Zenfolio | Richard Kaufmann | Droning On...

Droning On...

August 12, 2015  •  2 Comments

I admit it.  I have a drone.  (To the theme song from Cops, "Bad Drone, Bad Drone, Whatcha Gonna Do, ...")  I do try and be a nice drone guy, e.g. staying away from people, animals, not invading privacy, ...  But I do love using the drone to take aerial pictures.

Here's one image:

BH 4 5 6 Merge-2Bearded Hollow, Washington State (near Long Beach WA)

The resolution, focus, etc., is actually pretty decent.  Did I lift a big heavy camera?  Nope...  The image above is a panorama stitched together from three video captures!  OK, it's 4K video (four times the resolution of 1080P "HD" video).  Some technology helped:

  1. The camera is a GoPro Hero4 Black.  It shoots "pretty good" quality 4K video at 30 frames per second.  "Pretty good" is relative – a $5,000 professional 4K video camera would do a better job, but compared to most anything else it's "freaking fantastic."
  2. The camera is mounted on a two-axis gimbal.  This is a gizmo that uses accelerometers and motors to keep the camera stable with respect to roll (tilting forwards or backwards) or pitch (left to right).  Yaw is fixed.
  3. The gimbal is attached to a 3dr Iris+ UAV ("drone" for short:-))

The camera controls are primitive on my setup.  Turn the camera on, press the record button, go for a flight, land it, turn record off, turn the camera off.  I do have an "FPV" system ("First Person Video") that lets me see from the ground what the camera sees from the air.  So the trick is to zoom around while the always-on camera shoots interesting stuff.  If you think you're in an interesting spot, hold the drone in one position (in my case by turning on "loiter" mode, which uses GPS and accelerometers to keep the drone over one spot) and "spin" the drone by controlling yaw in discrete steps.  That way you'll get a few seconds of stable video pointed to cover each part of a panorama.

The image was stitched together in Photoshop CS 2015 in Photomerge, with a little bit of massaging.  (Often you'll rebuild a piece of the sky to block out a propeller.)  The steps:

  1. Play the video in Quicktime.  Pause at a frame that would make a good part of a panorama.
  2. "Copy" to place the still image into the Mac's clipoard.
  3. Go into Photoshop.
  4. File-New.  Photoshop notices the image in the clipboard, and sets the image size to the size of the clipboard.  (Very civil of it, no?)
  5. "Paste"
  6. Maybe a little "Smart sharpen"  (Don't do too much yet!)
  7. Repeat Steps 1-6 for the other components of the panorama.
  8. Go into Photomerge and put the images together
  9. Spend about 20 minutes getting rid of stitching idiosyncrasies.  These include moving objects that get duplicated (if they move in the same direction as the camera), and (arghh!) waves that need to be blended together.
  10. Bring the image back into Lightroom to put it into the database.

(There may be a better way to do the above, do let me know!)

Note: if you'd like a full-resolution copy of this or any other drone image, just contact me or leave a comment.  Happy to send it to you.  (I don't have a commercial UAV license, so I won't ever use an image for commercial purposes.)

More drone shots here... 

Finally, here's a great picture of my little miscreant, taken by a friend (I was busy playing pilot):

Drone ShotIris+Picture courtesy C. Bradshaw (photo courtesy C. Bradshaw)


Richard Kaufmann
I changed the permissions on the "drone shots" folder so downloads are allowed. Enjoy.
Richard Kaufmann
If you notice that some of the images in the gallery have straight horizons, and some don't -- check out my "give a man a fish" blog post.
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