Saturday, December 4, 2010

Photomerge / iPhone / Humbug

I have been shooting with the d5000 lens set at 35mm (the middle) almost strictly for a few weeks. But here I opened it up to 18mm and turned off the 'auto distortion' feature for wide angle lens settings. That means it's distorted and I like it that way. Topaz's 'Photo Pop' preset helped bring out the ocean: the mountain awaits.
South of Humbug photomosaic: Humbug Mountain, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
South of Humbug photomosaic: Humbug Mountain, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Being a geologist, I suppose it is natural that I like panoramic images of landscapes. Photomosaics can build an image like we see with our eyes. In the late 90's, the topic of photomosaics came up a lot doing paleoseismic trenching. Our company favored surveying and drawing the exposure, but other folks did photo mosaics. Tom Fumal built a tripod-thing he called the 'Trench-o-matic' and it photographed one half of a 1m grid. There is a nice discussion of that here. After being serious about photography and knowing what I know about light conditions in a trench, I am still in favor of a hand drawn interpretation. If I ever have a trench again, I'll probably do both. Using an image to tell a story is something that geologists do. Often we try to simplify the picture to communicate an underlying idea.
Kodak Cameo zoom 35mm
So, I like panoramic landscape shots.

A little backstory before I get into the results of today's experiment. My first camera was a gift just before my first geology field camp in January 1994. It was a 35m Kodak Cameo that had a decent little zoom lens. Also, it had a switch for panoramic mode on the same roll. This switch moved some plates in front of the negative to form a 2:5 aspect ratio. I've read of a similar device in a Konica camera to go between half and full frame negs. This same analogous process was used for films shot in Techniscope, like Leone westerns. This had a serious advantage for technicolor films when the film itself was a huge part of the budget. The lens of techniscope cameras made wonderful image peculiarities and the technicolor 2 strip processing made for some visual treats in these films.

Back to that Kodak. In panoramic mode, printed properly, it probably made terrible looking 4x10 prints. Remember those throwaway Kodak panoramic cameras, where you had a whole roll of 4x10s that was spendy to develop? No one comes home with quality pictures from a disposable camera. Those panoramic camera enlarge the 35mm negs 167% to 10", and they come out grainy and distorted. On my Kodak, the panoramic mode seemed to good to be true, and after 4 rolls of film with mixed exposure sizes, it was. To no one's surprise, Costco film labs processed the negatives as 4x6 prints with black bars on the top and bottom. I shot a full roll of 4x10s an convinced myself what everybody probably already knows: a 1993 fully automatic 35mm camera's negatives do not hold up to 10" enlargements. From then on I shot panoramic mosaics with the full frame. I parted ways with that little camera very early in 2008. Stupid, given my penchant for nostalgia. It did a great job with regular 4x6 prints, especially in the desert with iso200 film. I'll find those negatives and revisit those early days eventually.

So, this longstanding interest in big, wide images continues. A image of 3 or more consecutive exposures merged as one offers a high resolution and a wide field of view solution.


Back to today's experiment
So I hiked the 6 mile Humbug trail. I took along only my 2 year old 3G iPhone and shot with a 'three vertical' mosaic in mind. William Neill brought this technique to my attention recently with his iPhone. Thanks to Mr. Neill's example, I have been using Photoshop's Photomerge plugin for a few months. It works really well. Today was pushing it to the limit. If you don't have Photoshop, the MS ICE software works pretty good, especially for the price ($0).

I've photographed the hike up Humbug 9/28/10 and 9/30/10 with mediocre images but always a great hike. It is a very challenging light; I had limited success with the d5000, and none with DSC-H1.

The photographs are composed of 3 separate shots from a 2008 iPhone 3g. The original images are of very poor quality. After Photomerge, some Unsharp mask, occasionally a Topaz Adjust "Photo Pop", there are images of nearly sufficient quality. Take a look:
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
At the summit.
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Acorns and conglomerate.
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Madrone.
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
iPhone photomosaic: Humbug Mountain trail, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
So there you have it. I've been shooting panoramic sequences for a long time, so there's some experience in practice rotating/moving the camera, too. It was a fun experiment and greatly improved the images of the day. If I were doing 'good pictures' blog, only two or three of those would have made the cut. The trail kicked my ass and then I spent all evening on the computer anyway. The Photomerge plugin works very well. The iPhone 3G camera still sucks; anytime there is sunlight, it blasts the exposure to shit. With the 'three shot' merge technique, you can begin to shrink away some of the problems as you gain those extra pixels. Today's effort raised my respect for the device: I took pictures, typed notes, made voice recordings, and played the iPod. Miniaturization is real, and the iPhone is truly a breakthrough; I wonder what 10 years will bring? The battery has experienced a new life since iOS 4.2, dipping down only 25% during my long walk.If I had a sim card, a data plan, and a signal from an AT&T tower (as if!), I could have made calls and maybe got a GPS signal.

In Photoshop, I had to be a little careful with the automatic mode in Photomerge and sometimes I checked the 'remove geometric distortion' option if the resulting merge was too wacky. Since this was a throwaway exercise, documenting which option for which image is pointless; the results just aren't good enough to worry about repeating them. The aim was to make usable images from mosaics of garbage 3megapixel plastic lens glory.

So, it was a nice to get my camera back in my hands. Three shot mosaic looking north.
South of Humbug photomosaic: Humbug Mountain, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Frankport, oooh…
Frankport, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Aaaah!
Frankport, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10
Nesika Beach, Curry County, OR, Andrew D. Barron ©12/4/10

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