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Posts Tagged ‘Green Sand Beach’

Join the Club

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/10/2009

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took the kids to the county fair.  (Yes, even islands in the middle of the Pacific get to have county fairs!)  It was a great day, full of rides, surprisingly good food, and a stop at a booth where the Hilo Photography Club was showing some of their member photography.  Seeing other people’s prints on the wall got me to thinking about how isolated I am with the photography I do.  I trade notes with two of my co-workers who are into photography, but for the most part that’s it.  Every other interaction I have is online through Flickr, or through various forums for aerial and kite aerial photography. It’s strange, because for the most part I really am a loner.  But I found I really wanted to join a photography club.  Bad.

But driving to Hilo, especially on a weekday night, really didn’t hold much appeal.  I work during the week, and it’s an hour and a half to Hilo.  This would be like driving from Sealy, Texas, to the middle of Houston and back.  On a Wednesday.  So I looked around and found there is a second photography club on the island, based in Kona.   It’s not exactly in town, but forty-five minutes is still better than an hour and a half!  I liked the photography I saw on their web site, so I figured I should give it a try.

Still, things are never that easy.  The first person I had to convince was my wife.  It may be my idea to join the club, but our time belongs to the both of us.  Once I told her it was one night a month, though, she was ok with the idea.  As it turns out the club met the following evening, so with my camera bag in hand and an address written on a scrap of paper, I jumped in my Jeep after work and headed out.

One problem with addresses on this island is that they assume you know the roads.  Despite its being a fairly small island, there are still a lot of roads!  I didn’t exactly get lost, but I didn’t know where I was, either.  It took a while, but I finally got there.  The meeting was low-key, the folks were pretty friendly on the whole, but I was surprised how little interest there was in talking to a newcomer.  I literally sat in the corner, and despite working up the courage to speak up during the critique session, no one showed much interest in me, or even asked what kind of photography I was into.

Nonetheless, I liked what I saw.  The critiques were constructive, but they were also pretty direct.  No bubbles there!  If someone didn’t like a thing, they said so.  But they also said why, which is the real point of a critique.  At the end of the meeting I was determined to come to a second one, and to bring pictures to show and get feedback on.  The president of the club took down my name and email address, and invited me to the next meeting.

Choosing which pictures to bring took some work.  I didn’t necessarily want to show my flashiest images, but I did want a representative sample.  I also didn’t want to have to wade through the opinions that KAP was just a cheap alternative to helicopter aerial photography, so I tried to include images that showed things that helicopters can’t do.  I intend to bring my KAP bag to the next meeting as well, when I’ll be able to show these pictures, so I also tried to include images that demonstrate the portability of KAP.  This is the set I came up with:

Here There Be Dragons

Here There Be Dragons – I wanted to open with this one, mostly to show that KAP can be used around people, and at an altitude that could also be done using a ladder.  This is a common technique on the ground when a little more height is called for, so it’s a situation I hope enough of the photographers have found themselves in to have a feel for the angle I was after.  But a ladder would’ve cast a shadow here, whereas my KAP rig did not.  So even inside the scope of vantage points available to a photographer on the ground, KAP can offer possibilities.  (Plus making that dragon was fun!)

Flying in a Blue Dream

Flying in a Blue Dream – Most aerials I’ve seen are obliques, typically taken out of the side of a helicopter or airplane.  I wanted to include an ortho image, not as an example of remote sensing or mapping, but as an example of an artistic image.  I really liked the feel of this when it came off my camera.  It felt more like a 4×5 ground glass composition than a digital camera composition.  The honu in the upper center are almost secondary to the sweeps of color in other parts of the frame.

