Drone Photographer Captures Stunning Aerial Shots of a Shrinking Dead Sea

Tzvika Stein
Tzvika Stein

The Dead Sea is stunning from above, even if it is shrinking. As Lonely Planet reported, Tel Aviv-based landscape photographer Tzvika Stein uses drones to capture aerial views of the threatened body of water. “It’s beautiful and fascinating and very unique,” Stein tells Mental Floss of capturing the natural wonder that way. Yet it’s often too dangerous for him to shoot his photos from ground level.

The Dead Sea is famous for its salty, mineral-rich water and mud. Tourists visit the famous lake bordering Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank to slather their bodies with sludge—but those who can’t make the trip can purchase beauty products packed with the same natural ingredients. Due in part to this demand, the Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking, as mineral extraction companies cause water levels to dip at rates of up to 3 feet per year, according to CNN Travel.

In addition to salt and minerals, the Dead Sea is filled with sinkholes, many of which are now visible as the lake dries up. It’s dangerous to explore these craters because the surrounding ground might collapse, according to Bored Panda—which is why Stein uses his drone to safely record them from the sky.

Initially attracted to both the lake’s salt textures and its reflective water, Stein says he finds its sinkholes equally riveting, even if they are evidence of the lake’s growing plight. You can check out some of the photographer's abstract landscape shots below, or visit his Instagram or Flickr to view more works.

 Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein

Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein

 Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein

Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein

Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein


Tzvika Stein

Aerial drone photos of the Dead Sea in Israel, shot by Israeli photographer Tzvika Stein.
Tzvika Stein

[h/t Lonely Planet]

11 Thoughtful Gifts for the Photographer

iStock.com/MarioGuti
iStock.com/MarioGuti

Photography lovers can be hard to shop for, since their equipment is often both very specialized and very expensive. But you don’t have to break the bank to get your favorite photographer something they'll love. Below are 11 gifts we recommend for the photographer in your life. And if they happen to use their gift to take a beautiful photo of you at the holidays, well, who’s to stop them?

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. Kodak Mini Shot

A Kodak Mini Shot printing a photo of a boy eating ice cream
Kodak, Amazon

While photographers may spend more time on Instagram than picking up prints these days, uploading photos to the cloud doesn’t have quite the appeal of holding a freshly printed photo in hand. Your favorite shutterfly can enjoy the best of both the digital and physical photography world with Kodak’s Mini Shot, a camera that combines all the upsides of a digital camera with the on-demand printing abilities of an instant one. With Bluetooth connectivity and in-camera editing options like filters, stickers, and cropping, users can shoot, edit, and share photos as easily as they would on their phone, but they can also instantly print their favorites—including sending their favorite smartphone photos to the camera for printing.

Find It at Amazon for $120 and at these other retailers:

2. GoPro Fusion

For the adventurous photographer, the GoPro Fusion shoots high-definition, 360° photo and video that users can edit from their phone. It can turn stunning travel shots into virtual reality landscapes, with built-in stabilization to ensure crisp images while hiking, biking, surfing, or doing any other kind of activity. It can even do underwater photography—it’s waterproof to depths of up to 16 feet.

Find It at Amazon for $589 and at these other retailers:

3. GoPro Shorty Mini Extension Pole Tripod

GoPro’s pocket-sized, extendable tripod is designed to make sure your favorite photographer’s images are never constrained by their arm size. The Shorty goes from less than 5 inches long to almost 9 inches to allow the user to shoot those hard-to-reach angles (selfie and otherwise) while on the go.

Find It at Amazon for $35 and at these other retailers:

4. Joby GorrilaPod Flexible Tripod

Unlike the GoPro tripod above, this flexible little number can hold cameras up to 6.6 pounds. And it can be mounted anywhere. The bendy legs with rubberized feet can secure a camera in any position, even on surfaces that aren’t completely flat. For photographers working with smaller cameras, Joby also makes a version designed for smartphones as well.

