Plotagraph of White Island, New Zealand

Another plotagraph from White Island in New Zealand (see my other plotagraphs). I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot and have many cool adventures, but flying to White Island in a helicopter is right up there with my very best travel experiences. It’s an island off the north coast of New Zealand which is an active volcano. About a quarter of the cone is blown out from a previous eruption which makes it look very dramatic. You fly in and land in the crater, and get to walk around for an hour or so before flying back. It is expensive but well worth it. We went with Frontier Helicopters from Whakatane, which was a fair bit less expensive than flying from Rotorua, which is the other option.

White Island 2 (640px, 30fps)
Click on the image for a larger version

This photo was taken from the front seat of a fast moving helicopter – it was tricky to get a full view of it through the window. Here is the original still image prior to processing with plotagraph

White Island 2

An interesting thing about this image is that my original photo was quite tightly cropped on the right hand side, so I expanded the image slightly using Photoshop’s content aware fill, which is a trick I learned relatively recently.

This is the original image, before expanding it on the right hand side, and before final enhancements in Photoshop:

P1360257I will post more pictures and details about White Island in a future post, but in the mean time you can see a few more photos in this Facebook album.

Photo: Rio at night

Today’s featured photo is a picture of Rio at night, taken from Sugarloaf Mountain, Pão de Açúcar, which provides iconic views over the city.

Rio at night

It is known for great sunset views, but unfortunately the evening we went up there was no real sunset, and a lot of cloud cover which hid the tops of the mountains and the statue of Christ, Cristo Redentor. We decided to wait up there until it became dark, and were rewarded by the clouds clearing enough to get a great view – just another example of the fact that patience and timing are essential to getting good landscape and cityscape shots.

One practical tip if you are going to Sugarloaf is that the lines for the cable car (bondinho) can be quite long, but you can book tickets online (for a specified time) which should speed things up – we didn’t do this. Either way, if you are going there for sunset, allow some extra time for standing in lines, both at the bottom and half way up, where you stop at the lower mountain, Morro da Urca, and have to catch a second cable car.

When we were there, about a month before the start of the Olympics, there were actually very few places at the top of Sugarloaf with a view towards the city like this – it seemed as though they were doing lots of remodeling up there, presumably because of the Olympics. In fact the only place I found to get this view was right by the top of the cable car, a spot where at most two people can fit at once. Paula and I are standing there in this selfie, which obviously we took a bit earlier, before dark – and you can see the clouds covering Cristo here.

Pete and Paula in Rio

Later on there was quite a line of people waiting to take photos here, so I had to be patient and wait a while, and then be fairly quick taking the picture when I got to the front and had my turn. I needed to use a tripod of course for a night shot like this – I used a 1 second exposure and ISO 400. There was no room to stand the tripod normally, so I used it with the legs as short as possible – it’s a pretty compact tripod, and had to perch it rather precariously on the corner of the railings that you can see here, holding onto it while I shot, which was not ideal.

I took this shot with my newest lens, which is a wide angle fisheye lens by Rokinon. It has a focal length of 7.5mm, which on my micro four thirds LUMIX GX8 camera translates to a 15mm equivalent on a full frame camera. I’ve been really pleased with a number of the pictures I’ve got with it – it’s great for these sort of wide cityscapes.

Rokinon lens

Its maximum aperture of f/3.5mm is not super fast, but that’s not too important for landscape and cityscape photography which is where I mainly use this. An interesting thing about this lens is that it is fully manual. You have to focus manually, and change the aperture manually by turning the aperture ring on the lens – the camera can’t set the aperture on the lens. The camera can’t even read the aperture to record what was used in the EXIF information stored on the photo – you just see the shutter speed and ISO, but no aperture value. But on the positive side, its optics are excellent and it is much cheaper than similar lenses that aren’t manual. Panasonic has a 7-14mm zoom lens that costs around $800, for example, while I paid around $250 for this. The manual focus is not nearly such an issue as you might think, as the depth of field is so large on a lens with such a wide angle that you can just set the focus to infinity and not worry about it. At the widest aperture of f/3.5, everything should be sharp from 3.5 feet away to infinity, and stopping down slightly to f/5.6, everything is sharp from 2.5 feet away.

