Category Archives: Photography

Cameras, lenses, strobes, f-stops and more

Near-Space DIY Aerial Photography for $150

Even though the odds of getting to see the darkness of space in person are slim – just over 500 people have traveled into space – it’s possible to still see it through the lens of your camera with a small assembly project and a few cheaply obtained materials. Including a styrofoam beer cooler.

A team of students from MIT recently set a goal to capture some photos of the curvature of the earth. Their off-the-shelf project cost them approximately $150, and the results have garnered them attention from CNN, Fox, ABC and more. Here’s how they made it:

Equipment Used in the Launch Capsule
Item Weight Cost
Sounding Balloon 350g from Kaymont 350g ~$20 +$20 (helium)
Parachute ~10g ~$3*
Motorola i290 Prepaid Cellphone ~90g, ~$50**
Styrofoam Beer Cooler ~15g ~$0
Duct Tape ~10g ~$0
Zip Ties ~5g ~$0
Canon A470 with 8GB SD card ~165g, ~$40***
Insulation material- newspaper ~5g ~$0
Duracell USB phone charger powered by AA batteries ~20g 1oz ~$10
Instant Hand warmer ~5g ~$2****
4 Ultimate Lithium AA batteries ~15g * 4 = 60 g ~$5
Radar Reflector (aluminum foil) ~0g ~$0
Total ~800g, /w misc. ~$150

One of the amazing parts of this project is that there were only two small modifications needed on the materials: The camera used was selected for its ability to use a timed shutter script through the CHDK firmware update (I use this same setup for most of my timelapse films), and the styrofoam cooler allowed for lightweight thermal insulation which can be easily cut to allow the lens of the camera to stick through.

Continue reading Near-Space DIY Aerial Photography for $150

How to Make A Digital Pinhole Camera – Fast, Cheap and Easy

Digital Pinhole Camera - 15The most basic style of camera is the pinhole camera, usually a light-proof box that holds a piece of film inside. When the pinhole is uncovered, the film is exposed for an arbitrary amount of time, and later developed to discover the results. The images often have a soft, almost ghostly look that is very distinct and artsy.

With the advent of digital SLR cameras in the past few years, you can now make an easy version of this same simple camera that uses a digital sensor instead of film, and simple materials you already have at hand. Here’s how to make your own.

Costume mannequin. Photo shot with my Nikon D80 using the pinhole cap.
Costume mannequin. Photo shot with my Nikon D80 using the pinhole cap.

Digital Pinhole Project 01 Materials• Digital SLR camera
• Spare body cap (get one cheap on Amazon or Ebay)
• Drill
• Two drill bits, one small and one medium (1/16″ and 1/4″ should work fine)
• Aluminum foil
• Ruler/Triangle
• Marker
• Black electrical tape
• Gummy eraser or other similar material
• The thinnest needle you can find

Step One: Mark the center of the body cap. There are a couple easy ways to find the center of a circle, using a right triangle or a compass. I opted for the triangle method as I have a t-square handy.

Continue reading How to Make A Digital Pinhole Camera – Fast, Cheap and Easy

DIY Builder Holiday Buying Guide – Gift Tips

A few Holiday suggestions that I’ve been enjoying this year, for the science geek/builder/pizza fanatic in your life.


Flexible screwdriverFlexible shaft precision screwdriver: Don’t tell Apple but I’ve taken my Macbook apart plenty of times, made easy with this mini-screwdriver. It has 6 double-ended bits: standard, philips and torx. The shaft can be extended out of the body to snake it around those tricky corners, great to remove that one metal strip that the RAM modules hide behind. I got mine at OSH.


Canon 7DCanon 7D: I don’t have this but I want it. Bad. Like, I might sell my Nikon gear because of this camera. Its the next step in the game-changing video enabled DSLR realm. And at $1699 for the body, you get access to film like effects that were only available on cameras costing over $100,000 a few years ago. Check out the sharpness and rich color.

