Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 25, 2013

What Was That Tiny UFO?

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – No, that wasn’t a UFO flying over Front Street on Aug. 2 to get a closer look at people meandering along a street festival.

It was Shane Nelson’s eye-in-the sky — a remote-controlled “quadcopter” and attached digital camera whirring down Front Street, snapping wide-angle photos of the busy street every two seconds. The battery-powered flight from Union to Park streets lasted about 10 minutes.

“I was blown away by the images,” Nelson said later of his photo mission. “It was such a cool perspective, one you don’t normally get.”

Nelson, 24, is neither spy, nor private eye. He’s a camera buff with a new GoPro Hero 3 camera and DJI Phantom quadcopter he bought a few weeks ago to go “adventuring,” a word he uses that combines his love for action sports, travel on a shoestring budget, photography, art and natural settings.

He hopes to go camping and hiking this winter in New Zealand. It will be his first solo long-distance trip.

His DJI Phantom quadcopter can fly up to 900 feet high. The camera can take 1,500 to 2,000 wide-angle images on its 16-gigabyte card. It is also waterproof to 200 feet down. Together, the copter and camera weigh about two pounds.

Nelson is certified to dive to a depth of 130 feet. During the past 18 months, he has gone scuba diving along the reefs of Panama and the Virgin Islands. He has traveled by plane to California and hopes one day to drive across the United States so that he can camp, hike, and kayak in state and national parks.

Last weekend he planned to journey with friends to Marquette to hike and do acrobatic jumps, twists and flips off 12- to 40-foot cliffs into frigid Lake Superior.

Nelson, a 2007 Suttons Bay High School graduate, said his interest in photography and video was inspired in high school by the work of Leelanau County photographer Ken Scott and his art teacher Scott Tompkins, now a videography instructor at the Traverse Bay Area Career-Tech Center.

“I just like being able to capture memories in an artistic style,” he said. “I’ve always been artistic and have done a lot of pen-and-ink drawing, and comic drawing, too.”

He has a variety of interests. In addition to scuba diving, YouTube videos show him and friends sky diving, ziplining over treetops in Charlevoix County, playing guitar in two rock bands he started — Oro and Future Slice. He’s also is working on a long-term personal project that combines fantasy writing, drawing and music.

He moved from Suttons Bay to Traverse City in 2007 to study graphics design at Northwestern Michigan College.

“I learned it was not what I wanted to do,” he said graphic design. “I couldn’t see myself in a corporate world doing layouts and making logos. I’m looking for something more adventurous.”

He works now as a bellman at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

“I talk to people all the time at the resort from all over the world, and every single person says ‘Travel while you’re young,’” he said. “That’s what I’m doing. One of the reasons I’m traveling is to figure out what I want to do. I’m on a learning process of my own, and I’m enjoying my own school pretty much.”