You do get some distortion with a fish eye lens, which can be an issue in some situations but not in others. You can correct the distortion to varying extents with post processing, but generally at a cost of losing some of the outer edge of the image. And the distortion bothers some people more than others – in a lot of situations I’ve liked the images I got just fine, without doing any correction. Over time I’ll post more fisheye images I’ve taken so you can see for yourself what you think – click here for more.

A good technique with the fisheye in a lot of cases is to centre the horizon in the image when you take it, then the horizon will be straight, whereas it will be curved if it is above or below the center. I didn’t manage to do that in this case, probably because of the situation of being rushed and also having to balance the tripod precariously so it was hard to set up as carefully as usual. So here the horizon curves down at the edges but I still think it looks good – I don’t particularly have an urge to correct it, though I suppose I could!

Actually I just decided to do a quick lens correction in Lightroom, which is the simplest (but not the only) way to reduce the distortion. After that, the image looks like this (this version is also missing a few final tweaks I did to the one above in Photoshop):

Rio at night distortion correction.jpg

You can see that the horizon is flatter, especially on the right side of the image, but also items near the edge are stretched. So the lights on the shore at the right hand side of the image are much wider and more spaced out than the ones in the middle, and we’ve lost about half of the lights that we originally had there. I like the look of those lights much better in the top image – the three groups of shore lights across the image match better, and I think the image has a better balance. I could use warp tools or other techniques, but overall I like how the original image looks, so I’m happy to leave this one uncorrected.

I didn’t do much other work on this image, just a bit of minor tweaking of tone and colors in Lightroom and a little sharpening with a high pass filter in Photoshop, which also intensifies the lights a little. I’ll talk more about the sort of post-processing I do in other posts, I think that is enough for now!

A portrait plotagraph

I am continuing to explore Plotagraph Pro and push the boundaries of what I can do with it (see my previous plotagraph posts). Up to this point all my source material has been nature photographs – mainly landscapes, a couple of cityscapes, and some wildlife with appropriate natural backgrounds. Today’s source material is a portrait of my lovely partner Paula that I took in Sevilla a few years ago. The main animation on her dress came out quite well I thought. There’s a little animation in her hair too, again just to test what’s possible. It’s hard to see on the smaller image inline, but if you click on that you can view a larger image where you should be able to see it.

Paula Sevilla 2 (640px, 30fps)

Here’s the original image for comparison (as always the plotagraph was:produced from a single static image):

Paula Sevilla cropped copy

And here’s the original original before I cropped it for this exercise, just because I think it’s also a cool photo :). This was taken at the entrance to the beautiful Palacio Villapanés hotel where we stayed in Sevilla, which I would highly recommend!

Paula Sevilla

Plotagraph of Milford Sound after a storm

I am continuing to enjoy playing with plotagraph to create animations from single images. Today’s example is of Milford Sound, New Zealand, after one of the typical heavy storms that you get there, which cause the waterfalls to go crazy! The plotagraph really conveys how the waterfall looked at the time – and the moving clouds add drama.

Click on the image to see a higher resolution version (it looks much better larger!).

Milford Sound Waterfall 3 (640px, 30fps)

Here is a video version, which may play more smoothly depending on your system.

Here is the original static image:

Milford Sound waterfall 3

See all my plotagraph posts.


Plotagraph of Jökulsárlón beach at sunset

Here is my plotagraph of the day – for more info on plotagraphs see my previous posts. A fellow photographer in a Facebook discussion asked whether I thought that any of the plotagraphs I’d done were better than the original picture, and I think that this one is the one where I can most clearly say yes to that. It was taken on Jökulsárlón beach in Iceland at sunset. I think that the power of the waves is much better conveyed in the moving image. As with other images I’ve created, I’m very impressed with the looping effect – this is a wave that never dies! What do you think?

