Why are these amazing photos so different from satellite images?

Satellites are basically robots, taking pictures straight down, on a timer.  But the Gape Collection photos were taken by people.  Somebody looked out of a spaceship’s window and saw something that made them want to take a picture.  They adjusted the zoom, framed the shot, and snapped.

Who took the photos?

NASA astronauts.  The U.S. space program has sent cameras into space since John Glenn first reached orbit in 1962.  His Mercury capsule — which rode on a modified ICBM — carried only one roll of film; 100% of the photos are accurately labeled “clouds”.  These days, astronauts aboard the International Space Station send down tens of thousands of high-resolution images per month.  As of mid-2018 there were over 3.5 million photos in the NASA archives, including 450,000 non-digital photos (aka “film”, children).

Is Gape, or Great Lakes, Grand Lands, part of NASA?

Nope.  They are products of Perfect Sync, Inc., a private company. Like many businesses, it’s a hobby that got badly out of hand.  In the same way that some companies “data mine” public census or real estate records, PSI mines NASA’s photo database using proprietary software.

Which astronaut took a certain picture?

NASA doesn’t provide their name and, even if we figured it out, their policy (here) doesn’t allow us to tell you because it would imply endorsement by the astronaut or by NASA itself.  So NASA photographs are traditionally attributed to a crew, as they are here.

Are the pictures “Photoshopped”?

Yes, it can’t be avoided.  They are not “painted”; the goal is to reproduce what the astronaut would have seen with their eyes.  Most of the millions of unprocessed photos in the NASA archives aren’t much to look at; for one thing, the Earth’s atmosphere makes everything very blue.  Astronauts’ eyes can adjust, so everything looks normal to them, but the camera sees twice as much extra blue as photos taken in daylight on Earth, so software such as Adobe Photoshop® is used to perform color correction.  Weather is also an issue; air contains humidity, so software is also used to reduce the haze that comes from twenty-plus miles of thick, humid atmosphere.

How are the photos organized?

This collection of photos of lakes, rivers, and straits represents the entire length of the vast St. Lawrence Seaway, which lets ocean-class freighters sail from Chicago and Duluth/Superior all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Great Lakes, Grand Lands photos are (generally) organized as a “downstream tour”, starting even farther north than Lake Superior and ending at the Atlantic Ocean.  You can start the tour here.

Why are some of them in black and white?

They’re not.  That’s what winter looks like from space. 100% of the photos in the Great Lakes, Grand Lands album are in color.

Why so many winter pictures?

You must not be from around here.  The Great Lakes produce a lot of “lake effect snow”.  Buffalo, NY, famous for snow, is one of the most southern points in the Great Lakes region.  Thunder Bay, Ontario, has a growing season of just three months. Not only that, but ice is beautiful so the astronauts naturally take a lot of winter photos.

Why is it called “Gape”?

It’s a tribute to the online NASA photo database, which is called “the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth”. In spite of the reference, there is no official connection between NASA and Perfect Sync, Inc. and no endorsement by NASA should be assumed.  Perfect Sync, Inc. does, however, endorse nearly everything NASA has ever done.  We’re fans.

Are the photos copyrighted?

It’s a little complicated.  All NASA astronauts — while up there — are employees of the government or military, so their photos belong to the government.  The raw photos are, therefore, basically a public resource; the legal term is Public Domain.  NASA’s policy is hereHowever… Perfect Sync, Inc. does assert intellectual property ownership of the developed images, as you see them here.  In other words you may track down the raw photos and color-correct them yourself, but you can’t legally make copies of our work.  The reduced-size images on this website are of course, intended to be shared electronically — or on paper — but you may not use them for commercial purposes without our permission.

Does Gape include photos from other regions?

Great Lakes, Grand Lands is the first of several planned Gape Albums.  Watch for future articles with “Album Preview” in the title.