little about those projects?

Well, it certainly is something beyond the realm of what most folks think of when you mention the word “photography”. I am going to lead a hands-on workshop to help the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. This includes both the nurses and police officers.

Forensic photography (sometimes referred to as forensic imaging or crime scene photography) is the art of producing an accurate reproduction of a crime scene or an accident scene for the benefit of a court or to aid in the investigation. Often fill flash or incorrect lighting situation will wash out the bruising and/or color. Other extremely sensitive issues are respect for the assault victim, minimizing their discomfort by unintentionally getting too close, etc. As you can imagine, forensic photography is extremely important for the evidence to be presented in court. I am looking forward to working with them and hopefully help the attendees bring justice to those offenders.

Other areas of activity are image donations for charitable causes. In the past, it has included the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, KUAF radio and a memorial fund for young photography students. A drunk driver tragically killed the young woman while she was engaged in her studies in St. Louis. Peter, both you and another photographer were kind enough to also donate an image to the memorial fund – it is important we recognize your donation here too!

Elan - Head shot

So Marc, the South Texas Shootout sounded like hard work but fun. Some great images came from that. Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I have entered a contest, called “Name Your Dream Assignment”. It’s an opportunity to detail your greatest photo assignment ever, get friends and neighbors to vote on it. The ideas with the top 20 votes are sent to the judging panel. It’s 70% for the idea, and 30% on your portfolio.

I’ve had a lifelong desire to have a positive impact on the effect of worldwide misuse and overuse of our natural resources, specifically deforestation, fresh water supplies, waste management and non-renewable fuel dependency. That would be my dream project.

Editorial note: The contest can be found here if you’d like to vote for Marc. The contest is sponsored by Microsoft and Lenovo.

Wow, you’re going to be busy if that comes through. Any other projects you’re involved in right now?

I am not sure if I will be doing any exhibits in the near future, although the museum project is hopefully a green light for selection. I suspect those images (if used) will not be finalized and fabricated into the exhibit displays until 2010. Currently I am in the process of selecting 200 images for Taylor Studios. They will be used as placeholders during the design process and are candidates for the final exhibit.

Any published work coming?

Upcoming book: obviously 4 images will be published this year (2009) in the upcoming Valley Land Fund nature conservation book. They are accepting pre-orders now. The book commencement will be in September in McAllen, TX. They are 1st in class – Butterflies, 2nd in class – Spiders and Arachnids, and two 3rd in class – Wading Birds plus Mustelids & Raccoons. These were among almost 1500 image submissions for the contest. The book is a coffee table style format, hardcover.

Print: a staff member of a new bilingual (English/Spanish) magazine to supply landscape images for their travel section has approached me. The magazine is tentatively due to be released in the summer of 2009.

I am now working with Wimberley Professional Services to test, evaluate and give feedback when new or significant upgrades occur in their product line. They are very generous in allowing true field testing of their products. They invited me to come on board, and it’s a great honor to be involved with the best in the business! They are renowned for their gimbal heads, which are used for super-telephoto lens support.

Perhaps someday I can be considered for the ILCP – International League of Conservation Photographers. You have to be serious about conservation efforts to be allowed in to this membership.


Marc, we really appreciate the time you’ve given us today to hear some of your stories, insights and share some photography with us.  I admit to owning some your calendars and even the out of date ones still hang on the wall! Looking forward to seeing your submissions in the Valley Land Fund nature conservation book. Good luck with all your endeavours in the future.

Thanks and I always enjoy discussing photography, it’s been fun doing this.

Visit Marc Langille’s web site here for more great images.

Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack

Random Pic of the Day

Posted in Miserere's Photos, Photos, Random Pic of the Day with tags , , on Saturday, March 21, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Zurich Airport, Switzerland. March 20, 2009.

Miserere - Zurich AirportFleeting

Photos from the Edge of Space

Posted in Cameras, General with tags , , , on Friday, March 20, 2009 by Peter Zack

Article by Peter Zack


Oklahoma State University Astro 9 and 12 Missions

Photo from the edge of spaceA photo of the Earth and the Sun taken from 98,514 ft (30,047 m). Equipment used: Pentax K10D DSLR and DA 10-17mm lens. 169° Lateral angle of view.

Today I feel you are in for a real treat. Photography like we very rarely get to see it–from the edge of space.

Dr Andrew S. Arena Jr., Professor in Engineering, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Deputy Director, NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium and EPSCoR Oklahoma State University, launched a balloon experiment. His aircraft design teams have won 5 international awards and have set 4 world records for unmanned flights. The mission was launched near Stillwater, Oklahoma and to primarily test a new cosmic radiation sensor. They also added a digital camera to the payload. There have been 2 flights to this point with more planned in the future.