Kodak Zx1: The Zx1 is Kodak’s response to the Flip. 720p HD video, and shoots 30 or 60fps. The video is sharp and clean, but like the Flip, the lack of image stabilization and optical zoom made me want something more. I got mine for about $100, but it needs an SD card so factor that in to the price.
I used it to film this clip of a catapult launching a bowling ball. Here’s another good example of its quality.

Panasonic FX37: I bought this directly from that desire for image stabilization and optical zoom. I dig this camera because it’s got a wide-angle lens that is fairly fast – more useful for low light conditions than the Powershots that I always buy, although not as impressive as the amazing Panasonic LX3. This FX37 is being phased out, so you can get some good deals on it. I got mine for $169 at Sixth Avenue Electronics.

A side-by-side comparison of these two cameras is on its way.

Pizza Supplies

Batali pizza slicerMario Batali Pizza Slicer: As mentioned in my post on building a temporary pizza oven, the Batali pizza slicer is amazing. $15 and worth every penny.

Bike Gear

Blackburn Mars 3.0 rear bike light: I wrote about this in Wired a few years ago. Still the best rear bike light I’ve found. $16. While at it, build your own mega-bright LED front light.

Build a 3D Camera Rig from Canon Powershot Cameras

DIY Stereographic Camera Shoot your own “In your face!” photos – very rad. This project is from MaximumPC.

– Install the StereoData Maker script onto two CHDK-modifiable Canon Powershot cameras. The script allows the cameras to be triggered through their USB ports. The page lists the compatible cameras; I use the Canon A460 – it was cheap!

– Mount the two cameras side by side, on an S-bracket.

– Use an easily built, two-camera USB switch to simultaneously take photos. A 5v power source (three AAA batteries) will actuate the shutters.

– Process the photos using StereoPhoto Maker software, which calibrates the images and assembles them into a 3-d viewable photo, just like the classic movies.

DIY 3D photo

Up next: experimenting with the video mode of the cameras, then extracting the individual frames (easily done with Quicktime Pro), processing those with StereoPhoto Maker, and reassembling into a classic 1950’s 3D movie experience. Coming soon!

Bubble Level with LED Light Mod for Gorillapod (and Other Tripods)

My Canon SD1000 perched on a SF parking garage ledge shooting a full moon timelapse
My Canon SD1000 with Gorillapod perched on a SF parking garage ledge shooting a full moon timelapse

I love my Gorillapod – it comes with me everywhere I go, camera bag, backpack or suitcase. The versatility of it extends beyond “turn-anything-into-a-tripod” – it’s also an amazingly entertaining toy for children, and some people have even looked to hack them into “helping hands” for soldering projects.

One thing with the G-pod though, I rarely get a perfectly level shot when using it. The alternative makes it worthwhile, but Instructable user Zomie took on that same hindrance and devised an LED-lit bubble level mount for his SLR Gorillapod. Cheaply found components make it an attractive addition to us nighttime photography fans.

Have you ever shot in low light conditions and noticed your shots were off level? Well I certainly have!  I have been doing a lot of work lately with long exposure photography and when I am out in the field using a gorillapod I find myself running into this quite often.

I know I can buy a shoe mount camera level, but at night it is very difficult to see.  I clearly needed to make my own, so please follow along in this instructable to see how to make your own.  Here is a quick video walk through showing you what you can build by the end of this instructable.

Read the whole writeup: How to build a light up camera level for a DSLR

Light up level mounted to SLR and gorillapod
Light up level kit, finished

Gorgeous HD Parasailing Video Shot on Canon 7D

Gorgeous colors, beautiful movement, rich light. All from the new Canon 7D.

(The interview shots are done on the Panasonic HVX 200 – an awesome camera and something I’d love to own.)

