High Altitude Balloon Amateur Radio Experiment, digital scan of 4" x 5" transparency taken at 25,000 m on May 15, 2013, intended to be shown as a large scale projection in a museum, 2013, courtesy of the artist

High Altitude Balloon Amateur Radio Experiment, digital scan of 4" x 5" transparency taken at 25,000 m on May 15, 2013, intended to be shown as a large scale projection in a museum, 2013, courtesy of the artist

Installation of High Altitude Balloon Amateur Radio Experiment, for Mois de la Photo in Montreal, 2013, courtesy of the artist

What is the role of the professional artist in a time when the production and dissemination of culture has been de-skilled and democratized? What is the role of the museum?

Over many projects Kevin Schmidt has used bodies of knowledge created by amateur enthusiasts and posted in internet forums and blogs to create work that investigates these questions. For »High Altitude Balloon Amateur Radio Experiment«, 2013, he worked with high-altitude balloon photography and drone enthusiasts to create a large format camera that took a picture of the horizon from an altitude of 25 km onto a single piece of transparency film. The resulting slide is then shown as a large projection in a museum context—creating a bodily experience from an image usually disseminated on a computer screen. More information is detailed in a Canadian Art article about the project.

While »High Altitude Balloon Amateur Radio Experiment« has been shown using a theatre backdrop projector, Kevin is now adapting DIY projector building techniques to create his own projector for the work. The entire process of balloon launching and recovery, camera and electronics building, and projector creation is being detailed by Schmidt in a how-to manual, so viewers can repeat the project to create a large projection of the earth from (near) space of their very own.

Kevin Schmidt

*1972 in Ottawa/Canada, lives and works in Vancouver.

Kevin Schmidt works from Vancouver and Berlin. His work has shown extensively across Canada and in Germany, including the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Kunstverein Frankfurt, Kunstverein Hannover, and Bielefelder Kunstverein, and as well at the Barbara Thumm Gallery. In 2014 he has solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and the Kunstverein Braunschweig. In 2013, Schmidt was a resident at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, and he is now currently a grant recipient of »Braunschweig Projects« at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig.


How To Make a Large Format Camera for Weather Balloon Near-Space Photography

by Kevin Schmidt

The goal of this blog post is to demonstrate how to build a cheap, lightweight large format camera. It is part of a larger project that will enable you to launch this camera on a weather balloon to take a single 4x5 picture of the horizon from the top of the stratosphere, and then subsequently recover the camera and film.


- Schneider Angulon 90MM f/ 6.8 lens
+ copal 0 shutter
- Lensboard for 4x5 Crown Graflex Camera
- 4x5 Film Holder
- Set Square
- Cutting Knife
- Glass 15 cm by 12 cm
- Black Matte Board 1mm thick
- Black Foam Core 5mm thick
- Elastic bands
- 4 popcicle sticks
- White Glue
- Black Gaffer Tape
- Black Lighting Foil
- 4 Drywall Screws
- Translucent tape


The camera we are making is basically built like a set of drawers—two boxes that slide in and out of each other. The first box will hold the lens, and its size is the same as the film opening in the 4x5 film holder.

Cut out two pieces of the black foam core at 102mm x 121mm.


In the centre of one of the front pieces, cut out the dimensions of the lensboard— 94mm x 92.5mm for the graflex lensboard. It works well here to trace the dimensions directly from the lensboard onto the foamcore and then cut it out. Save piece of foamcore you have cut out for the next step. Test that the lensboard will fit snugly inside the shape you have cut out.


From the piece of foamcore you saved from the last step, cut a circular hole in the middle that the back of the lens will fit through. Then trim off 1mm from the two sides, and 75mm from the top and bottom to create a piece that is 92mm by 91mm. Round off the corners.


Make sure that this inside piece will fit snugly inside your lensboard.


Cut a circular hole in the centre of the second 102mm by 121mm piece of foamcore. The back of the lens needs to fit through this hole. Then glue the outside frame for the lensboard onto it.

Fit the inside of the lensboard holder into the lensboard. Spread glue onto it and use the lensboard to press the inside lensboard holder onto the rest of the assembly. Wait for the glue to dry then remove the lensboard from the holder. The lensboard holder is now complete.


You will now be making a box to go around the lensboard holder. Cut out two pieces of foamcore at 102mm by 120mm and two pieces at 132mm by 120mm.

Now glue these pieces around the lensboard holder. Note how the bottom overlaps the sides. Set the lensboard holder back from the edge of the box by 2cm. This will make focusing the camera easier later. If you cut out a third piece the same size as the lensboard holder (102mm x 121mm) you can use this to brace the end of the box and use rubber bands to hold the assembly together while it dries. This will help keep the assembly square.


Now we will build a second box to fit around the front, to hold it like a drawers. Cut out two side pieces at 113mm by 120mm and a top and bottom piece at 144mm by 120mm.

Glue these pieces together around the Camera front box you previously made. Use the black gaffer tape to hold it together while the glue is drying. Be careful not to glue the two boxes together. It is very important that at the back side of this second box, all the pieces are completely flush—this is the surface that the 4x5 film holder will rest against. To make sure of this, place this surface of the box onto the table top after gluing each piece and before taping it.

