Alphabasic » Gallery » The Great Balloon Voyage

If you've arrived here you probably already know most of the story...
On Sunday, September 16th, to get some artwork for the digital release of my upcoming Chicago-saluting album "Hardscrabble", I thought it'd be swell to launch one of my cameras into the sky below some giant helium balloons and get some aerial shots. I enlisted my crafty ladyfriend to help cut some balancing stryrofoam, and off it went. The line snapped around 1000ft up, and away went my camera, memory card, and general optimism for the day. 

By Monday morning something else was already scheming in my head, and I had casted away any thought of likelyhood that I would ever see my camera or the pictures again. Especially since I had figured it shot off into the Atlantic ocean once it vanished above the distant cloud line. 

:::fast forward:::

Friday morning I wake up to an impenetrable amount of emails and voicemails from various associates and fans of mine sending me a URL to a news story about the police looking for me. My first reaction, rather than reading the article, was to search for FAA regulations and penalties and figure out exactly how much trouble I got myself into. As it turns out, the La Porte, IN police weren't interested in arresting me, they were interested in returning my camera. In fact, they had tracked the photos while comparing it with Google Earth and even called some local neighborhood businesses asking for me. It wasn't until they posted it on their Facebook page when some people recognized my face (finally, I am thankful for this white eyebrow thing). 

Friday was delusional. For some reason this was turning into a pretty big story in both Northern Indiana and Chicago news. I actually had to schedule my interviews and turn some down. WGN did a piece on it and even interviewed me live via satellite. The whole time I was just laughing. 

Then, the following Monday, we drove about an hour and a half to La Porte, met with the very hospitable and friendly police, and received the camera. To my dismay, and to put an utterly botched ending to an otherwise incredible series of events, all of the pictures turned out blurry. 

Since, for some ungodly reason, the Go Pro Hero 2 has neglected to include manual focus as one of its many features, I was forced to trust that the camera would autofocus on the scenery rather than the balloons near the edge of its shots. None of the shots are in focus, even though the camera housing is still in good condition surrounding the lens.

From now on I'll let my Go Pro sit on a shelf until I'm headcamming myself flying down a waterslide or something. This is probably the most incredible journey a Go Pro camera has ever taken, and it botched all of it. While these pictures are unusable for anything other than an entertaining browsin', I just picked some of the highlights (there are literally 9,999 of them) and posted them here for the public to see. I put a little bit of sharpening on them in Photoshop to try and make the blur a little less obnoxious. Enjoy!

-Benn Jordan

Various links:

Some photo/video projects of mine

WGN Story

Mystery Solved

Hardscrabble Album




How did you launch the camera?

We cut out a 12x8 piece of strong art store stryofoam to fit the plastic camera housing perfectly, then Gorilla glued it in. We drilled holes in the corners for the balloons and then cut out the extra weight, kind of creating an X with a circle in the middle. In my initial flights, I bought one of those party store helium tanks, but they're very expensive and only fill one large 36" balloon. So this time I just went to my local party store and had them fill them up for $2 each. Then I connected the whole rig to a spool of 600 yards of 25lb clear fishing line, which I figured was strong enough to hold her down, but thin enough to not show up in the photos. 25lb fishing line clearly wasn't enough.

What kind of camera did you use?

I used a Go Pro Hero 2, and due to its lack of manual focus, I'm kicking myself in the bum for not using a different one. 

Will you do future launches?

Yes, but I have some buds at the Adler Planetarium who are doing real amazing launches that reach over 100,000ft and have GPS locators and real weather balloons, so I'll probably work with them in the future. My goal here was to get aerial shots of my neighborhood.