Astro 9 launched in July, 2008 and Astro 12 in December, 2008.  The camera was packed in a small box that was foam lined to cushion the impact of landing.

Astro 9 K10d with 18-55mmThe first flight used a DA 18-55mm lens, set to 18mm, manual focus and taped at infinity for the flight. The second flight used a DA 10-17mm lens set up the same way.

Astro 9 prepared for launch

Astro 9 reached an altitude of 104,000 ft (31,720 m) before the balloon burst and Astro 12 reached 98,514 ft (30,047 m). The balloons launch at a diameter of about 10 ft (3 m) and expand to approximately 40-50 ft (12-15 m) before they reach peak altitude and burst. The package then descends to earth, only slowed by a small parachute to cushion the fall.

Balloon launchThe approximate landing impact is 22 mph (35 kph). Ascent speeds are approximately 60 mph at 44,000 ft (97 kph at 13,420 m) and when it nears the peak altitude, the temperature approaches -60°F (-51℃) in a near vacuum. Both flights produced about 500 RAW digital files. The camera was attached to a timer that fired a shot every 15 seconds. Dr Arena stated, he was very pleased that with each flight, there were only 5-6 shots which were unusable, and then only because the camera fired directly at the sun and overexposed the shot. Otherwise, he had about 500 excellent images. The camera and lenses survived the flights without issues, even in the cold and wet extremes they faced. The balloon is tracked with GPS telemetry systems to follow it down wind and retrieve the equipment.

Preparing Astro 9 for launchAndy Arena and Seong-Jin Lee beginning to inflate the balloon

The camera was set to Auto ISO and Shutter Priority (Tv) at 1/3000 s to freeze the motion. Most shots fired at ISO 100. The camera was set at multi-segment metering for the flight. Lithium batteries are used since other battery technologies cannot handle the extreme cold. The 15 second time lapse was accomplished using external triggering from a Pclix LT100. GPS flight data were used to track the package in the chase vehicle, which was constantly updated during the flight and computer weather models were used to predict the landing site. Astro 9’s flight lasted for 102 minutes.

Finally, before the flight, a high-altitude NOTAM is filed with the FAA. That way, air traffic control can notify aircraft of the flight. There are also certain regulations that have to be followed regarding the design and operation of the system.

Astro 9 at 104000ft

Astro 9 at peak altitude using 18mm lens giving 67° Lateral angle of view

The Team:

Andy Arena OSU Professor, MAE
Eric Benton OSU Professor, Physics
Joe Conner OSU PhD Student, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Carl Johnson OSU PhD Student, Physics
Cassie Latino OSU BS Electrical and Computer Engineering student
Andy Lau OSU PhD Student, Physics
Seong-Jin Lee OSU PhD Student, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Harry Mueller Oklahoma Research Balloons, Tulsa, OK

Links to more information involving the 2 flights:

Satellite landing area
Astro 9 images
Astro 12 Images
Astro 12 technical data
Listen to an interview with Dr. Andy Arena

Similar to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey

Click on image for breathtaking larger view

Our thanks to Dr Andy Arena of Oklahoma State University for providing the information and pictures.

Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack

Top 10 Signs You Suffer from LBA*

Posted in Humour with tags , , , , , , on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 by Peter Zack

by Peter Zack

  1. Your Ebay search folder is maxed out at 100 searches and you just found a new ‘must have’ lens to search for. You don’t know what other ‘must have’ lens search you will delete to save the new one.
  2. On your favourite forum, six of you are debating the bokeh smoothness of the three 28mm lenses currently available. The debate lasts for 14 pages over 6 days with each of you deciding to just buy all three to test them yourselves.
  3. You now have more camera bags than you can carry at one time.  One for the wide primes, one for the mid primes, one for the….
  4. You sold your mint condition Vivitar 70-210 Series 1 V3 lens last year and just now bought another one because, 9 weeks ago, you had a perfect opportunity to use only that lens.
  5. You haven’t taken a macro shot in 12 months but you have the 2 best macro lenses ever built and there’s another one due to be released in 3 weeks, that you have already researched every specification available and preordered at B&H.
  6. Photozone is your home page.
  7. Speed dial #1 is B&H, speed dial #2 is Adorama and speed dial #3 is FedEx tracking.
  8. The guy at the flower shop knows you by name since you are in there about every three weeks to buy another bouquet of apologies.
  9. You’ve moved closer to the city just to have overnight delivery.
  10. You see a wonderful photograph and instead of just sitting in awe of the incredible work presented, you want to ask the artist which lens they used to capture the image.


Courtesy of

Let’s hear yours! Go to the contact page and e-mail us your LBA reasons (or just leave a comment to this article).

Cheers and good shooting. – Peter Zack

*LBA: Lens Buyers Addiction (which s often accompanied by GAS- Gear Buyers Syndrome) and the term was coined here.