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:
- Assemble your own, buy our balloon kit, or buy/make a kite.
- find a good camera.
- determine how you will trigger the camera, (we suggest a rubber band) or pick out a timelapse app for your smartphone.
- build a simple housing from a plastic bottle.
- find a site to map that is five miles from an airport and not Washington D.C. (or learn about the regulations yourself)
- follow the pre-flight checklist(pdf) and quickstart guide(pdf) to safely fill up your balloon and fly!
- maneuver your balloon at your site
- sort your images on your desktop (Mac,Windows) or with Mapmill.
- make them into a map with Mapknitter.
- Print a poster of your map from Mapknitter, see your map join the public record in our archive, and if you'd like, even in Google Earth.
- Share your expertise with others and help stitch maps by joining the Cartography Collective
Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.
Questions about balloon mapping:
Browse maps and data generated with this technique in the Public Laboratory Archive
A short video by Mathew Lippincott on setting up and launching your balloon.
Grassroots Mapping Toolkit
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.
Camera housings: 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.
Useful guides: Our latest guides can always be found on the Guides page, including:
The four-page Grassroots Mapping Guide
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.
- Near-infrared imagery for vegetation monitoring and other uses.
- Image analysis - Try some of these techniques for bringing out detail and compositing your images with near-infrared imagery.
- Ground control point targets for correlating on-the-ground measurements directly with photos.
- Balloon telemetry for recording GPS and gyroscopic data.
- Kite Balloons experiments in wind-stabilized balloons
- Hydrogen ballooning - be very careful!