Find It at Amazon for $39 and at these other retailers:

5. Think Tank Retrospective 7 Shoulder Bag

A khaki-colored, messenger-style camera bag
Think Tank, Amazon

Anyone who’s serious about their photo equipment needs a way to keep it safe on the road. While the perfect camera bag depends on what it’s going to be used for—someone who’s shooting a wedding will want something different than someone shooting landscapes in a national park—every photographer needs some way to carry their gear. Think Tank’s Retrospective 7 Shoulder bag is a fashionable, versatile option. The lightweight, form-fitting bag can fit a DSLR, a small laptop, and several lenses, with pockets and organizers for smaller accessories. For event photographers, it has “sound silencers” to minimize the noise associated with opening and closing the bag. For outdoor photography, there’s a rain cover to protect equipment.

Find It at Amazon for $140 and at these other retailers:

6. Yuneec Breeze 4K

To get those detailed aerial shots, your photographer friend is going to need a drone. You could easily drop several hundred dollars getting them a top-notch flying robot, but Yuneec’s compact camera-copter will do the job for much less—in 4K resolution, even. At less than 9 inches in diameter and weighing less than a pound, it’s small enough to tuck into a bag and can be controlled with a smartphone. It has several automated modes that can help any amateur pilot get cinematic shots with the integrated camera, including a dedicated Selfie Mode to help take flawless group shots from afar.

Find It at Walmart for $149 and at these other retailers:

7. Seagate Backup Plus Slim Hard Drive

A man slips a black Seagate hard drive into a laptop bag.
Seagate, Amazon

For any passionate photographer, hard drive space is precious. Free up some of your loved one’s computer storage by gifting them a new external hard drive. Seagate’s Backup Plus portable drives are fast, simple to use, and affordable. They work with both PCs and Macs and come in numerous colors that make them a bit more exciting than most external drives. The 2 terabyte option provides a nice balance between weight, storage capacity, and price, but if you’ll looking to splurge a bit more, there are 4 terabyte and 5 terabyte versions available, too.

Find It at Amazon for $64 and at these other retailers:

8. Canon DSLR Camera Kit

If your photographer has yet to upgrade from their smartphone, the Canon Rebel is a starter camera. This kit comes with the camera body, a 18-55mm lens, and a 75-300mm zoom lens. In addition to capturing great photos, it shoots 4K-resolution video and features built-in Wi-Fi and smartphone compatibility to make sharing footage between devices easy.

Find It at Amazon for $399 and these other retailers:

9. Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite

Nothing can transform a photo like good lighting. This external flash works with both Nikon and Canon DSLRs and has eight brightness levels that can be controlled manually. It can also be rotated 90 degrees vertically.

Find It at Amazon for $34 and at these other retailers:

10. Giottos Rocket Air Blaster

A cleaning device shaped like a rocket
Giottos, Amazon

No matter what kind of photography your loved one does or what kind of equipment they use, they’ll need to clean their camera. This low-tech tool is great for gently puffing away dust from delicate camera sensors. It’s lightweight but powerful, with a one-way valve that prevents it from sucking any of the dust back into the device. And unlike blowing air from their mouth, this way, the camera sensor won’t end up with any spit on it.

Find It at Amazon for $10.

11. Figosa Leather Strap

Figosa’s Italian-made leather camera straps offer a vintage look at a bargain price. The highly customizable straps come in three different sizes, with black or brown leather and gold or silver metal fasteners. This version comes with a shoulder pad to make it more comfortable to wear with heavier cameras.

Find It at Etsy for $61.

16 Secrets of School Portrait Photographers

iStock.com/HKPNC
iStock.com/HKPNC

One by one, they form a little conveyor belt—throngs of students lining up to sit in a chair, look into a camera lens, and smile. For millions of kids, picture day is a way to memorialize their appearance in a given year, although later the out-of-fashion clothes or cosmetic growing pains may be a way to memorialize pure awkwardness. For the photographers tasked with the job, however, picture day means corralling hundreds of children and establishing a comfort level without any time to waste.

“We get about 30 seconds per kid,” Kristin Boyer, a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia, who has been taking school portrait photos for eight years, tells Mental Floss. “And it’s amazing how much impact you can have. You want to make them feel like a million bucks—beautiful, awesome, and smart.”

To get a better sense of what goes into the job, we asked Boyer and two other school photographers to divulge some of the more interesting aspects of wrangling kids for posterity. Read on for some insight into uncooperative subjects, why mornings make for the the best shots, and the importance of booger patrol.

1. SCHOOLS GET A CUT OF THEIR FEE.

While deals can vary by school, photographers typically get paid when parents order photos. The school then takes a percentage of that fee.

