Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Low-Floating Weather Balloon Provides New Option in Aerial Photography

July 27, 2007

People take portraits of their families. Why not a portrait of Costa Rican beachfront property?

Until recently, that would have been an expensive proposition involving airplanes or helicopters. Chemical engineer José Alberto González just didn’t think that was right, so he did something about it.

It was approximately one year ago that González ordered his first weather balloon from the United States, from a vendor he found on the Internet.

The balloon had an attachment on it with a camera and some remote-control swivels.

Launched 100 meters into the air and tethered to the ground by two ropes, the seven-foot balloon, González found, took some darn good pictures. And no airplane fuel was involved.

Thus was born Pegasus S.A., a Costa Rican company that provides low-level aerial photography for real estate purposes, environmental impact studies or just proud property owners.

“Our advantage is that we charge a third of what they charge in, for example, a plane or a helicopter,” González said.

Photography Options

Based in San José, Pegasus has seen a steady growth in clientele, especially in customers selling real estate or pitching hotel and condo projects. At the Pegasus booth at a recent trade show at the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects’ offices in the eastern suburb of Curridabat, a computer screen flipped through dozens of different aerial shots.

González explained that they’ve already done a lot of work in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, at Tamarindo and Flamingo beaches.

Some of the lush portraits flicking on and off the screen looked like before and after shots – before the condo project, after the condo project. On closer inspection, however, the condo project appeared suspiciously pixilated.

That’s because the “after” photos were actually architectural illustrations. González said a lot of his clients use the aerial photos that way, inserting a rendering to get an idea of how a project will settle into a location, or to show clients what their brand-new investment will someday look like.

Pegasus offers a variety of services to its customers, depending on their needs. The basic fee is $400 per hour of balloon airtime, which includes a CD full to capacity with the photos or video. An extra CD costs another $30.

Travel time is another added cost. As Pegasus is based in San José, it also charges a per-kilometer driving fee for any work done outside the San José area.

Taking the Pictures

A day taking aerial photographs starts with loading the weather balloon into a truck. González said they travel with the balloon inflated because the helium it uses can be rather expensive, so deflation and inflation costs would otherwise add up.

This can present some risks, however – one time while unloading the balloon, it escaped, never to be seen again.

“Fortunately, the camera wasn’t attached,” González said with a chuckle.

Once on location, González attaches the camera (a Sony DSC-R1) to a harness. The camera has two remote-controlled pivots, so it can swivel 360 degrees around and 180 degrees up and down.

With two ropes attached to the balloon, González and his assistant let it up. Two ropes provide more stability than one, but the balloon is still somewhat at the mercy of the weather.

“We can’t (photograph) at (wind speeds of) faster than 20 kilometers per hour,” González said.

The height from which the balloon takes the pictures depends partly on the needs of the clients, but mostly on the location of the shoot.

From sea level (on a beach, for example) the balloon can rise to a height of 250 meters.

The Central Valley, however, is well above sea level, which means the atmosphere is thinner. The balloon can only make it about 50 meters in the air there.

Some technological advances are on the way. González said he wants to get a special camera to take infrared pictures that would be useful in environmental studies. Also, the company is looking into getting a blimp, which would give them more versatility.

To see samples of Pegasus’ work, go to www.pegasuscr.com. To contact the company, call 223-8549, 389-0801 or 872-7229, or e-mail informacion@pegasuscr.com.

 

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