Jokulsarlon beach 1 (640px, 30fps)

Here is the original still image that this was created from:

Jok beach wave 1

More plotagraphs

So having done my first plotagraph earlier, I’ve been playing around some more to try different types of picture and see what works well and what doesn’t. I still haven’t decided whether it’s a short term novelty or something that will last, but it’s certainly a fun tool to play around with and you can produce some very impressive effects with it. Read my previous post for more info, but each of the animations here was produced from a single still image.

Some of the obvious things to try to animate include clouds, fire, rivers and waterfalls, and I have some initial examples of each of these, some good and some not so good, to give an idea of scenarios that work well and not so well.

Here is a more cheerful and sunny cloud example than my previous apocalyptic one! This is Cushman Lake near Telluride. I was able to make the reflected clouds in the lake match the movement of the clouds in the sky. This was pretty quick and easy to do, and I think it came out nicely – I find it quite tranquil and soothing.

Cushman Lake summer (640px, 30fps)

The next example is a fun fire one – this is me and Paula at a New Year’s Eve bonfire in Reykjavik. I think that the flame, smoke and sparks are all handled pretty well.

Pete Paula bonfire (640px, 30fps)

Next a water example which I think works pretty well, featuring a mother duck and her eight ducklings. This fairly subtle but I again find it quite soothing.

Ducks (640px, 30fps)

Here’s one of a heron fishing which also works pretty well. When herons are fishing like this they do stand absolutely still, so this is relatively lifelike!

Heron (640px, 30fps)

Lastly, a wildlife in the river one that doesn’t work so well – this is a bear in Waterton Canyon, just outside Denver. Here there are rocks visible beneath the surface of the water, so the flow doesn’t look so natural. Perhaps this is just stating the obvious, but something to watch out for if you’re looking for an image that will make a good plotagraph.

Bear (640px, 30fps)

Now onto waterfalls. This first one I really like – it’s Bear Creek Falls in Telluride. It was some work to get the masking areas right, where there is motion, but they were well enough defined that I think the effect is good. You get the nice smooth water effect from the long exposure of the original photo, plus a nice flow effect – I think it would be hard to get this combination by other means.

Bear Creek Falls (640px, 30fps)

This next one is also at Bear Creek Falls and is pretty nice, but not quite as good I don’t think. There are a couple of spots where there’s more rock and less water where the flow looks a little off, and it was a bit harder to get the edge of the water defined. But still not too bad.

Bear Creek Falls sunstar (640px, 30fps)

The last waterfall example is Sjellalandsfoss in Iceland. This image has really proved quite tricky to get a nice result with. This is my third attempt and it has improved on the first two. But in a lot of places here it is hard to define a clear boundary to the flowing water. In several places there is a mixture of water and rock, and it’s easy to get an effect where you have a mixture of falling water and rock which doesn’t look good. Then in the lower half of the main fall there’s a lot of solid white and it’s hard to convey motion there.

Sjellalndsfoss (640px, 30fps)

Anyway, hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the sorts of scene that you can animate with Plotagraph. It’s definitely a fun thing to play with!

My first plotagraph

I just created my first plotagraph! This is a new type of animated image that is created from a single static photo, using some (expensive) software called Plotagraph Pro. The effect is similar to a Cinemagraph, which uses video as a source to create a partly dynamic and partly static image. I found out about this from Trey Ratcliff, whose workshop I attended in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and he has some nice examples and explanations here.

Sunset storm over Denver (640px, 30fps) (1)

The nice thing about the plotagraph approach is that it works with any photo you’ve taken. This image of the storm in Denver was one that sprang to my mind as something that would look good as a plotagraph – I rather regretted that I hadn’t taken a timelapse of this scene at the time, but I didn’t start early enough and the weather was getting ugly so I was concerned about leaving my equipment out. Now I have a timelapse like effect from the one image! I also think it’s really cool how the software manages to create a continuous loop effect without an obvious start and end point.

I am sure I can refine the image above as I get to know the software better, but wanted to post my first attempt! Update: see my next post for more cool sample plotagraphs.

Here is the original static image, just for comparison:


Travel better!