To select a professional, schools will often take bids. "I make a presentation," Boyer says. "I'll explain what I do. Sometimes schools are looking for certain things." Boyer takes more dynamic shots with ambitious outdoor backgrounds; some larger schools herding 1500 or more kids, she says, may want to opt for a simple portrait to expedite the process.

As for what schools do with their portion of the revenue, it depends on the school. But many usually sink it back into student programs.

2. PARENTS TAKE PICTURE DAY VERY SERIOUSLY.

A child poses for a school photo
iStock.com/HKPNC

“Parents are very passionate about their kids getting good school photos,” Courtney, a photographer based in Canada, tells Mental Floss. They might send along a note with their kid describing what they didn’t like about the previous year’s photo. “When I started, I didn’t expect the level of hostility with parents when a photo doesn’t go the way they want it to.”

Boyer has sometimes had parents ask to stand behind her while she shoots so they can take their own pictures. “I usually say no cell phone photos. If they take theirs, they won’t buy mine.”

3. THEY TRY TO TAKE PICTURES BEFORE LUNCHTIME.

For younger kids, mornings are better. After lunch, photographers are likely to need the help of photo-editing software. “One of my first-graders got spaghetti on them,” Boyer says. “You don’t want to let them start to get markers or food all over.” Boyer’s most unusual Photoshop request? “I edited out a cookie once. The kid would not sit down unless he had a cookie.”

4. KIDS ARE SOMETIMES TERRIFIED OF THEM.

A little girl in a yearbook portrait photo
iStock.com/HKPNC

Portrait photographers typically work across a spectrum of ages, from kindergarteners to high school seniors. If a child is very young, it’s possible the entire idea of sitting for a portrait will scare them silly. “You always get one or two that are just terrified,” Grant, a portrait photographer who works on pre-K to 12th grade, tells Mental Floss. “I’m a big, beefy dude, and sometimes a kid will get in there and see me and go, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’” To placate the pensive pupils, Grant makes a big show of leaving by stomping his feet, then lets one of his less-threatening assistants take the pictures.

5. YOUNGER KIDS TAKE EVERYTHING LITERALLY.

Photographers need to be careful when giving instructions to kindergarteners and first graders, who tend to process things with little nuance. “Sometimes I’ll ask a kid to high-five me and I'll act like it hurts,” Grant says. “I’ll ask for a Band-Aid. Sometimes they’ll look very serious and say, ‘I don’t have one.’” Another time, Grant asked a kid to point his knees toward a nearby computer. “He came over and touched his knee to the laptop.”

6. SOME KIDS INSIST ON HAVING PROPS.

A student poses for a school photo with an electronic keyboard
iStock.com/RyanJLane

A lot of photographers are switching up the conventional portrait by snapping pictures of kids outdoors, in "action" poses like jumping, or against more eclectic backgrounds. Kids are getting more creative, too. Like prop comedians, they will sometimes arrive for picture day armed with accessories. “I’ve seen everything from Halloween costumes to dogs and other pets,” Courtney, says. “Or they want to wear hats or sunglasses.” If it’s within reason and OK with the school, she’ll take one traditional photo and then let the subject pose with their prop for the second.

7. SELFIES HAVE MADE THEIR JOB HARDER.

Posing for a professional portrait can be a strange experience for a kid who has spent considerable time on a cell phone. “Kids have gotten much more comfortable in front of the camera, but it’s bad selfie behavior,” Boyer says. “Doing duck lips, thrusting their arms out to make their shoulders straight. You kind of have to re-train them.” Boyer lets them know it doesn't look good, but "I say it in a nice way."

8. “ORANGE CHIN” IS A PROBLEM.

A child poses for a school photo
iStock.com/imagedepotpro

Sometimes, fashion can betray kids. “Fluorescent green and orange tops seem popular now and light tends to bounce off of it and on the chin,” Grant says. “The bottom of the chin tends to turn orange.” Unless they happen to have an extra shirt or request a photo retouch, they’re stuck with it.

