Balloon mapping is a low-cost way to take aerial photos using a camera, attached to a balloon, on...
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Balloon mapping is a low-cost way to take aerial photos using a camera, attached to a balloon, on a spool of string. People have done this from a few hundred feet up all the way to over 4,000 feet in the air.
Our whole toolkit is linked out below, but really fast:
Willie Schubert over at the GeoJournalism Handbook has made a printable walk-through including many of these steps
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Browse maps and data generated with this technique in the Public Laboratory Archive
Browse Research Notes on Balloon Mapping
A short video by Mathew Lippincott on setting up and launching your balloon.
Our aerial mapping toolkit is a simplified kite and balloon aerial photography system for easy and accessible high-resolution map-making. The tookit consists of:
Flight platforms: Assembling a balloon kit will cost from $100-200, including helium.
The Public Laboratory Balloon Mapping Kit is assembled from our preferred parts.
For alternative and low-cost materials, see the Balloon Mapping Materials page.
Use this chart to calculate the lift you'll need.
Single Line systems: The PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig wraps around the small and medium sized cameras (up to micro 4/3) for crash protection while firmly mounting it in a position for vertical images.
For heavy cameras, a Trash Can Rig offers more protection.
Multiple Line Systems: these are more complex to build but can provide added stability, especially useful for video. Several people have created Picavet rigs.
Cameras: A small camera that supports continuous shooting mode and a large storage card, or an excellent camera phone are our preferred options.
Help selecting a camera
Different ways of triggering the camera shutter
Mapmaking software: Public Laboratory's MapKnitter is easy to use browser software for map making. Continue on to MapKnitter Guide and MapKnitter Help for more information.
When mapmaking, efficient image sorting either on your desktop, or using Mapmill is a must.
Some people also use proprietary software such as Photoshop, Hypr3d, or PhotoSynth. For a freely distributed desktop option, check out the GNU Image Manipulation Program.
Useful guides: Our latest guides can always be found on the Guides page, including:
The four-page Grassroots Mapping Guide
The Balloon Mapping Quick Start Guide to filling and flying (pdf) and editable Google Doc
The Balloon Mapping Check Lists (pdf) and editable Google Doc, which are extremely useful in planning field expeditions, even for experienced fliers.
We also maintain a guide to FAA regulations page.
Curricula and workshops: Our Curriculum-Guide covers the entire process and some theory behind mapping. It is still in beta.