The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

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Posts Tagged ‘Wind Models’

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

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

The Next Hurdle – Weather

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/05/2010

I finally weighed my new rig.  I was right.  It’s not too much more than my old rig, but it’s still significant.  The camera + batteries + lens hood came in at 405g.  The new rig + batteries + legs came in at 537g.  Total flying weight added up to 942g, a significant bump from the ~850g I used to fly with.  Still, the extra ~90g of weight offers a lot more capability for the kind of shooting I seem to be doing.  Well worth it.

The next hurdle appears to be weather and everything else associated with it.  Last weekend I did get out with my rig, but didn’t get a lot of photography done.  I found nice subjects, but the weather wasn’t cooperative.  Ho hum.

This is nothing new, and this is nothing specific to KAP.  Ask any photographer, and they’ll tell you that as soon as they see a great scene setting up, the light changes.  Or the clouds roll in.  Or the clouds roll out.  Or something happens to make the shot not quite what it could’ve been.

I’m no different.  Last Saturday morning I got out and tried valiantly to out-distance the heavy overcast that was making the skies around Waimea absolute blahsville.  I drove almost an hour out Mana Road, and never got out from under the clouds.  In the end I gave it up as a bad idea and came back with what ground shots I got.  Later that day the family and I took off to photograph the lava flow at Kalapana.  The weather was fantastic, but the lava flow had shifted, and the folks working security moved the barriers back to the point where you couldn’t see anything at all.  We finally called it a day and went back to Hilo to catch dinner before driving home.

But the weather at the house was overcast the whole time, so I can’t say we made a bad call.  Just an uninformed one.  This set me on a mission to find better tools for predicting weather for photography.  So far the best I came across is a site run by the National Weather Service.  It offers a variety of weather maps for the various islands of Hawaii, including one that indicates the extent of the VOG cloud coming out of Halemaumau Crater.  Combined with the wind maps I already rely on for flying kites, this may just be the best guide for where to find photogenic conditions for doing landscape photography on the Big Island.

I should have a good opportunity to test this over the weekend.  My daughters have a social agenda that spans all of Saturday, so my wife offered to run them around, and asked me to take care of my son for the day.  We both looked at each other like we couldn’t believe our good fortune!  My son has been my companion on more photography outings than I can count, and he’s as excited at being able to go somewhere new as I am.  So I’m using the NWS maps, my list of sites I’d like to do photography, and the Mauna Kea Soaring wind maps to plan our day.

Maybe this time we’ll have better luck.  Or maybe this time we’ll plan a head and make a little luck for ourselves in the process!

– Tom

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My First Week with an iPhone

Posted by Tom Benedict on 21/10/2009

I finally broke down and got an iPhone.

To be fair this has been in the works for a while.  I’ve been following the development of the iPhone since the first one came out, and have a theory that it will play a fairly pivotal role in the future of personal computing and computing in general, but that’s a topic for another post.  Some time ago I made a deal with myself that if I could come up with five applications on the iPhone that would significantly change how I do KAP in the field, I would be in the market for one.  That happened a while ago, but I still held out.  When looking at something like this, it’s hard to know if the decision is being made for legitimate reasons, or simply because it’s a cool gadget.  I erred on the side of cool gadget, and waited.  It was finally a combination of three things that convinced me to get one:

  1. I was due for an upgrade on my existing cell pone
  2. The ATT website had refurbished 16GB 3G iPhones listed for $99
  3. One of my co-workers let me play with her iPhone long enough to completely fall in love with it

Ok, so in the end it’s still probably the cool gadget factor that pushed me over the top, but I did have five applications that I will use when I’m out KAPing:

  1. GPS – Prior to this, I was in the market for a small handheld GPS.  I was looking long and hard at the DeLorme PN-40 for some time, but the price tag kept me from taking that plunge.  That the iPhone comes with a GPS that applications can actually access went a long way toward convincing me that this was a viable route.  The performance of the DeLorme likely exceeds what the iPhone will do, but if I was after the ultimate in accuracy I would be looking at the higher end Trimble hardware, all of which is seriously out of my price range.  And from the testing I’ve done the iPhone GPS is plenty accurate for my needs.
  2. Google Earth – When the iPhone first came out, a fellow KAPer named Cris Benton picked one up.  Shortly after, he described a particularly difficult session where he needed to fly over a rail yard in order to get his camera in position over a particular subject.  The rail yard was in use, so there was no way to walk through it.  Instead he pulled up his location on Google Earth, visually determined the direction of the wind, and given his kite’s line angle he calculated how much line he needed to let out to get his camera in the correct position.  It worked like a charm.  With the addition of the integrated GPS in the iPhone 3G, this becomes even easier.
  3. Anemometer – Yes, there is an anemometer for the iPhone.  It’s a $0.99 application, and is limited to a 0-25mph wind range, but at the cost it’s well worth it as a backup for my Kestrel 2000 anemometer.  I have yet to test this in the field, but from what other people have said it’s typically good to +/- 1 knot, and switching units is trivial.  Before trusting it I plan to run it in side-by-side trials against my Kestrel.
  4. Inclinometer – The iPhone 3G has a 3-axis accelerometer built into it.  This has set the stage for a number of apps that replicate the behavior of a carpenter’s bubble level.  But for kiting I was after an inclinometer that would tell me the angle of my kite line.  Turns out there are a whole host of these as well.  The one I got was free off the iPhone App site.
  5. Safari Web Browser – The pre-paid data plan on the iPhone makes using the integrated web browser a real no-brainer.  You can’t rack up data charges by using it, so there’s no reason not to.  Also, since the Safari browser on the iPhone is a full-blown browser, you can hit practically any web site and view it the same way you would on a full-blown computer.  This lets me bring up the local wind forecast while I’m in the field, and to check current conditions at a number of weather stations to see if conditions are changing.  I can also use this to cruise Flickr when I fly at a new location to see if there are any interesting subjects nearby.

In addition, there are a number of non-KAP applications I’m using for other reasons.  The notepad and alarm clock are particularly nice.  The iPhone will also take voice memos, which is great for taking notes while KAPing since writing while managing a radio and kite winder is asking for trouble.  I also installed issh, which is an inexpensive combination ssh, telnet, and VNC client.  I’m no longer in the UNIX sysadmin line of work, but I still do run machines at home and at work.  Now I can get to them from practically anywhere.  I also find I’m using the iPod functionality more than I thought I would, since all my music will fit on my iPhone.  The photo gallery application also makes it easy to pack a large number of KAP images on my iPhone so I can show them to people when they ask what I’m doing. Oh, and it’s also a pretty good phone.

All in all I’m more than pleased with it.  I’ve already taken the small portfolio out of my KAP bag, which saves a fair bit of weight and space.  If the anemometer works out well, I may start keeping my Kestrel at home on longer KAP hikes.  The inclinometer, GPS, Google Earth, and readily available wind forecasts are all new, and I haven’t really had a chance to see how much I will use them, or what effect they will have on my work flow in the field.  But already it’s an improvement.  Can’t beat that.

– Tom

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