The completed rear drawer assembly of the camera with the front assembly inside it.


For the next part of the process, you will need a piece of glass that fits over the rear surface of the second box you just built.


Open the dark slide of the 4x5 film holder. You will need to make two spacers that are the same height as from where the 4x5 film sits in the holder to the top surface of the film holder. I have found that this is the height of two popcicle sticks and one layer of 1mm mattboard. I have glued these together to make two spacers.


Cover one surface of the glass with translucent tape.

Set the spacers onto the flat surface of the back of the second box you made.

Place the glass on top of the spacers. The tape surface should be face down.

Now afix the glass to the box with gaffer tape. Close off the sides so no light can get in.

Cut off 3cm of the back of the first box you made, to make it 9cm long. Attach two thin strips of foam core to the sides of this box as well.

Open the lens to the focus preview. Point the camera at something as far away as possible and move the front drawer back and forth with the thin strips until your subject is in focus on the glass at the back of the camera.

Here you can see the image projected onto the glass - it is upside down. There is a small white building near the centre that I am focussing on - the farthest away object in my view.

Here is the camera with the focus set at infinity.

Now attach the two drawers together by screwing drywall screws through the outer box into the lensboard holder of the first box.

Make sure that the screws anchor into the lensboard holder (the foamcore), but do not hit or dislodge the lensboard itself (the metal part).

Now cut off the front ledges of the boxes to make them flush with the front of the lensboard holder. You can see that I have moved the screws to the sides of the box to avoid the metal lensboard.

Tape over the seams with gaffer tape.


Cut out a new piece of foam core - 123mm tall and 3-4cm deep. Choose one of the sides of the box, remove any tape on this side at the back and glue this new piece flush to the back of the box. This piece is a spacer to make sure that the 4x5 film holder will be centred on the camera lens.

Centre the 4x5 film holder on the back of the boxes. Place the end of the holder flush with the spacer you just glued on.

There is a slight lip on all 4x5 film holders. You can see the lip in this photo, right by my pointer finger. The lip is on both sides of the film holder. Press down on the film holder to make an indentation with this lip (on the other side of the holder) into the foamcore boxes underneath.

Here is a close up showing the indentation that the lip of the 4x5 filmholder made in the foamcore box.

Next, use your Xacto knife to cut out a channel from the indentation towards the side of the box. The channel should go all the way across the front of the box.

Another view of the channel cut into the side of the box.

Trace around the back of the boxes.

Cut out this tracing - the centre panel in this photo and the sides and back.
- Centre Panel - 148.5mm x 123.5mm approx.
- Top and bottom - 142mm x 60mm
- Single Side - 134mm x 60mm

Glue these pieces together as shown above. Cut a piece of 1mm black matteboard to 138mm x 123mm. Glue this into the bottom of this box as shown. This last piece is a spacer to fill in the back of the box to make the 4x5 film back sit flush on its lip piece.

Cut another 1mm black matteboard strip to the width of the box. Glue it to the bottom of the box 2mm away from the first piece. You can place the 4x5 film holder in the bottom of the box to make sure the spacing is right. The lip on the 4x5 film holder should fit into this groove.

When the glue has dried on this, cut the edge so it is flush to the foamcore. Cut two other strips of the black 1mm matteboard to 11mm by 150mm. Glue these two strips on either side of the bottom as shown.

Another view of all the spacers before getting cut flush.

The sides of my back box were not quite flush with the back of the camera, so I have glued a couple of strips of black matteboard on them to make them flush.

Here is the side of the film holder part of the camera with everything cut flush.

Now hold your knife at an angle and cut down the front and back of the first lip as shown. This will help you to be able to slide the 4x5 film holder in and out of the back of your camera.

Cut a piece of foamcore at 133.5mm by 41mm.

Glue this to the film holder box you have been making. The idea is to make another drawer that can slide off the rear of the camera. Leave a 1mm gap above the top of the film holder so the lip of the film holder can clear it. You want to be able to slide the film holder in and out.


Next we are making a light leak hood for the film holder. Cut the lighting foil down as shown and fold it over the end of the film back.

Tape the hood together, and add a tape flap as shown.

This is how the flap should open to give access to the 4x5 film holder.

Now tape the film holder part of the camera to the rest of the camera with gaffer tape.

Make a set of tape tabs to seal the hood. By bending over the end of the tape, it makes it easier to remove the tape tabs to gain access to the film back.

Here is the tape tab sealing down one side of the hood. You will want to make tape tabs to seal the three open edges of the hood to prevent light from getting into the camera.


You will now want to test the camera to make sure there are no light leaks. Load 4x5 film into the film back, insert it into the camera, remove the dark slide and then take the camera into the daylight. Move it around without opening the shutter and then put the darkslide back in. Develop the film to see if there are any light leaks. If so, try to determine where, and add gaffer tape to the camera to plug the holes. Repeat until there are no light leaks. Your camera is now ready to add electronics.