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An introduction to quadcopter-based photospheres from Alaska, Canada and the Western U.S.

Copyright © 2016, Paul LutusMessage Page

Introduction | Highlights

(double-click any word to see its definition)

Click here to skip this introduction and go to the photosphere viewer.

This introduces a large collection of aerial photospheres created using a quadcopter. Each of the images was acquired at an altitude chosen to maximize the beauty or usefulness of the resulting image. The images were created and processed using methods described here.

Some of the images were acquired by launching the quadcopter from the ground, but more were acquired by launching from my boat, in scenes like this:

Launching quadcopter on a windy day

Launching a quadcopter from a boat is a bit tricky. When the wind is blowing, as it often is where I travel, the probability exists that the quadcopter will be blown out of the pilot's control before it's clear of obstacles like the railings and antennas visible in the above image. Then, when it's time to land, I find it's easier to grab it out of the air than try to bring it to a safe landing on the boat's deck. And if anything goes wrong during the flight, if I can't recover control and guide the drone back to the boat, it would certainly be lost in the vasty deep. So far I haven't had any really serious out-of-control events, mostly because I'm rather strict about preflight procedures and I only use fresh batteries.


In my opinion, all the photospheres indexed on the viewer page are interesting and/or beautiful, but to save my visitors' time, I'll highlight some that for one reason or another are standouts:

  • Geographic Harbor 1 came out very well, simply because of a chance convergence of circumstances. I arrived at Geographic Harbor on the Alaska peninsula on a morning with little wind, but with sunlight available to add color and contrast to the landscape, very unusual in a place notorious for high wind and cloudy weather. So I immediately launched my drone and got an image before the conditions changed.
  • Lituya Bay 1 is the 2016 replacement for an earlier, less successful image (Lituya Bay 4) that had been taken on a day with marginal weather conditions. The new image shows the location of a famous earthquake, landslide and tsunami that stripped a hillside of vegetation up to an altitude of 525 meters (1722 feet) (see the bright green, new-growth hillside in the image), an event described here. Taken nearby, Lituya Bay 2 shows how the tsunami stripped the landscape of trees to a substantial height along the edge of the bay.
  • This image of Lituya Bay demonstrates that certain locations cannot be meaningfully photographed or displayed using conventional photographic techniques. It'a hard to imagine an image capture method other than a photosphere that could properly reveal the full environment around this famous site.

  • Long Island 5 is significant because it helped me resolve a boat navigation issue. Modern quadcopters have a GPS receiver to stabilize them, and this means the quadcopter always knows where it is to a high degree of accuracy. My quadcopter adds GPS position information to its image files, and I can later use that position data to correlate images with geographic locations. In this case, for a frequently used but poorly charted passage, I located a safe path into a bay between two obstacles, a passage whose exact position wasn't previously known. To see the safe passage, pan straight down to center on the photosphere's rotation point, which is directly below the drone in the middle of the desired entrance channel.
  • Onion Bay 1 allowed me to revise my hiking route for a mountain climb I make each year in Alaska. The image showed an alternate, easier route that I couldn't see from the boat. This is one of the practical uses for aerial photospheres, apart from their beauty.
  • Apart from being a rather beautiful Alaska image, Bainbridge Island 1 helped me plan a kayak-portage route so I could paddle a fresh-water lake I had always wanted to explore. Until I acquired this photosphere image I had been exploring the terrain in a haphazard way, on foot, often missing alternate routes that are obvious from the air. Looking at the terrain across which I dragged my kayak to get to the lake, readers may understand how I manage to wear out kayaks so quickly.
  • Olga Bay 1. Olga Bay, located at the south end of Kodiak Island, is a wild and interesting place to visit. This image is particularly noteworthy because it shows how one can use a photosphere to locate navigational hazards. There are a number of uncharted hazards near my boat that I hadn't been able to detect in years past (look straight down to see them).
  • I included Kwakume Inlet 1, in British Columbia, in this summary because just once I tried taking an image at sunset. Normally I collect images as close to noon as possible because this maximizes the uniformity of the illumination for all compass headings. But just to see what would happen, I flew at sunset. The illumination is very uneven, with some consequent image artifacts, but it's an interesting photosphere example.
  • Sucia Island 1 was taken at a very popular Washington State park, one I've been visiting for almost 30 years. I've always wanted an aerial image of the park, for a number of practical and aesthetic reasons. I've recently become aware that drone flying in Washington State parks isn't permitted, so at first I reluctantly decided against trying for this image. But then it occurred to me that, if I took the image from the boat rather than the land, I wasn't strictly speaking in the park, but anchored in navigable waters near a park. It's a nice image, one that should increase public awareness of the beauty and fragility of this outstanding state park.
  • Update — September 2015: Readers may want to compare Marrowstone 1, taken with a Phantom 2, with its successor, Marrowstone 2, my first photosphere taken with the new Phantom 3 Professional (4k). The latter image has nearly four times the image detail of the Phantom 2 image (and has a file size roughly four times larger as well).

The above is just a summary of some particularly interesting images from my collection. Click here to browse the complete image index.

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