The View Up Here

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Archive for November, 2010

Getty Contributor

Posted by Tom Benedict on 30/11/2010

It finally happened:  After a lot of work cleaning up my act, photographically speaking, asking way too many questions from way too many extremely patient people, and listening to and following the advice I was given, I got an invitation letter to join the Getty/Flickr program.  Join?  You BET!

The process of signing up on Getty is really painless.  They did a great job of making it as easy to do as possible.  And at no point did I feel lost, like I was just tossing information and full-res images into a black hole.  Nope, it was all very easy to follow.  I found the original for the image requested, uploaded the full resolution image, filled out the remaining fields, and clicked save.  Done.  Within a couple of hours it had cleared the review process, and was listed as available for sale.

I’m excited.  But I’m also taking this with a grain of salt.  An invitation does not mean a sale.  And even a single sale does not mean a promising future.  In a way the work has just begun.  But at least I’ve got a foot in the door.  I’m looking forward to what comes next.

– Tom

Posted in Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Video for a Still Photographer

Posted by Tom Benedict on 26/11/2010


I’m a still photographer.  I’ve known this myself for years, but I’ve also had this pointed out to me by others.  The first time someone made a point of mentioning it to me was right after I’d finished a short course on broadcast video production. I think their exact words were, “You’re terrible at video.”  Yeah.  Thanks.

My class partner and I actually did make a video that year, and oddly enough it was shown on TV far too many times.  It’s not because of its stellar production or camera work.  I’m certain it’s because they were short on material and this one took up a full thirty minute slot.  We’d shot video of a Physics Circus, an extravaganza of physics lecture demos all jammed together into one extremely entertaining event.  Anyone who thinks physics is boring has never seen a pencil blown through a sheet of 3/4″ plywood by a fire extinguisher, or seen the kind of damage you can do with a giant Tesla coil.  Physics is FUN!  It’s also highly photogenic.

It could have been a lot more photogenic.  Unfortunately one of the two people throwing the show was an uptight dweeb who didn’t want cameras in his face.  So we were forced to keep our cameras firmly attached to tripods at the back of the room.  Of course this didn’t stop someone else from using their camcorder handheld at the front, and getting all kinds of good footage of the event.  When they reviewed it, their comment was, “There’s no motion to the cameras.  You’re terrible at this.”  Yeah.  Thanks.  That’s because you made us not move.  The irony was lost on them.  And as awkward as our video was, it still got more screen time than anyone else’s.  Go figure.  I honestly think it’s because ours was edited to length.

I’ve made some videos since then, but comparing those to my still photography, it’s still achingly apparent that I’m not good at video.  I look at a really well produced sequence and see they have these sweeping crane shots or these dramatic focus pulls, so I try the same effects and it’s invariably bad.  Comically bad.  But that’s ok.  Everyone who cares knows I’m a still photographer.  When I make a video, it’s ok for the audience to laugh or groan at inappropriate moments.  It’s all good.

Until now, that is.  The final product of the PUSH N8 project is a video.  A video.  In the infamous words of Charlie Brown, “AAAAAAAAUGH!”

So I’ve been doing some homework.  I went on a bunch of review sites to find out what the favorite, least expensive video production software was for Windows.  Turns out I already had it installed as part of the software package that came on my computer.  Score! Now all I have to do is learn it.  No small thing, but at least I have a plan:  In addition to being a still photographer, I’m also a masochist.  And for a masochist, the best way to learn a thing is to do it badly, realize I’ve done it badly, reflect on that, and do it again less badly.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  So instead of doing one video, I’m planning on doing one video per week for the duration.  The hope is that by the time I get to the final video product, I’ll at least be familiar with the software.  Ideally I’ll also be a little better at video production, but I’m not holding my breath.  At least by then I’ll be more intimately aware of my shortcomings, so I’ll be more practiced at feeling bad about them.  But I hope I get more out of it than that.

