Capturing a Satellite Signal on Camera

Upper School photography students experiment with light, technology to make a satellite signal visible.

What do you get when you combine mirrors, a satellite dish, laser lights, and a fog machine? The answer is found in the stunning photograph above, taken during a recent Upper School academic project that combined visual art, science, and mathematics.

Upper School science teacher Laura Akesson and Upper School photography teacher John Alley frequently partner to do cross-curricular projects. In December, Mrs. Akesson reached out to Mr. Alley to come together yet again on a new project that she was curious about. She had recently procured a DIRECTV satellite dish that a friend was going to throw away, and she wondered if they could find a way to clearly view the satellite signal in action and capture it on camera.

Knowing that parabolic surfaces would reflect the signal to the satellite dish detector, the teachers and Mr. Alley’s Upper School photography students set up two parabolic mirrors in the Cramer Center’s photography light studio. Next, they set up a single green laser directed downward that traveled over the length of the mirror surface. It was captured using extended exposure. Finally, they added a fog machine to make the laser light visible as they attempted to take photographs in the dark.

Both the teachers and the students were challenged to work together to find the best step-by-step procedure for making the project work. As Mrs. Akesson worked with students to set up and test the various technology, Mr. Alley worked with students to establish the best camera shot techniques, such as overlay and extended exposure, to capture a good photo.

“None of us knew the right answer, which is a great place to be,” Mrs. Akesson said. “We were all working together to figure out the correct procedure to make this work.”

The project involved various disciplines because the reflection of light into one singular point is called the focus point, which is a concept studied in mathematics and physics. The students intend on sharing their photos with the Upper School Math Department so they may be incorporated into their curriculum.

“In math, the focal point is obtained through a calculation,” Mrs. Akesson said. “It’s just a number that’s either correct or not correct, and then you move onto the next problem. By melding math and photography, it becomes real and visual—it’s something that students can actually see and picture.”

Mr. Alley said that the project opened up opportunities for his photography students, as well. “Artists typically have a lot of freedom with their work, but by incorporating science, we had precise parameters to work within,” he said. “It shows that while you are always experimenting, you are ultimately controlled by principles, and I think making that connection will help them grow as artists.”


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Steward is an atmosphere that fosters confidence—something we have seen in all three of our kids. Whether it is playing a new sport, running for a seat on the Honor Council, or singing a solo on Talent Night, they have been encouraged to try, to experience, and to grow.
- Dan and Kathi Campbell, Parents of Abbie ’19, Emma ’17, and Ben ’14

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Steward is the right place for Micah and Kiri because they are able to develop strong connections with their teachers, which in turn facilitates confidence and resilience in their learning. Everyone at Steward knows your name and makes you feel so welcome.
- Paul and Janet Yoon, Parents of Kiri ’27 and Micah ’26

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Steward helped me develop the skills I needed to succeed in college and the courage and confidence to set competitive career goals for myself. But, these skills weren’t lessons I learned just in Steward’s classrooms; they came from the athletic fields, in the hallways, and during Honor Council meetings, too.
- Grace Henderson ’10

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Steward provides Andrew with a nurturing environment which fosters his individualism, develops exemplary character traits, and continuously provides him with creative learning experiences. Consequently, Andrew ‘loves’ school and anticipates each day with joy, enthusiasm, and excitement.
- Betsy Jollay, Grandmother of Andrew O’Leary ’25

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I love all that The Steward School has done for Trace. Steward has uncovered Trace’s talents, celebrated his individuality, and strengthened his belief in himself. The faculty and staff offer an amazing balance of challenge and comfort, encouraging the best from all students. I can’t imagine Trace being anywhere else. Thank you, Steward School.
- Ron Coles, Father of Trace Coles ’19 and Grade 5 Teacher

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Being a member of The Steward School international program has been an awesome experience. The community has helped me tremendously along the way.
- Bowen Chen ’15


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