Baldwin High School senior captures world through lens of his drone
Jake Mysliwczyk found his first professional camera on the shelves of Jerry's Quick Cash in Brentwood for $180.
He surmised the camera, valued at about $700, had to be stolen. Yet, at 14, with jobs cutting grass and working in the auditorium at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, the camera fit his needs.
Not yet able to drive, Jake took the new camera along on bike rides with his father to capture Pittsburgh from various vantage points.
“I just always wanted a professional camera. I didn't know where it was going to get me after that,” he said.
Fast-forward three years and Jake, now 17 and a senior at Baldwin High School, has a resume that touts his work photographing Pittsburgh's skylines through a lens high above, from a drone. He live-streams athletic and extracurricular events for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, an initiative he undertook on his own, and secured new technology for the district to output live weather updates from Baldwin High School, via a BloomSky camera, that captures time-lapse images of the school stadium.
Teachers and administrators now come to Jake with requests for aerial shots of the district. He spent a day with Pittsburgh-area dance instructor Abby Lee Miller filming video for her YouTube channel, which garnered more than 20,000 views.
“He really has a passion for doing creative things,” said David Green, network and information systems administrator for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, who began working with Jake after he secured the BloomSky camera for the school on his own.
“He's very creative. He's energetic. He's always willing to put in extra time for something to have that wow factor,” Green said.
For Jake, photography is just a hobby. He learned how to take photos on his own, getting up as early as 4:45 a.m. three days a week in the summer to photograph Pittsburgh's skyline. Even on school days in the spring, he gets up and heads to the city by 5 a.m. to get in a few pictures before heading to Baldwin High School for the start of classes at 7:45 a.m.
He posts his work on Instagram.
It wasn't until Steel City Grammers, an Instagram site dedicated to showcasing Pittsburgh, used one of his photos from Kennywood's Holiday Lights in December 2014 that Jake said he realized he was actually good.
“I was like, ‘Wow, people actually know my work,'” he said.
In May 2015, Jake bought his first drone. That led him to South Park to capture aerial shots of the buffalo, and to Pittsburgh, where he took the “T” to the North Side and flew the drone alongside Heinz Field and PNC Park.
As the director of Baldwin High School's “Highlander Highlights” morning television announcements, which Jake and a classmate are working to create a cell phone app for, he used the drone to capture aerial shots of the school for the broadcast.
“All the teachers were like, ‘Where'd that come from? How'd we get aerial footage of the school like that?'” he said.
For last year's graduation, Jake wanted to add drone footage into the live-stream from the high school broadcast on the district website.
He approached Superintendent Randal Lutz with the idea. Lutz OK'd it, but with a couple of rules: He didn't want to see it or hear the drone during the ceremony.
That made him nervous, Jake said.
“I didn't want something to go wrong where it came crashing down on the field or something,” he said.
Lutz said he was happy to see that a student was comfortable approaching administrators with an idea.
“It is really cool,” Lutz said. “He's the expert in the area. When I saw what he did with that video, I thought, that is absolutely incredible.”
This school year, Jake was asked to film all of the home and away performances of the marching band during football games. He figured, if he's already there, why not live-stream the entire football game to the Baldwin High School YouTube channel? So, that's what he's doing.
He also has live-streamed weekend performances of the marching band at festivals and area parades to Periscope and posted them live on the Highlander Highlights Twitter feed.
Baldwin High School teacher Brad Schulte said Jake is always two steps ahead.
“He makes me want to understand more. He's very methodical,” Schulte said. “When he wants to get something done, he's already done all of the legwork. So, you can never say, ‘Did you think of this?' He already has.”
Jake plans to major in media production in college and hopes to secure a job as a videographer at WTAE, the TV station he's grown up watching.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer.