Today is the one hundred and sixth anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which “ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time”. One of the iconic images of the city is this:
Taken in May 1906 by George R. Lawrence, the photograph is from a large celluloid-plate film camera, which itself was suspended from a train of kites stabilised by a set of booms- what Lawrence called a “captive airship”.
Lawrence sold prints of this photograph for $125- not less than $3000* in 2010 dollars. He made “at least $15,000” from this one photograph. If you want a closer look, the USGS has a zoomable, reduced-contrast version.
Unsurprisingly, as the centenary came around six years ago, there were attempts to reproduce the iconic shot; two, in fact. The Drachen Foundation, which works with kite photographers, enlisted Scott Haefner and the USGS to take a panorama, flown with a similar kite airship method to Lawrence’s image:
Another group, led by Ron Klein, used a replica camera of the same size and type, but mounted in a helicopter. (As the kite group notes, FAA regulations limit their altitude to 500 feet, while Lawrence’s original was taken from somewhere around 1000 feet, although some sources say it was even higher).
Unsurprisingly, a great deal has changed in the hundred years between the two- the sksyscrapers, the bridges, and Sutro Tower being obvious. On the other hand, while the harbour has changed, the feel of the Embarcadero is remarkably similar.
In any case, these are all fascinating, not just for the depiction of the city, but for the technology - both in terms of aviation and of cameras - involved.
* in purchasing power- more on comparing old currency values at Measuring Worth.
Microsoft Research have been working on Photosynth for ages. If you’ve not heard of it, here’s the Wikipedia cheat sheet:
Photosynth is a software application from Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and a point cloud of a photographed object.
Today saw the launch of an iPhone app building on that research.
It’s not the first stitcher (Autostitch has been available for a couple of years at least), nor is it the first live stitcher (360 and Panoramatic both came out last year, I think), but it is notable for being free (unlike the three previously mentioned apps), and for having a particularly slick UI.
When taking a panorama with Photosynth, after taking the first shot (by simply tapping the screen), any movement of the phone/camera is reflected on screen. Once the centre of the image (represented by a green dot) gets outside the dotted line marking the edge of the panorama, a new shot is taken, extending it outwards. This continues until you mark the stitch as done.
Then there’s a short wait while the final image is rendered (and saved to the camera roll, although there’s no notification of this). While that’s happening, you can edit a title, but not description, let alone tags. Oddly, you can “add nearby businesses”. Once it’s complete, you can share to Facebook, Photosynth or Bing. Sadly, email, Flickr and Twitter are missing- but then there is a copy you can work with.
Generally, this is very good for a version one. Although I had one crash while stitching, the image was saved anyway. I miss the option that 360 offers of stitching to a white (rather than black) background, and more share options would be nice. I also suspect I take better source photographs when I’m shooting individual photos, but a bit of patience would fix that. Overall, it’s definitely worth downloading and playing with.