To pull off the first video I want to do, I need to make a time lapse sequence.  60 seconds of screen time is 900 frames at 15fps, or 1800 frames at 30fps.  Just about perfect for what I have in mind.  I’ve done time lapse sequences in the past, typically at 60-120x speedup, and have bracketed them with a title card and credits and tossed them up online as being only slightly more interesting than watching paint dry.  (Hey!  Now there’s a time lapse idea!) So I know I can do time lapse videos.  But a couple of things make this one different:  First, it’s faster.  The thing I want to video will be moving at human-perceptible speeds already.  Past about 15x speedup, it would be just nonsense images crammed together.  Second, I finally have video editing software that will do full 1920×1080 HD video!  So instead of editing my frames down to 640×480 or even smaller for NTSC, I get to edit them to 1920×1080 pixels.

Obviously this presents several opportunities to screw things up.  And since the action I want to make the video of is more or less a one-off (think: dropping a glass and watching it shatter, whoops no more glass!) I can’t afford to screw up.  So I’m making a test video first: a glass of ice water melting.  Ok, fine, so I’m back in the category of watching paint dry.  But at 30x normal speed, that might actually be interesting!  And even if this is boring as sin, it’ll at least let me prove all the steps necessary to get from point A (no video, no technique, no nothing) to point B (a working video and the knowledge that I can make this work).  You get the idea.

I started by writing a CHDK script for my Canon A650IS that simulates holding down the shutter button.  This generates a stream of 4000×3000 JPG files taken at a rate of about one per second.  Next, I got a glass, filled it with ice and water, and got busy.  No sweat!

As it turns out it wasn’t that simple.  It took me four sets of images before I got one that didn’t have insurmountable technical issues, and even the fourth had bad white balance.  See why I try to test these ideas offline before I try them on the real deal?  R&D is great and all, but I like to use tried and true techniques when my ass is on the line.  (Note to self:  Camera loses some settings when power-cycled.)  But I persevered and came up with a good set of images to work from.

Next I used Imagemagick to re-size them to 1920×1080 using the following command:

for i in *.JPG; do echo $i; convert $i -resize 1920×1440 -gravity Center -crop 1920×1080 HD/$i; done

These were then run through Adobe Photoshop 7 in batch mode to correct for the bad white balance.  The bad white balance was due to operator error, and now the operator has learned better.  Since I don’t plan to do this in the future,  no documentation for this step.  Besides, this was just plain embarassing.

Next I ran them through VirtualDub, which I’ve used in the past to do video de-shaking.  Turns out VirtualDub will also do time lapse:  Using VirtualDub for Time Lapse The codecs I have in VirtualDub don’t support compressed 1920×1080 video, but since these sequences are short there’s no real penalty.  I saved it as uncompressed video and ate up several gigs of disk space in the process.

Title cards were added to the first and last images in the sequence and saved as 1920×1080 JPG images using Photoshop 7.  In this case I used the Batik font, but I’m not sure what my plans will be for future videos.  This part, at least, is old hat since I did something similar for my SPIE 2010 poster.

Finally, I ran all this through CyberLink Power Director to make the final film, which I then posted to Vimeo.  Watch it if you dare.  Dare to be bored, that is.

– Tom

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Nokia N8 PUSH

Posted by Tom Benedict on 24/11/2010

Some months ago Nokia put out a call for proposals for how to use a KAP rig based around a pair of N8 phones.  At the time I’d been doing some KAP with a photographer in Kona with the goal of photographing whales in the ocean.  So I had whales at the front of my mind.  It wasn’t too much of a stretch to come up with an idea that involved doing KAP of whales.  I sent the idea in, but didn’t really expect to move forward with it.

Turns out I was wrong.  My idea was selected, and not long ago I was contacted by the N8 PUSH team to let me know.

??!  !!!  COOL!

There were some questions to answer and some details to be worked out, but everything came out ok and in the end I was given the timeline and was told to expect a package in the mail.  There’s no curbside delivery where I live, so I’ve been swinging by the post office to check out my PO box ever since.  Nothing yet, but it’s getting clooose!