Gemini North

Gemini North – This is one of those “KAP is portable!” pictures.  It also indicates a place where doing the photography from a full sized helicopter would be difficult.  This is at 14,000′ above sea level.  There are only a handful of helicopters on the island that can hit this altitude, and none of them are available for photography.  It could’ve been done with an airplane, but not easily, and not without violating FAA airspace regulations.  As an added benefit, this also shows how RC helicopter photography and KAP don’t necessarily overlap, either.  I doubt many RC helicopters can fly at 14,000′ altitude, either.  For KAP, I just used a bigger kite to compensate for the thinner air.

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse – I wanted at least one picture where the camera was suspended over the water.  This is that picture.  I don’t know of any vehicle-mounted mast photographers on the island, but I’ve run into enough online to know that there is a misconception with some of them that a mast answers all needs.  Many of the places I fly don’t have roads, much less solid ground directly underneath the camera, so shots like this really couldn’t be done with a mast.  An RC helicopter or RC airplane could’ve done it, but the air was pretty heavy that day, and unfortunately fairly rough as well.  Even with a kite it was a tough day.  With an RC helicopter or airplane it would’ve been pretty nasty.  My hope with sharing this photograph is that this is a lighthouse that the club has visited in the past.  I wanted a subject at least some of the people in the club were familiar with so they could contrast this one against pictures they had done and see some of the vantage point possibilities KAP can open up.

Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach – I know the club did a trip to South Point.  I don’t know if they made it all the way out to Green Sand Beach, but most of the residents on the island have been there at one point or another.  It’s a fantastic place to do photography, but 99% of the photos are done to the left of where this one was made, so none of them show the backside of the cindercone that forms the beach.  Even when helicopters overfly the beach, they tend to come in from the same angle every time.  So far as I know this is the only photo of Green Sand taken from this location.  It’s well below 500′, so KAP or an RC aircraft are the only ways to get there.  Add to that, it’s pretty far off the beaten path.  A kite really is the easiest way to get this angle.

Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay – I included this one for a couple of reasons:  It’s recent, so it’s more or less “what did you shoot in the last month?”  I’m not cheating here by going back to the archives.  It really is a recent photo.  It’s also a good poster shot for portability since there are no roads out here.  It’s a half hour walk across the lava, or you don’t get to see it at all.  This is also one of my more planned images, so it makes a good conversation starter for the idea of planning a KAP session, or any photography session for that matter.  KAP isn’t random by any stretch of the imagination, any more than any other form of photography is.  This photo does a good job of demonstrating it.

I cropped and sized the images to work with the 1920×1080 format of the projector the club uses, and packed them off in email to await the next meeting.  The date is set for October 15th, so I hope I have good things to write about afterward.

– Tom

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Posted in Kite Aerial Photography, Photography | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Photosynth from a Kite

Posted by Tom Benedict on 12/06/2009

Photosynth is a web-based program that lets you assemble a number of pictures of a single subject and combine them into a 3D navigable scene built from your pictures.  It doesn’t create a 3D model, but it does arrange all the still pictures so that a viewer can move around the scene and see each picture from the angle it was taken at.  People have made some truly phenomenal synths of a range of subjects.  It’s well worth a visit.

Of course I had to try it from a kite.  I pulled out the raw pictures from a couple of previous KAP outings and came up with some decent synths:

As it turns out KAP is very well-suited to making synths.  To make a well-connected synth requires a number of pictures, capturing the subject from multiple angles.  By its very nature KAP takes pictures from a variety of angles and positions.  I’ve made a number of KAP flights specifically to generate a synth, but for the most part they have been the serendipitous outcome of a flight otherwise geared toward still photography.  These are some of the better ones, taken with Photosynth in mind:

But there are times when things just plain don’t work.  Photosynth doesn’t like water because picture-to-picture, water varies, so there’s nothing really to tie one image to the next.  I’ve had some oddball results from synths that included large bodies of water.  Special techniques need to be used.

One in particular, a synth from a set of flights over the Kiholo Bay Inlet, had a number of problems with it.  Discussion with the Photosynth development team led to the conclusion that it was the water, the lack of a good pool of overlapping images, and just a poor sampling of the area in general that led to the problems.  I’m planning a second trip to Kiholo Bay to try to take a better set of pictures for making a synth there.