I’ve been meaning to post about the new Canon camera for a couple months, and this parasailing video finally me to do so. The recently released Canon 7D is the current pinnacle of video-enabled digital SLR cameras. Perhaps because they’ve got a history in the video segment, and understand it better than Nikon does, Canon has made some desirable moves in video functionality on their cameras with each new release.

  • The 7D finally gives video makers a range of framerates: 23.97, 29.97 50 and 60
  • An impressive bitrate of 50 mbps
  • Manual exposure control
  • And the price is totally reasonable: just under/around $2000 (check it on Amazon)

This camera is a filmmaker’s dream. The APS-C sized sensor does tasty things with the background blur, and works great with older Canon lenses by dropping the fringy edges from the shots – something that a full frame sensor would pick up.

DIY video expert Eugenia Loli-Queru posted a great 7D entry on her blog with additional information and excitement.
Here’s another great wrap-up of 7D info, with a wish list for the next generation (autofocus being #1)

Makes me think about selling my Nikon.

Build Your Own Camera Gyro-Stabilizer With a Spare Hard Drive

Universal, 2 Gyro Image stabilizerMore DIY How To Projects

The most extreme camera operators use a gyro attachment for their camera to get smooth, steady shots. This applies to both still and motion (video) photography. The attachment works by two internal gyroscopes spinning in opposite directions, creating an X-Y stabilization pattern. In an rough, rocky environment (helicopters, boats, Deadliest Catch), the gyroscopic effect holds the camera steady, resulting in a much smoother shot.

You can buy camera gyros from places like Kenyon Laboratories, however such high precision results in a seriously high price tag – they can easily cost over $10k. Or, if you have a couple external hard drives laying around, plus some USB phone chargers and a few scraps of wood, you can assemble your own lightweight gyro assembly following the steps in this great Instructable.

Two things to try:
-Use 2.5″ laptop drives for size (they may not have enough mass to stabilize anything larger than the smallest pocket cameras)
-Putting the drives in-line instead of a 90º offset

Continue reading Build Your Own Camera Gyro-Stabilizer With a Spare Hard Drive

How Did I Get 150,000 Views on Flickr in One Day?

In mid-January 2009, a nerdishly awesome thing happened: one of my flickr photos got 150,000 views over the course of a day. How did that happen? It got onto the front page of Digg.

At this point, there’s no secret that Digg is a huge site that generates a tremendous amount of traffic for any link that gets a lot of votes (“diggs”). That said, getting ANY link promoted to the front page of Digg, much less one of your own, is a challenging and commendable feat in itself, and from what I’ve learned is something that rarely if ever happens accidentally.

Back in autumn 2005, while working at Wired magazine, I designed a DIY paper case for the then brand new and unbelievably tiny iPod nano, and posted it on my site A couple days later, the traffic on the page began to skyrocket. Someone had posted the link to Digg, a newish “user submitted content” site that was becoming hugely popular very quickly.

On January 11 (2009), I was taking photos of the full moon out the back patio of my apartment in San Francisco. It was the closest the moon had been to the earth since 1993. Low in the sky, the moon was huge, but even with a 200mm lens I couldn’t make out all the details without zooming in after snapping each photo. I noticed what appeared to be tiny aircraft far off in the distance, following a similar path. I realized one might even pass in front of the moon. I watched for about 30 minutes until seeing a trajectory that looked just about right. I propped my camera up and snapped a single shot of the blinking light as it passed across the moon’s face. Zooming in on the LCD screen, I was amused to see that the aircraft was a tiny Cessna, silhoutted against the bright moon. It looked awesome. I immediately posted it on Flickr, and just for kicks, on Digg. The community quickly started posting compliments.

By the next day, the photo was already closing in on 100k views. During the night, it had made it to the front page of Digg. As the day went on, the Diggs accumulated and the photo made it to the “Top in all sections” sidebar, keeping it on the front page and keeping the diggs and views coming in. It finally moved off the front page about 24 hours, 2800 diggs, 150,000 views, and hundreds of comments and favorites later.