The package should contain two Nokia N8 cameras, each sporting a 12MP camera with a fixed focal length Carl Zeiss lens, along with a KAP rig designed specifically for the N8, and a kite.  The two phones come loaded with the N8 KAP application, which allows the KAP rig to be controlled from the phone on the ground, and for the aerial phone to stream its video signal to the ground phone.  All in all a seriously cool setup!  I was a little skeptical of the camera at first, but hearing the Zeiss name and seeing a video clip of the camera focusing (yes, it actually focuses) went a long way toward laying those concerns to rest.  What finally did my concerns in was seeing a set of KAP images made by Ricardo Ferreira with the N8 phone.  The image quality was better than most point and shoot cameras, and worlds better than any phone camera I’d ever seen.  (For anyone who’s not familiar with KAP and with the KAP-Nokia connection in particular, Ricardo is an excellent KAPer, and developed the first Nokia KAP rig, based around the N900 phones.)

Operationally, this will be a significant change from the way I’m used to working in the field.  I don’t have a video downlink on my current rig.  The N8 rig does.  I can do movies with my current rig, but I tend not to.  In any case 640×480 is as good as I can get with my current camera.  The N8 does 720p HD video. Right now I don’t have any way to get GPS information for where my camera is in space.  Yeah, I can add a GPS photo tracker to my rig, and probably will in the not so distant future.  But the N8 phone has GPS built in, of course.  I just hope the EXIF headers on the files include the GPS information.  Even the rig itself is different.  I’m used to plugging in cables, screwing down cameras, attaching safety lanyards, and the like.  To use the N8 rig, you snap the phone into the rig and you’re done.  From what I’ve gathered, the aerial phone controls the rig via a Bluetooth connection.  No wires, no screws, no nothing.  And no legs!  The rig has no legs.  But the way it’s shaped, it really doesn’t need them.

So in addition to the PUSH project itself, I’m interested in seeing how the N8 rig behaves in the field.  I’m planning to give it a thorough shake-down and post a review here and on the KAP forums.  Luckily, there’s still some time before the whales come through the Hawaiian Islands.  So I’ve been picking out some likely flying spots where I can put it through its paces and see what it’s got under the hood.  High on the list are Kiholo Bay and Puako.  I’d love to give it a try at the summit of Mauna Kea, but cell phone signals really do mess with the radio telescopes up there.  So it’s a no-no.  Waipio Valley and Pololu Valley are also high on the list since they offer some of the more challenging wind conditions for doing KAP on the Big Island.  (Besides, on the drive back from Pololu there’s a fantastic deli in Hawi called Lighthouse Delicatessen.  Can’t beat a KAP session that ends with a great lunch!)

By the end of the land-based sessions, I should have a better feel for how the rig handles, I’ll have some seat time with it on a couple of different kites, and I’ll be ready to trust myself to launch it off the back of a boat.

Now all we need is whales!

– Tom

Posted in Hawaii, Kite Aerial Photography, N8 Push, Photography | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sucking Again – In a Good Way

Posted by Tom Benedict on 19/11/2010

The Varian Tri-Scroll pump I rebuilt some weeks ago was put into service, and was able to pull three orders of magnitude better vacuum than the pump that had been in service on that system.  Yay!  I did something right!  Of course that means the pump that had been on that system was then sent down for servicing.  Such is life.

I got a chance to open the pump yesterday, and completed the rebuild today.  In some ways it was in better condition than the first one, but in others it was worse.  The Varian Tri-Scroll is a two-stage vacuum pump.  One stage is a single scroll, and the other is a tri-scroll.  When I opened the pump I saw the famililar brown dust indicating tip seal wear, but there was also some gooey black smearing on the orbiting plate.  I took a look at the mating part and saw one of the tip seals in the tri-scroll stage was entirely missing.  I kept going, and found half the seal in the uni-scroll section was gone, too.  The tip seals consist of a spongy black rubber layer covered with Teflon.  The Teflon is what’s actually in sliding contact and providing the seal.  But when the Teflon wears through, the rubber makes contact and just turns to goo.  Clear sign of a pump left too long.

The amazing thing, though, is that it continued to pull vacuum!  It was nowhere near the <1.0×10-3 torr I was getting on the rebuilt pump, but it was still in the single digit torr range.  (Atmosphere at sea level is close to 1000 torr.)  Not bad for a pump that’s missing half its seals and is covered in rubbery goo.

The rebuild went quicker this time, of course.  First time’s a mystery, second time’s practice, third time is the charm.  Now I’m just waiting for my third scroll pump.

