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Oculus Rift Licenses Panos

Glasgow CathedralI received a pleasant but unexpected message from 360Cities last week, 3 of my panoramas were included in a set of 200 panoramas licensed to Oculus Rift to demonstrate their virtual reality head display. The panoramas chosen were Super Tree Grove in Singapore, Glasgow University Undercroft, and Glasgow Cathedral at Night (shown). I look forward to being able to view spherical panoramas in a fully immersive manner.

Here is a video of John Carmack talking about Oculus Rift and panoramas from 360Cities.

The Kelpies, Falkirk

KelpiesThe Kelpies is a sculpture by Andy Scott and is situated in the Helix Project in Falkirk. I was fortunate to catch them on a reasonably cloudless day, though some cloud cover on the horizon spoiled a promising sunset.

The site is a bit awkwardly located, there is a motorway on one side and powerlines on the other so finding a direction to avoid these background distractions is challenging. For a spherical panorama, the only thing you can do is pick a position that hides any unsightly views and accentuates elements of interest.

Here, I chose a spot in between the two massive horse heads next to the canal lock. There were some rays of the setting sun to outline one head and bath the other in a warm glow.

Rising Tides…

Another photokina is upon us and it is a good time to reflect upon the state of photography. It has never been a better time to be a photographer with the range and quality of imaging potential available. Advances in sensor technology, memory, processing, miniaturization, and connectivity has led to marvels of engineering only dreamt about 20 years ago. Yet the constant background whine continues, such and such manufacturer hasn’t given me my perfect camera and lenses and an unrealistically inexpensive price, yesterday.

The trends are towards better image quality, we’ve seen a new crop of larger sensor cameras (1″ and up) entering the compact digicam arena. I find a mobile phone great for documenting various things like receipts but useless for taking proper photos so having near DSLR quality in a compact camera is a boon.

The 4K video drive is also leading to some knock-on benefits for still imaging. Fast sensor readout and data handling gives more flexible shooting modes including exposure without mechanical shutters, albeit with rolling shutter. Global shutter for consumer still cameras will eliminate all mechanical vibration and simplify camera construction.

Advanced pixel architectures incorporating phase detect AF, wide dynamic range, backside illumination, improved microlenses, etc. will lead to better performing cameras. The first APS-C BSI camera has arrived in the form of the NX-1. Canon’s dual pixel AF is in its second generation. There are many wide dynamic range technologies in the development pipeline from many imager manufacturers.

The increasing penetration of 4K displays expands the possibilities for viewing photos in all their glory. It’s not just video that benefits. It also will emphasise the important of good image quality. In the end, it still boils down to the photographer to create compelling images. But with the tools available, there are fewer excuses for not being able to.

The Big G

UCommonwealthGamesRings_lpnfortunately I won’t be around for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow but I have seen the buildup around the city including this sculpture appearing in George Square. It is a popular site for tourists to snap a photo in front of, so I had to pick my timing to avoid a crowd in order to take a pano.

Editor’s Pick at 360Cities

Chantry_lpMy pano of the Cantilupe Chantry in Lincoln Cathedral was made an Editor’s Pick at The sculpture featured in the chantry is by Aidan Hart.

Technical details (for those who care about such things): NEX-7 + 8mm/2.8 Samyang Fisheye. Shot at f/5.6 ISO100, various shutter speeds using my battered by trusty Nodal Ninja 3 panohead. I took a standard set of exposures as well as some at -3EV  to capture the stained glass.

The raw files were imported into Lightroom and exported as TIFs for assembly in Hugin. After assembly, I produced three sets of complete panos each optimised for shadow, mid and highlight detail. I ran these through Enfuse to produce an exposure blended photo after which some minor tweaking was done to the brightness curve, colours, and sharpness.

Lincoln Cathedral and Tripods

Taken handheld, NEX-7 with 35mm/1.8 ISO100 F3.5 1/20th. This was a grab shot. If I had not been on my way somewhere, I’d have taken the time to set up my tripod and use a smaller aperture and perhaps bracketed exposures. I was fortunate that the image stabilisation kept the image sharp, and that the NEX-7 sensor has excellent dynamic range so is able to capture the highlights in the stain glass as well as the shadow detail.

I had the pleasure of visiting Lincoln Cathedral over the weekend and was very pleasantly surprised by their very photographer friendly attitude towards tripods. When I asked the guide whether they were allowed the response was, “of course”. There were no restrictions and I spent quite some time taking panoramas of various parts of the building.

However, I was the only person to be using a tripod. There were many taking handheld shots with a myriad of cameras ranging from phones, compact cameras, a few mirrorless and quite a few DSLRs. The lighting could be best described as subdued so I cannot image their photos were able to do justice to the magnificent architecture. Unfortunately the weather outside was overcast so I did not bother to gather external shots, that will have to wait for a return visit when the weather is better.

There are so many beautiful places and buildings with photography restrictions, tripod bans being a particularly significant one. Whether it is due to a perceived commercial threat  from professional photographers, or overly paranoid health and safety grounds, such bans are counterproductive by discouraging the very enthusiasts who will promote the sights with quality imagery around the web. The experience from Lincoln is that there were absolutely no issues with tripods getting in the way. Commonsense is really all that is needed to prevent them being a problem. Much as I espouse tripod use for getting better photographs, the majority of photographers will not use them.

So I heartily recommend Lincoln Cathedral as a wonderful place to visit, even if you are not a photographer. They deserve your support for their enlightened policy towards photography. You should also try to catch Evensong to sample the wonderful acoustic.

ISPA2014 Street Photo Awards

Grand Place, BrusselsThis year’s International Street Photo Awards has closed for judging. Associated with this is the Street Photo of the Year competition where the public gets to vote for their favourite photo. There are over 500 photos to peruse and they represent the gamut of what constitutes street photography. Some choose to work in monochrome, other in colour. Some are snapshots, others considered compositions. Some have people in them, others are bare with only the implied presence of humanity. It demonstrates the futility of trying to find a unique definition of street photography bringing to mind the saying, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”

I certainly have my own preferences, but the my overriding consideration is that the photo be of something, rather than a random photo taken in public. The photo should not just be about technique, or a cliche (unless it transcends it). On the latter point, it is instructive to look through the entries and judge for yourself whether a photo is simply a cliche or says more than that. There were attempts to emulate Martin Parr or Bruce Gilden that were not terribly successful. There were many photos of reflection overlaying different scenes into a confusion mess with little to say other than this is a photo of reflections.

I went through all 521 entries and marked them either a Yes or a No. In the end I selected the minimum number of 50 Yes votes and the rest were marked No. In my Yes pile, there were a mix of colour and monochrome, documentary and candid, day and night, silhouette and front-lit, action and still. It’s this variety that keeps the format fresh and interesting.