DIY Aerial Photography In A Crowd

The Lawn is the center of Mr. Jefferson’s historic Academical Village at the University of Virginia.  We took our Scholars’ Lab DIY aerial photography equipment to the Lawn on Sunday afternoon as part of the University Library’s effort to document the events surrounding President Sullivan’s resignation.

Since our last flights, we’ve upgraded our camera to a GoPro HD Hero2 and kept the same balloon aerial photography rig.

We’ve learned this kind of aerial photography is like farming, completely dependent on the weather. So we kept one eye on the sky as a strong summer thunderstorm cell loomed.  We’ve dealt with wind before, but keeping the balloon out of the trees while walking through a crowd of over 1000 people with winds ranging 0-4 the Beaufort Scale was our challenge.

Calm winds yield a long straight string and a straight down view.

Gusty winds cause the camera to swing on its pendulum and we get a beautiful oblique view of lush green summer in Virginia.

The crowd gathers before the event.  The Rotunda roof project accounts for the elaborate curved scaffolding.

Chris was hoping for calm when he walked toward the front of the crowd.  Can you find him in the image below?

via @JoeyTombs

Views from lower altitudes compress distances and make the crowd appear more dense.

While an overhead view shows people tend to stand in remarkably straight lines with impressively uniform spacing.

Blue tarps cover West Lawn roofs where chimney repairs are ongoing.

A gust of wind gave us a view of more blue tarps covering East Lawn chimneys and our first glimpse of Old Cabell Hall, and the Health Systems complex

Existential Threats (and storms and wind and crowds) Don’t Scare Us, We’re Librarians!

As a former Geographic Information Systems Specialist for the Scholars' Lab, Kelly worked with faculty, staff, and students to visualize, analyze, create, and manage geographic data. He earned a master's degree in Geographic Information Science from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. His research interests include applied geography and cartography as an art form.


  1. Cool idea! Even a helium balloon can do a role for aerial photography, why not by the way! This idea’s so resourceful and efficient. Drones/KAP/UAVs are a great choice and affordable in making aerial photography. This will really help those who want to capture aerial photos and video stuff. cheers to the photo!

    Fervil – Precision Hawk

  2. Good post Kelly. I recently came across this little gadget for aerial photography .

    What do you think? Another SLab project?

  3. very very cool…you should send this to some librarians for archival purposes!

  4. This is exceedingly cool–and just speaks to how special UVA is!!! I was really impressed with the straight lines (and with your project and determination to document it.)

  5. Now that’s making the most of a photo-op!

  6. Cool stuff!


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