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UpShots: Low Altitude Aerial Photography

I’ve often thought of how wonderful it would be to have the ability to hover over things; to quietly observe their shapes and patterns, seeing them on new and different levels. Hummingbirds always fascinated me for their ability to actually do this and I was always a little envious of their skills and of the vantage points they could so easily obtain.

Frank Upshot 2
The Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, MA

Developing a system to photograph from a significant height became a bit of an obsession for me.  I knew that shooting from rooftops was incredibly satisfying, but I wanted to take the building with me.  I got my chance for figuratively doing this while exploring the idea of lifting my camera with a helium balloon and having a video link to where I was standing on the ground.

Frank Upshot 1
The Captain William Smith Home, Battle Road, Lincoln, MA-2

This in itself is a cool idea, but as I was to find out, a LOT of gear was called for (not the least of which was an 18-foot-long trailer to haul the rig around), making the venture more work than play.  Adding to the downside was the fact that it moved a lot.

In my continuing research, I found the “Upshots” tripod a wonderful solution for getting me my dreamed of high vantage point.  This tripod consists of seven 7 foot-long, high quality, nested aluminum tubes, connected by wires and pulleys.  At the top is a pan/tilt servo-motor head which allows us to control the direction the camera points and it’s tilt up or down with a simple joystick.

Frank Upshot 6

Connecting the video out from the camera to a portable, battery powered, 9-inch color monitor, displays each exposure as it is made and provides a reference for corrections and/or variations.  Our ‘preview’ is actually a captured image and we keep shooting until we get what we need.  And since this is a tripod, we get the added stability to shoot in low light, something that helicopters or small planes would never allow.

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Christian Science Center, Boston, MA

It’s not the same as flying like a hummingbird, but it’s as close as you can get without sprouting wings.

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Baseball Diamond from behind backstop

By the way, helicopters are still my main rush and I’d never pass up a chance to shoot from one, However, in all honesty, they are noisy, expensive, dangerous, have limited duration at any one location, are shakey, subject to height and/or flight restrictions, definitely non-green, disruptive and… and did I mention expensive?

Frank Upshot 5
Great Meadows National Wildlife Pond, Concord, MA


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