It was billed by Heineken as the first ever selfie from Space. An elaborate stunt in which an orbiting satellite would focus in on a gathering of people and snap a picture from 400 miles above the Earth. Something didn’t quite add up though. Phogotraphy investigates.
#Spyfie or more #Liefie?
The “record breaking photo” was taken as part of Heineken’s collaboration with the James Bond franchise in order to promote their latest film Spectre. Dubbed #Spyfie by marketing bods, fans of the brand were encouraged to enter a competition to win an all expenses paid trip to a secret location for the one off photo moment.
On November 6th 2015 over 200 competition winners, celebrities and VIPs were flown out to the Nevada desert and stood on a platform for the “Spyfie.” Spectre star Dave Bautista (pictured above) was the special guest and was lead to the middle of the stage. Once positioned everyone was instructed to look up at the exact moment UrtheCast’s Deimos-2 camera was passing and pose.
One problem though. The Deimos-2 is only capable up to a maximum resolution of 75cm per pixel. Ergo, Bautista’s face should be indistinguishable from the ground behind him. So how did Heineken manage to get such crisp images? The corresponding press release briefly mentions a “relay of technology” alluding to the fact all might not be as it seems. A following write up by High Snobiety goes one step further by mentioning a “camera relay.”
“Earth-imaging company, UrtheCast, joined with Heineken to use their high-resolution satellite camera, the Deimos-2, along with their ultra-high definition video camera, Iris, for the event. The cameras were mounted onto the International Space Station, which hurtled 372 miles above the Earth’s surface at the time of the photo. The Deimos-2 zoomed into their location for a bird’s-eye shot, before images were then boosted via a camera relay to give a closeup image of each individual guest.”
Whether the phrasing is “camera relay” or “relay of technology” the language used appears to be intentionally misleading. It is our assumption that the close ups were indeed taken by either; a cameraman up a tall ladder, a drone or a helicopter. However despite the mass drive through social media, there was no reference of a closer proximity camera by Heineken.
With some frustration and after repeated attempts via phone and email to contact Heineken we took to social media ourselves to ask the attendees directly. Instagram user Alexgalmeanu responded with confusion:
“…I didn’t [see] a drone either. Actually, the clear blue sky is the only thing I really saw. Heineken told us it was a satellite, and, of course, there is nothing to be seen at a satellite passing over you at such a distance.
However user ionutbunescu who also responded said that they weren’t aware of a local camera but did recall a helicopter. This can be easily verified as one can be heard in the Spyfie release video:
What we found more concerning than anything was the attendees lack of understanding about the project and how the photograph was being taken. All who responded to our question confirmed that they thought / were even told that the photograph was taken by a camera on board a satellite.
After several back and forth emails with the fantastic team behind Urthecaste (the guys in charge of distributing the images streamed from the International Space Station) we were finally connected with David Pugh, PR manager in charge of the project who despite earlier rebuttals explained how it was taken.
“Yes, the relay we used involved the satellite camera and then a camera mounted on a helicopter. This was the only way we could make it work – and we’ve been open and transparent on that since the beginning of the project. As you correctly noted, it’s not possible (yet) to get the whole sequence from the camera in space.”
Our suspicions were correct. The “selfie from Space” was taken from a local flying helicopter. A fact made all the more embarrassing when you realise how many people have been duped into thinking they were making part of some kind of photographic history:
Pugh’s insistence that they were clear and transparent with regards to the “relay of technology” is relying heavily on the ambiguity of language. We are positive is written in a way to mislead to sound more awesome than it actually is.
Despite this, it does appear that everyone involved had an incredible time making the trip and being part of the #Spyfie project. It’s just a shame that they were lead to believe these were taken by onboard the ISS.
The actual image taken from Space is much closer to the kind of resolving power you’d expect from a camera at a distance of 400 km. Although it’s still incredibly impressive to see real time Earth images in HD being beamed publicly by Urthecaste, it’s still a big leap to be able to achieve the kind of results Heineken were expecting.
Smile people, although there’s no point. The satellite can’t actually see you…