An added side-benefit of Photosynth is that in the process of tying all the images together, it creates a point cloud indicating which points in the images tie to points in other images.  A good set of high detail pictures can generate a very dense point cloud.  It’s possible to extract the point cloud and use it to create a rendered 3D image of the scene.

Photosynth Surface Extraction

This model was generated using the point cloud from the Waikoloa Archaeological Site in the list above.  Considering there was no GIS data, no ground control grid, no real spatial or metric information of any kind, it’s remarkably accurate.  Though it also shows some of the problems with this method.  The road surface in the cut is quite smooth, so there are patches without any points in the point cloud.  These show up as gaps in the surface.  There are also some very rough areas of terrain on the same size scale as the mesh spacing in the surface.  This caused issues as well.  All in all, though, it’s a neat technique.

But the flight at the Kiholo Bay Inlet has been the most instructive of all.  Because of the sparse data set, it really pushed the Photosynth algorithm, and indicated some new approaches that would help with making synths from a kite.  When I go back, the plan is to:

  • Get the camera airborne over the water, and walk the length of the pond while pointing it at the far shore.  Take pictures every five seconds to get good overlap between frames.
  • Turn the camera 180 degrees and walk back the other way, taking pictures of the near shore.  Again, take pictures every five seconds to get good overlap between frames.
  • Turn the camera 90 degrees to face down the length of the pond, and tilt it down until the horizon is just out of view.  Walk the length of the pond taking pictures every five seconds.
  • Turn the camera 180 degrees to face back the other way down the length of the pond, and walk back taking pictures every five seconds.

At this point there should be enough images with enough overlap to make very good references for both shores, and enough images to tie the two shores together into a single frame of reference.  From here on out images can be taken to place them inside this frame of reference:

  • Get the camera to a good high altitude over the far shore, 50-100m or so, and begin taking hemispherical panorama sets.  Start at one end of the pond and work toward the far end, moving maybe 10-20m between sets.  This should provide a view in every direction from any point above the pond, and the high altitude should let the straight-down ortho shots tie into the frame of reference we generated above.
  • Make a second pass at a lower altitude with the camera over the near shore.  Similar spacing between hemispherical sets.
  • Finally, switch back to manual control and take detail sets of some of the features at the site (resting turtles, the turtle observation station, various rock features, key features along the shoreline, etc.)

At the end of the day, the pictures need to be culled to remove:

  • Blurries – Photosynth doesn’t work well with them, and they’re no fun to look at.
  • Bad exposures – For the same reasons as above.
  • Frames with more than 50% water in them – This was one of the key issues with my first attempt at this site.  Photosynth doesn’t deal well with water.

Finally, put all the images into Photosynth and see what comes out!

It’s a long process, and the number of images involved can be quite large.  Each set of images for the hemispehrical panoramas is 40 to 48 frames.  Ten spots along the pond can generate almost 500 images.  The two passes will crank that number up to about a thousand.  Throw in the initial framework images, and the total will probably exceed 1500 images.  This is more than I did at Green Sand Beach, by far my largest synth to date, but it should make for a very complete synth of the Kiholo Bay Inlet.

I should have a chance to try this over the weekend, if the weather holds.  Time will tell.

Tom

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

Kiholo Bay Inlet

Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/06/2009

Worldwide KAP Week is over for 2009, but KAP is a year-round activity for me.  The past six months we’ve been plagued with volcanic gasses coming out of the Halemaumau Crater on Kilauea, but a few days ago the tradewinds came back, blew the volcanic plume out to sea, and for the weekend, at least, our sweeping panoramic views were back.  It was a tough call whether to do ground-based photography or to fly a camera, but in the end the kites won.

