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Hot Air Balloon Pinhole Camera

This year Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) fell on April 25th and to celebrate this global event I wanted to try something really unusual. One day, I imagined that it would be really interesting to make a pinhole photograph from an airborn rig. I began to research the possibilities and this is an article outlining my experiment. hot air balloon
Roll film camera

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
My camera takes flight moments before a major storm rolled in on WPPD.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
a Pair of
underwater birds

This image isn't too bad considering that the camera and rig were in constant motion for 40 seconds as it was tossed around in the brisk wind. While the image is wildly abstract, i can still find something positive to say about the experience in general.
The Theory & Science
So my theory was that I could lift a basket, containing a pinhole camera, to a nominal height of 30 feet and create an exposure. I had a few obstacles to hurdle such as the exposure time and, the most obvious, lifting a rig up in the sky.

The whole experiment hinged on my ability to get a camera to float with simple balloons. A simple web search for "lifting force of helium balloon" served as the beginning of my enthusiasm. I discovered that helium has a lifting force of 1 gram per liter. For all practical purposes, a common large balloon contains approximately 14 liters of helium which would lift a 14 gram parcel. All I had to do after that was determine the weight of my camera rig and an approximate number of balloons to lift the whole thing off of the ground.

So here is the mathematical step-by-step process:
1. One pound = 453.59237 grams.
2. 453 (grams in a pound) divided by 14 (number of grams lifted by one balloon) = 32.36 (number of balloons required to lift one pound).
3. I estimated that I would need about 32 large balloons to lift one pound off of the ground.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
I have my mini-van loaded with balloons.
The Camera & Film
Initially, I wanted to use a paper negative but I quickly realized that the exposure times would be extremely long. After I decided to pass on the paper negative or tin can camera, the next alternative was to use a roll film camera. I found a few 120 format camera choices: the 8Banners Ma camera, the Blind Wino camera, the Diana+, the Vermeer 120; although the clear winner was my modified Holga.

The next problem that I recognized was the extended exposure time. I estimated that it would take approximately 10 seconds to hoist the camera rig up and another 10 seconds to reel it back in after the exposure. To accommodate the 20-30 second exposure time, I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan F+ film which has an ISO of 50. Based on my pinhole aperture of f/90, I calculated that the exposure time would be around 40 seconds. Perfect, problem solved!

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
The holga camera body was the lightest and nearly half the weight of the other cameras in my collection.
The Rig
Part of the thrill of pinhole photography is creating gear on a shoestring budget. I made a stop at my local dollar store and found the rest of my supplies for the project! The goal was to make the whole rig including basket, rings, and camera weight in under one pound. I was successful and the whole assembly weighed a lean 10 ounces.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
A wire basket is very lightweight and sturdy.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
I cut a hole in the bottom of the basket with a pair of tin snips.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
I picked up some kite string from wal-mart.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
These key rings were attached to the basket and the balloon strands were attached to these common rings.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
thank you to my friend john who provided me with the 40 balloons and helium for this experiment.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
The holga camera is face down with the pinhole pointing through the cut-out opening in the basket. You can see my kite string is doubled-up and tied to the bottom of the basket.
The Exposure
After the storm passed, I went in the backyard again and tried to make an image. With my estimated exposure time of 40 seconds, I removed the black tape shutter from the camera and hoisted it in the air. The balloons lifted the whole rig without any problems. I was able to complete all 12 exposures on the roll of film by making an image, reeling it in, closing the shutter, advancing the film, removing the shutter, and re-hoisting the rig.

Copyright © 2010 Brian J. Krummel
The sky is the limit!
I was quite pleased with the success of my experiment! There should not be any limitation on what is possible with pinhole photography. If you can dream it, you should be able to make it happen.

The used to conduct this experiment was a Holga toy camera that I modified for pinhole shooting. You can buy your own Holga camera online. Here are a few options for selecting your first toy camera.
Did you enjoy the camera tutorial?
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