9. THERE'S A REASON THEY ASK KIDS TO TILT THEIR HEAD.

Aside from some unfortunate fashion choices, one staple of school photos is the head tilt, with kids cocking their faces off to one side. According to a school photographer on Reddit, there's a good reason for that. "These photos are going to be used for the yearbook (more than likely) and everyone should have somewhat of the same head pose," they explain. "The way we stage our lights does not flatter the subject when they're looking straight at the camera. If you tilt your head you're more likely to also move your chin in that same direction, which makes for a more interesting highlight/shadow play and also has the added benefit of making the face look smaller (if you're a little overweight)."

10. THEY USE A SYSTEM TO TRACK EACH KID.

A child poses for a school photo
iStock.com/HKPNC

With hundreds of students at a given school, photographers need a reliable system of identifying kids and making sure their names match up to their portfolio. While systems vary, one of the most common is to collect school data and then print a unique ticket with a student’s name, grade, homeroom, and a number. “Those have a barcode,” Grant says. “So they come up, we scan the ticket, and pull up their record. It’s like scanning soup at a grocery store.”

It’s also error-free, unless some senior decides to trade tickets with a friend so their names get mixed up on their school identification cards. “They don’t seem to think it out, though, because the homeroom teachers pass the cards out and will notice the picture isn’t of them.”

11. THEY HAVE SOME SILLY STRATEGIES FOR MAKING A KID SMILE.

Photographers have less than a minute to relax a kid enough so they deliver a broad, genuine smile. To facilitate that, Grant says he keeps a laundry list of groaners at his disposal to provoke a laugh. “It’s like a script tree that a telemarketer would use,” he says. “If a kid says they play soccer, I’ll say, ‘Oh, so you like kicking people?’”

Photographers also rely on another age-old technique: embarrassment. “In grades four to six, if you ask girls to say ‘boys’ and boys to say ‘girls,’ it’s so scandalous,” Grant says. “For a second shot, you ask them to say, ‘cute boys’ or ‘cute girls.’ That typically works.” Grant can also provoke smiles by asking about pet names. Elementary kids react to being asked to say, “trick or treat, smell my feet.” If they remain stubborn, Grant will pull out all the stops and request they say “stinky feet.”

12. SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE ON BOOGER PATROL.

A child picks his nose
iStock.com/RichVintage

While photo-editing software can address rogue snot, no one really wants to spend the extra minutes digitally erasing boogers from photos. Boyer typically enlists volunteer parents to make sure faces are wiped clean or has assistants armed with tissues, combs, and other grooming products to make for a stylish and snot-free image. “We usually try to catch things like that before they get in front of the camera,” she says.

13. SOMETIMES THEY REGRET ASKING QUESTIONS.

To build rapport, photographers are always looking to get kids to talk about themselves. Once, one of Grant’s assistants asked if a child had any pets. “Yes,” the kid responded. “Rabbits. But we ate them last night.”

14. KIDS LIKE TO MESS WITH THEM ...

The older kids get, the more they tend to commit acts of subversion. “One kid came in with his jacket on, took it off, sat down, and was ready to go,” Grant says. “I knew something was going on. I looked at his shirt and it said ‘Student of the Month.’ Except he put masking tape over the ‘ent’ so it read ‘Stud of the Month.’” (After consulting with the principal, the kid was allowed to keep it on for the photo.)

Courtney had a kid sit down with what looked like a nice shirt with birds on it. “It was actually middle fingers,” she says.

15. ... AND SOME KIDS ARE JUST A PAIN.

While most kids are cooperative, Grant will sometimes see subjects who want to make their life as difficult as possible. "Seniors tend to fool around more and be difficult on purpose," he says. "Some of them are just perpetually in a bad mood or feel self-conscious." Sports teammates might egg each other on to not crack a smile. One school photographer who works for Lifetouch writes on Reddit that there are one or two "problem kids" per class: "You just have to remember they're just doing it for attention because they aren't getting it somewhere else."

16. ACCORDING TO THEM, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A BAD SCHOOL PICTURE.

A student poses for a school photo
iStock.com/RyanJLane

The internet is overflowing with awkward and embarrassing school photos, from unfortunate backgrounds to unfortunate hairstyles. But according to Grant, “bad school photo” is a misnomer that gives photographers a bad rap. “There’s a common idea school pictures are bad,” he says. “No. School pictures are like shooting fish in a barrel. Is a kid going to smile? Is a kid going to lean into it? Or is it going to be bad no matter what I do? If you think the picture is bad, well, no, that’s you. The picture was fine. The bad haircut wasn’t.”

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