Unfortunately because we’d had such uncharacteristic wind for such an uncharacteristically long time, the wind models I rely on to decide where to fly were reporting bogus information.  The models predicted 6-8 knot kona winds at my house, whereas I could look outside and clearly see it was blowing 10-12 knot tradewinds.  When technology fails, the eyeball prevails.  I packed my gear and my son and drove down to the coast.

In addition to editing the book for Worldwide KAP Week 2009 and starting work for a book of my own, I’ve also started making some KAP posters.  But in order to print them at the size I would like, I’ve been faced with the resolution limit of my photography.  I’ve been getting my posters printed using the El-Co Color Labs Internet Special.  They use a Durst Theta printer, and print on Fuji papers using Fuji chemistry.  A quick word about digital printing:  There are two basic ways to make a digital print.  One is to use a transfered medium, like a dye sublimation process, or an inkjet process.  The other is to take a photographic paper and to expose it to light.  Each has its own advantages, but I like the second for the bulk of the photo work I do.  The Durst Theta printers expose photographic paper to light, and then develop the paper the same way a film-based photo lab would.  The result truly is a photographic print.

But resolution is the key.  The Durst Theta can print at up to 254 dpi.  At 24×30″ that’s an image 6096×7620 pixels, or a 44 megapixel image.  I’ve made prints at resolutions as low as 150 dpi on a Durst Theta printer, but I prefer not to go below 200 dpi.  For this set of posters 200 dpi is my lowest resolution.  This is still a huge image, and the bulk of the pictures I have on file simply aren’t up to the task.

This has driven me to re-visit sites where I’ve been able to make good photos, but without the resolution necessary to print.  So I was overjoyed when driving down the coast to find that the wind at Kiholo Bay was a nice 7.4 knot on-shore.  Perfect.

Kiholo Bay has a fantastic reef, and is an outstanding place to do snorkeling and SCUBA.  There’s a good dirt road that will take you all the way to the water’s edge, so there’s no great hardship to get there.  It’s a popular spot, but not so overcrowded as, say, Hapuna Beach.  But if you’re willing to go a little further and work a little harder, Kiholo Bay has a feature that’s not to be found anywhere else in the Islands: the inlet at Kiholo Bay.

Wainanali`i Pond

There are two approaches to the inlet.  One is around the water’s edge from the park at Kiholo Bay.  The other is to park off the side of the highway, a little more than half a mile away.  The walk across the lava is not bad, but it’s not a traditional trail.  The “trail” is a series of paint splotches on the rocks to tell you vaguely where to go.  But the ground is rough lava.  It’s more than possible to get hurt, and this time I did.  I twisted my ankle.

A Study in Salinity

What makes the inlet special is that it’s a relatively deep patch of water with a very shallow mouth connecting it to the sea.  The level of the pond rises and falls with the tides, but tidal flow causes very little mixing of the water inside the pond.  As a result it is highly stratified, with seawater salinity levels at the surface, and high salinity levels further down.  The salinity at the bottom of the pond can easily be double that at the surface.  Select euryhaline organisms inhabit the higher salinity levels, turning the water its characteristic opaque aquamarine blue, whereas the surface water is all crystal clear.

The shallow mouth and opaque water in the inlet make it the perfect habitat for honu, or Pacific green sea turtles.  The pond is relatively free of predators, so the honu are able to forage in some measure of peace and security.

Flying Solo

The honu swim in the high salinity waters at the bottom of the pond, moving like phantoms through mist.  Every once in a while one will come to the surface for air, slipping into the clear waters above and then descending once more into the obscuring depths.

The arm of land that cuts the inlet off from the sea is mostly composed of rounded rocks rather than the hard lava flow that makes up the opposite shore.  This provides a good spot for honu to come up out of the water to rest and sun themselves.  Honu are protected by law, so people are not supposed to approach or touch them. A 20′ minimum distance is required, but I try to maintain at least 40′ between me and a honu on land.  With the low traffic of humans at the inlet, and the lack of predators, this provides a wonderful spot to study them.

