Public Lab Research note

Pole photography on a small neighborhood creek

by kanarinka | November 12, 2013 12:09 | 148 views | 11 comments | #9770 | 148 views | 11 comments | #9770 12 Nov 12:09

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I'm doing a research project on a small, unnamed creek in my neighborhood for a sensors class. For the project, I'm putting sensors in the creek (light levels, temperature, Ph Probe, water depth, and even a microphone which will stream live sound over the Internet) and creating a networked visualization of the current status of the creek that neighbors can tune into from afar.

My idea for the web visualization is to use pole photography as the central interactive element so that people had a "new" view of the creek in their neighborhood. I want them to be able to zoom in and out of hi resolution imagery but also get an overall sense of the creek's extent and, additionally, make the case for this little bitty creek being pretty important in the overall scheme of things.

The file you see above is a Deep Zoom export from Microsoft ICE. Click on the zoom buttons to see more detail.

Pole Photography Test

I asked around the Public Lab community for how people have done pole photography in the past and what the workflow is like for capturing and stitching images. Liz Barry, Chris Fastie and Gerard Toomstra had some helpful advice and links to prior work. Notably, Chris' garden map was very similar and gave me the idea of using a fishing pole for a lightweight but tall pole.

I rigged up my Sony Nex-5N camera this weekend to an 8-foot fishing pole using some of the rubber bands and carabiners from my balloon mapping kit. I walked next to the creek for a distance of about 100 feet trying to keep the camera at about the same altitude. Unfortunately my camera shoots REALLY FAST in continuous shooting mode so I captured way more images than I really wanted.

For post-production I downloaded all the images and discarded the blurry ones (about 60-70% of them, very painstaking). I tried aligning a few myself with Photoshop (ouch, slow and difficult to do manually) and then quickly moved to test Microsoft ICE which had been recommended by a couple people. Microsoft ICE worked pretty awesomely although it is a huge memory hog and I had to delete about 16GB of files from my computer to get the image exported properly.

Questions and next steps

This was a great test and I'll probably use this image for my class visualization. I wish the light weren't so uneven but this is workable for a prototype. In the future, I'm hoping to have a neighborhood event with kids and parents where we walk the whole creek, do pole photography on the entirety (probably about a 1/4 - 1/2 mile), make observations and collect water samples to test.

  • Is there a program that will detect blurriness in images and flag them or delete them somehow?
  • Is there any relatively easy way to add geodata to this map? It is not essential that it be georeferenced but it would be nice. I can supply the lat/long coordinates but it seemed like adding that data to the images is non-trivial.
  • Anyone know of good examples of using an aerial image as an interface for exploring environmental data? I'm going to be adding the live, networked sensor outputs to the zooming visualization above along with some sound so that people can "tune in" to the creek and hear what's going on there.


Wow, that's an amazing map!

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Nice work. I'm looking into using VisualSFM to create orthorectified images. They recently added some new geo-referencing features but I haven't had a chance to check them out. Typically you either need the coordinates of the camera (hang a GPS next to the camera) or coordinates for specific features on the ground that can be identified in the photos. If I manage to get VisualSFM to output ortho -images I'll post a research note. As far as using aerial images as in interface for exploring data there are a some options. One is to use a GIS. QGIS has an eVis plugin that allows users to click on points/features and have a photo or other media like graphs, video, audio pop up. You can also create similar interactives. using Google Earth.

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This is a great map. Congrats on the success and especially on getting out to do a trial run.

  • To sort photos by blurriness, sort the jpegs by file size. The blurry ones are smaller because they are easier to compress. Jeff made a web site that does this (URL?).
  • You can use MapKnitter to crudely georeference the map. Upload it to MapKnitter and align it with the base map. MapKnitter has a 10 MB file upload limit, so you might have to cut your map into smaller pieces and upload and align separately. Then export as geotiff.
  • To improve the result on the next outing:
    • The Nex 5N has shutter priority mode. Set it to about 1/300 second or faster.
    • Raise the ISO before you lower the shutter speed. That nice sensor will make good images even at ISO 400 (but better at ISO 200)
    • The Nex 5N has a potential hack for interval shooting. This is a long shot, but it might be worth trying:
      • Under "Continuous shooting" select "Continuous shooting." Under "Drive mode" select "10 sec 3 or 5 images" (this waits 10 seconds and then takes 3 photos.) If that doesn't work, select "Continuous shooting" and also "Self timer" (can be set to either 2 or 10 seconds).
    • The Nex 5N has image stabilization. Results might be better with this turned off. It is not designed for fishing poles.
    • If the entire stream is not in the sun all at once, shoot your photos at different times so they are all in the sun (nobody will know).

The Nex 5N has an infrared sensor for remote triggering. If the interval shooting hack above does not work, you can buy (or build) a device that blinks (in the correct pattern) an infrared LED every 10 seconds and mount it in front of the sensor. Commercial versions that work with the Nex 5N are $50 to $80: GentLED and Tempus. However, a $10 remote will probably work 10 feet away, so you can just trigger the camera manually from the ground. Maybe hold the remote between your teeth.

The detail in the map allows the trees growing along the stream to be identified as weeping willow, white oak, sugar maple, and beech. Next time I expect to be able to identify the grasses.

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Terrific map. Good tips in all the other comments.

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I love the map, and your rig! nice!

Ned was pointing to visualSFM. I haven't played with it yet myself, but Gerard Toonstra on the grassroots mapping list has started making video walkthroughs of his process, which involves MS ICE.

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions - these are great tips and I will employ them in the next round of creek photography. In particular I like the suggestion of holding an infrared remote between my teeth to trigger camera shots. It is starting to approach performance art (which i like) :D

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Hi all,

its teh first time I post here and I am thinking about shooting with a balloon over the coast line here in Melbourne. The idea is first do it locally (since I live close to the water) and then go to dif cities in around Victoria). I am planning to shoot with a a sony rx-100 mII attached to a balloon.. which takes me straight to my question: Is there a way to use some settings or some sort of wireless remote control with this camera? Thanks Marcelo

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Marcelo, I thought Kanarinka was brave to put her Sony Nex 5N on a pole, but threatening to put a new US$750 Sony RX100 II on a balloon goes beyond courage.

The RX100 II has the same features as the Nex 5N, so you can try the "Continuous shooting" hack described above. Let us know if it doesn't work so I can stop recommending it.

The RX100 also has two other features:

With this setup you could be the envy of the balloon mapping community.

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Hi cfastie, thanks for your answer. I know it sounds crazy but I am planning to use the balloon close to the ground at around 10mt high at the beginning. If everything goes ok I can increment the high and keep testing. I've been using my smartphone paired with my camera and it's really basic but it works but I am not sure what is the coverage range of the WiFi. Do you know what's the max distance I can control my camera with my phone from? I know that if I stick to ten meters it's going to be ok (perhaps) but what about 50mt? Thanks Marcelo

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I don't know what the range of your WiFi setup is, but I guess all you need to find out is a tape measure. Have you been triggering the RX100 with your phone? You should describe how you did it in a research note. Others would be very interested.

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Hi I triggered the rx100 mII that comes with WiFi and the play memories app from Sony in my android smartphone. It's pretty straightforward, one just has to pair the camera to the phone and that's it. But it only gives you very basic functionality... The idea is to use the balloon not too high so I can use the WiFi and this app. I am gonna make a test to see what the coverage range is for the WiFi in the camera and that's going to be the maximum altitude

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