Dr. Matt Nolan
Since 2007, I have increasingly become interested in and fascinated by using high-end photography to document my field activities for scientific and outreach purposes. In particular, I have been exploring uses of spherical panoramic photography, gigapixel panoramic photography and aerial photography. My work is finding its way into a variety of interesting venues including museums, the White House, movies, and many different print publications.
This page contains some examples from my 2008 work, I still have not comprehensively organized my photography prior to 2009; follow the links at left to see imagery from other years.
Here are two examples of spherical panoramas, embedded into this web page. It requires Flash Player, so if you do not have it, you will be prompted to install it; it takes only a few minutes to install and something like 98% of personal computers have it installed already. Using your mouse, you can click and drag the photo up-down and left-right and using a scroll wheel you can zoom in-out. You can also use the arrow keys or the on-screen controls (click "Show Controls" if they are not visible). As you spin, you will see a map on the lower left indicate which direction you are looking and which other panoramas are nearby (show controls and look for a tab in the lower left if it is not visible; zoom out in the map if no base map is seen). Within the image, you may also see arrows which hyperlink you to other panoramas nearby. Click on the "Fullscreen" link to expand image size.
Most of my spherical panoramas are created using a fish eye lens and a Nikon D-SLR camera (mostly I use a D-300 with Nikkor 10.5mm lens). I take six shots around, and then tilt the camera up and down to fill the remaining holes there. I then "stitch" these images together digitally to create a seamless mosaic. To learn more about spherical panoramic photography, there are many tutorials on-line, just search for them. I use PTgui software, which I highly recommend and believe to be the best panoramic stitching software available.
I post most of my spherical panoramic photographs on www.360cities.net. You can find my photos organized here by location and organized here sorted by upload date. I first started taking these in 2007, but my technique improved substantially in 2008. (Note: these pages are better viewed in Firefox rather than Internet Explorer). You can find these panoramas in Google Earth as well -- just open the "Gallery" folder in the lower left tab and check the "360cities" box, then fly up to Arctic Alaska.
My gigapixel images are similar to spherical panoramas in that they are created by digitally stitching images together. Most of mine are composed of 300 to 500 separate images. "Gigapixel" means 1000 Megapixel. For example, your typical point and shoot camera has 3 megapixels, meaning there are 3,000,000 pixels. A 3 gigapixel image (like the ones below) has 1000 more pixels than this, or 3,000,000,000, which provides for substantially higher resolution for the same field of view. (Note that the number of pixels does not determine resolution, it's really the field of view divided by the number of pixels that determines (angular) resolution).
Most of my gigapixel images from 2008 were created with a Nikon D-300 and either the Nikkor 18-200mm or Nikkor 105mm lens. Below are the images I have stitched together thus far from 2008; I have another dozen or so to finish. These are still drafts basically, needing some final tweaks in web color management and contrast. Here are the ones I created in 2007, the first field season I tried this technique and they suffer from some acquisition errors, as well as some color balance errors due to their not being color managed for internet presentation.
Click on the thumbnail images below to see them at full resolution (sorry, only works on Windows PCs right now, but a new cross-platform version is out and I will update soon. What I really want is a web site like 360cities to upload these too...).
As a glaciologist, one of the things I am interested in is tracking changes in glaciers over time. One of the best means to do this is by photographing them from the air. I use several Nikon D-SLRs for this, but have lately begun returning to film due to the larger fields of view possible for a given focal length. (Note the larger film does not necessarily improve angular resolution over digital, but allows for a much larger field of view for the same focal length lens, which results in getting about the same level of detail but with much larger coverage). I have a Linhof Aerotechnika and Fairchild K-17. These are large format film cameras, taking negatives that are 4"x5" and 9"x9" respectively. The equivalent digital cameras would have to have at least 200 Megapixels or 800 Megapixels respectively, and these do not currently exist. You can find some air photos from a recon trip in April 2008 here; I literally have thousands more, but have not found a convenient means of archiving and displaying them yet. I have a proposal pending that might solve that, for everyone. One of our goals for 2009 is to create a photographic inventory of all glaciers in Arctic Alaska.
In 2008, I kept a comprehensive blog about our IPY research. We spent about 5 months in the Alaskan Arctic studying glacier change and its relationship to the environment. This blog incorporates many spherical panoramas, gigapixel images, and aerial photographs. I hope that non-scientists will find it a useful tool for both learning about glaciers and about glacier science. I often refer scientists and collaborators to a section of it when they have questions about our drilling efforts, the glacier, etc. Please feel to share the link with anyone you think may find value in it.
Another reason for posting these images and this blog was to encourage others to follow suit and share their field work and studies in a similar way. The photography techniques do take some time to figure out and get good at, but I have found the investment worthwhile.
(c) 2010 Matt Nolan.