A Study in Turtles

Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA) maintains a remote observation station at the Kiholo Bay Inlet.  The station has had some upgrades since my last visit, and now sports three PV panels, a fixed mount infrared camera, a fixed mount visible camera, a pan tilt zoom camera, and an RF link back to Waimea.  To learn more about this installation and the research program, you can visit:  HPA/NOAA Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program.

But for me, the Kiholo Bay Inlet is simply a beautiful place that I have the privilege of being able to see and photograph.  It’s not the easiest place to get to, and there’s no fresh water or shade to speak of.  But Kiholo Bay isn’t here for us, it’s here for the honu.  I just feel fortunate I get to visit from time to time.

Idyllic

Tom

(Note:  I have been calling the Kiholo Bay Inlet by the wrong name: Wainanalii Pond.  This is how it is commonly labeled on maps, hence my mistake.  But during a conversation with Bobby Camara, he pointed out that the village of Wainanalii is a two hour canoe ride to the north of Kiholo Bay, and that it was destroyed by the same lava flow that created the inlet.)

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Why Take Pictures From A Kite?

Posted by Tom Benedict on 28/05/2009

“Why take pictures from a kite?”

It’s a question I hear fairly often when I try to describe kite aerial photography to someone who’s never seen me at work.  Oddly enough I never get this question when I’m out in the field.  The reason for this, I’m pretty sure, is that once you see it being done the answer is fairly obvious.

Lighthouse from Up High

In short, because I can.  And because it works so very very well.

The related questions, “Why not do it from an airplane?” or “… a helicopter?” or “… a UFO?” also have a pretty short answer:  Because I can’t.  Or at least I choose not to.  For starters, I don’t have access to a UFO (though as it turns out I do.)  By the same token, I don’t have access to an airplane or a helicopter, either.  Sure, I could rent one, but I’m not a pilot.  I could rent a pilot, too, but they cost a lot.  In Hawaii where I live, an hour in a Robinson helicopter that’s had its doors removed, but not its pilot, costs roughly $350.  Not too expensive on the face of it, but it comes with some restrictions.  First, it’s only for one hour.  I regularly leave my KAP rig in the air for hours at a stretch, waiting for just the right light or just the right action.  Next, helicopters and airplanes all have to stay over 1000′ above ground level.  A KAP rig stays less than 500′ above ground level.  The views really are different.  And finally, three hours in a Robinson would pay off all of my KAP gear with change left over for making prints.

Top of the Lighthouse II

The second point in the previous paragraph, the one about viewpoint, is often lost on people.  If some altitude is good, wouldn’t more altitude be better?  If your goal is to look for camouflaged rocket batteries or some other secret military facility, sure.  This is why a great deal of the military’s reconnaisance is done from satellites.  But if the goal is to produce an intriguing photograph, more altitude often spoils the view.  If greater subject distance was always preferable, landscape photographers wouldn’t need wide angle lenses, would they?

Top of the Lighthouse I

Besides, the camera equipment necessary to render fine details from even a thousand feet away is not the most affordable, or even the most portable thing in the world.  I would argue that the previous photograph could not have been produced with a long lens and a longer subject distance.  But even if it could, without a stabilized camera platform and a truly remarkable camera and lens, the level of detail avaialble from such a photograph would not be all that impressive.

Too Close for Comfort!

It’s one thing to stand at the base of a lighthouse and wonder what it looks like on top, and only be able to satisfy your curiosity by driving to an airport, renting a helicopter, convincing the pilot to fly to the lighthouse, and only then find out the answer.  It’s quite another to reach into your backpack, pull out a kite, line, and rig, and by golly find out right then, right there.

Why take pictures from a kite?  Because I can.

Green Sand I

— Tom

The photos used in this post were all taken from a camera suspended from a kite line during World Wide KAP Week 2009.

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