Apparently, all it takes is a bit of ingenuity to snap a few photos of the Earth from near-space.
Previous space-photography efforts were totally pwned recently by three MIT students that managed to take photos of Earth from near-space for under $150. Oliver Yeh, Justin Lee, and Eric Newton enacted Project Icarus using an assemblage of common parts and electronics to complete a 93,000 foot launch into the atmosphere to take the photos.
As these students point out on their website, space photography is nothing new, but the extremely low budget of Project Icarus makes it stand out. The equipment used in the launch, detailed here, consisted of a helium balloon, a prepaid cellphone, and a Canon A470 with 8GB SD card. To insulate against the harsh cold of 17.5 miles up, the group used a styrofoam beer cooler, newspaper, and instant hand warmer. How cool is that? Power everything up with AA batteries and assemble it with duct tape and zip ties, and you're ready to go!
The whole thing reminds me of my favorite childhood movie Explorers, where a few kids build a spaceship using a bunch of junk, though not quite as cool. Still, to take photographs of the earth from 93,000 feet up for the cost of two-and-a-half PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 games is quite impressve. If you use Google Earth, you can check out the balloon's flight path here.
The students are planning to post a free step-by-step guide for how to complete your own $150 launch, with a time-lapse movie, on http://space.1337arts.com soon, but as posted on the site there is "[homework] due tommorow" that must be finished first. If you like what the group has done, donate, as traffic to their website has been rather high lately.