What this did indicate, though, is that we need a more proactive schedule for maintaining our pumps.  The difference between rebuilding a pump that’s ready and one that’s beyond ready is a the difference of several hours of goo removal.  In the not so distant future we’re going to start going through our pump systems on a regular basis to test the foreline stage.  If it can peg a TC gauge, it’s good to go.  If not, it’s time for a rebuild.  At least two of our pumps should be good to go for the next three years or so.

Unfortunately we had to send our headquarters pump station to the summit facility a few days ago along with its complete collection of vacuum fittings.  I can’t even scrounge together enough hardware to put this pump through its 24 hour burn-in run.  Ah well…  I won’t get to find out how much it sucks until next week.

– Tom

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Challenging but Rewarding

Posted by Tom Benedict on 17/11/2010

I recently had a pair of flights that yielded really nice results.  The first was done just on a whim.  In the past I’ve flown at Mala`ai, the culinary garden at Waimea Middle School in Kamuela, Hawaii.  I like flying there for a number of reasons.  It’s a pleasant place to fly with no ground hazards or obstructions, it’s a great place to try out new ideas for orthoimaging, it’s an interesting subject, and the school uses the images to help plan future work in the garden.  One of the coolest things about the garden is that it’s largely the students who do the planning and the work.  And boy do they ever move FAST!  I’ve never photographed it twice and seen the same thing.  It’s constantly changing.

But almost every time I’ve flown there, I’ve underestimated the size of the place!  The field of view on my camera’s lens is such that the field of view on the ground in the horizontal direction is almost exactly the same as its altitude.  This helps me compose shots when doing orthoimaging.  But vertically the field of view is smaller, and in the past I’ve clipped.  This time was going to be different!  I’d fly high enough to get the whole thing in one shot!

And in the end I did:

Mala`ai - The Culinary Garden at Waimea Middle School - 11 November, 2010

This is still a composite image because I wanted to be able to rotate it to line it up better with the edges of the frame.  But there are no stitch errors inside the garden that needed attention.  The garden itself came from a single image.  As soon as I’d processed the image I let the folks at the garden know there was a new image to download.

About a week and a half ago I got a call to ask if I could photograph the Anuenue Playground in Kamuela, as well.  I’ve wanted to photograph the playground for years, but there are a number of ground hazards and obstructions that have made it less than ideal.  Even though the adjoining football/baseball field doesn’t have lights any more, the poles that used to support them are still there.  There are large trees near the park.  It’s bordered on two sides by busy roadways.  And worst of all the park is full of kids!  I have never had a rig fall off my kite line, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it can.  So a great deal of additional paranoia was called for.

I surveyed the place a couple of times that week, trying to find a good angle to launch and approach the park.  But depending on the direction of the wind I could add above ground high voltage power lines to the list of ground hazards.  No thank you!  It looked like the only reasonably safe approach was for the wind to blow out of the west-northwest, and for it to be super-steady.  I didn’t even bother to call back to let them know.  I felt like a failure.

Two days after I made the garden picture, I checked the wind models.  Lo and behold, the afternoon called for soft and steady winds out of the west-northwest!  Sure ’nuff, by 2:00pm the winds had shifted and the conditions were ideal.  I waited out an event that was happening in the football field, my chosen launch spot, but by 3:30pm the coast was clear.  I put up my Fled, put my camera in my ortho rig, and got it in position.

There’s one other piece of KAP gear that figures prominently into this session: my son.  I knew I’d never spot it on my own, so I asked him to grab his walkie talkies and come with me to the park.  He got on the radio and guided me in, and I checked my apparent altitude against the footprint of the park on the ground to make sure I had the field of view to get everything.

I came close.  There’s one apparatus in the park that didn’t make it into the photo set, but the rest of the park did:

Anuenue Park, Waimea

I didn’t get enough overlap for a clean crop, but it covered the bulk of the park with reasonably sharp detail.  A quick pass through PTLens to take out barrel distortion and a small amount of tilt, and then a pass through ICE to make the composite, and the image was done.

All in all the camera was in the air for only 14 minutes, taking pictures every five seconds.  The resulting set of images offered a rich selection to work from.  I feel confident that as the restoration work on the park progresses, I’ll be able to return and make additional documentation photos for them.

Can’t beat a good day.

– Tom

Posted in Hawaii, Kite, Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »