On Monday 31 October, Drama students raised money for Children in Need as they paraded around the College’s Halbeath campus to the music of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. They then went into Dunfermline’s Kingsgate Centre to scare shoppers.
I'm particularly happy about finding this spot. On Tyresta's homepage there is a photo from (I suspect) here, showing the two islands that can be seen in the panorama, and I had always wondered where it was taken from but never been able figured it out until now. In this area there are some fairly steep cliffs leading into the water, which made it a good place for set up a hill fort; something the locals did a long time ago in order to have a place to retreat to in times of unrest. I don't know when the fort remnants date from, but it was listed by the government of Sweden in 1668 and is listed as Tyresö 106:1 / Stensjöborg[d].
The fort covers two hilltops - an eastern and a western - with a narrow notch between them. On each side of the notch the hills, which are basically two big, bare rocks, rise near vertically. It is not difficult to imagine that an attacker would have to fight very hard to successfully assault anyone defending the fort. It was this notch that confused me last time. The western hilltop is slightly lower than the eastern, and the line of sight to the water is obscured by trees. I tried to find a spot where I could see the islands from when I was here the first time. No luck. Moving towards the notch I was faced with a steep rock face, which made me conclude that there was no success to be had in that direction. This time, however, I went north and found a place where one could climb up on the eastern hilltop by following the remnants of the defensive wall up the hill.
As the tracklog shows, it is possible to descend the hilltop to the east. One has to zig-zag among sharp drops and leftovers of walls, but it can be done.
The purpose of the forest panorama was to have a photo of nothing much in particular - just compact forest, with no trails or other interruptions. I wanted it to be as close to a representative sample of one of the kind of forest that you find in Tyresta. It also had to be pretty to look at. I finally found this spot that satisfied both requirements.
I shot the panorama hand-held using a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I used 20mm for the horizon, and switched to 10mm for the top and bottom. While shooting hand-held always means more work when stitching, this time it turned out to be a nightmare. While the forest floor worked out all right - more or less, but who will ever see the difference - the part with tree trunks silhouetted against the bright sky turned out to be a lot more difficult. If the details on the forest floor won't line up properly, the image blending will take care of it. There is so much visual noise in the region that the seam line can be hidden well. But the trunks provided a challenge: A straight tree trunk that suddenly veers off in another direction, or one where the trunk abruptly shifts to one side; those are elements that jump out at the viewer.
The panorama was finished with a couple of hours in Photoshop. Patches were copied, stretched and distorted to cover up the stitching errors. Would a panoramic tripod head have made it easier? Undoubtedly. But the tops of the trees were swaying in the wind, so even if I had carried my Nodal Ninja Mk. III it would have come down to 'shopping.
This is one of the few photos that I've shot RAW[j]. In this case not for the dynamic range, but for the flexible white balance. I realized that I'd need a different white balance setting for different parts of the image. At the time, it was raining in short showers, so I figured I had a minute or so to set the camera up, take the shot and then pack it back into my backpack again. Instead of doing white balance bracketing I decided to just shoot RAW and solve the color problem at a later and drier point. I still stand by my evaluation of the usefulness of shooting RAW - most of the time it is just adding hassle, but occasionally you come across the rare situation that calls for it.
The first third of the game. This is one of the few chambers where most surfaces are portal-able. It is also one of the instances where you get to see GLaDOS configure a chamber. The big cube to the left is just finishing assembly, and straight ahead you can see a set of plates being pushed up through the rubble.
Interrogation by the STASI[m]. An interrogation of a dissident is played back in speakers set in the table. In order to hear, you put your elbows on the speaker plates and your hands over your ears. The sound propagates through your lower arm, making the palm vibrate like speaker membranes; and making you look like a broken person. It is quite ingenious.
In the museum is a game where you get to be the director of a car factory; the purpose of the game was to show why the economy of the DDR tanked. You get to decide how to handle theft of materials, your superiors in the Communist bureaucracy, and much more. As this screen proves, with me at the helm, DDR would have been successful. However: I chose a hard-core capitalist approach. I sacked any non-productive person, outsourced production like crazy so I insulated myself from having to keep the workers happy, underpromised to my superiors and in general did what the automobile industry does today.
Worker's locker. The photos are either family photos or photos from the "worker brigade" that the locker's owner was part of. Spending time with your brigade mates was encouraged by the state - probably as a way of keeping people in the fold.
The mating song and dance. The song has three components - the klicks that start slow and speed up; the sound that is like two twigs being rubbed together; and the final one that makes it look like the bird runs behind a sign to vomit.
This was one crazy bird (a Western Capercaillie[n]). Spring is mating season, and this guy wanted everyone away from his territory so he could attract a lady with his song. The fact that I'm over ten times his size and carries a metal club (tripod) didn't stop him from advancing on me and making a threat display. Then again, I did back away - so maybe I was dealing with a master of strategy.
I'm very satisfied with this panorama, because it was shot hand-held with a single lens - the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6. I used 20mm along the horizon and 10mm for the six up and six down shots. There are some stiching errors that you can see if you look down, but all in all it ended up much better than I had expected it to. Much faster to shoot, as well.
For visitors with Firefox, Chrome, (Mobile) Safari or any webkit-based browser supporting CSS 3D or WebGL, the panorama above is presented using Bigshot VR[o], and not SaladoPlayer. I figure Bigshot is good enough to dogfood right now, so I turned it on for all 360 panoramas on the blog.
Wenn wir auch sterben sollen, So wissen wir: Die Saat Geht auf. Wenn Köpfe rollen, dann Zwingt doch der Geist den Staat.
Glaubt mit mir an die gerechte Zeit, die alles reifen lässt!
— Harro Schulze-Boysen, 2.9.1909 - 22.12.1942
If we, too, shall die, we know this: The seed grows. If heads roll, the spirit nevertheless coerces the state.
Believe with me in the just time that lets everything ripen!
— Harro Schulze-Boysen, September 2, 1909 - December 22, 1942
Here's my first attempt at focus stacking using the rail: A random potted plant. Being able to compare this to not using a focusing rail, I can say that this was a whole lot easier. I shifted the camera about a third of a millimeter between shots and then stacked it all using Hugin[q] and Enfuse[r]. The Enfuse command line was
--exposure-weight=0 --saturation-weight=0 --contrast-weight=1 --hard-mask --contrast-window-size=9. As you can see, it didn't quite get rid of the out-of-focus areas; they can be seen as haloes around the buds. It does give the shot a very dreamlike appearance, though.
Speaking of water - at this time of year most of it is frozen and not where it should be (that is, on a mountain or in a lake or sea). Piles like this are bulldozed up and then taken by truck to the water to be dumped. The upside is that the whole city doesn't suffer some kind of snow-induced traffic aneurysm. The downside is that the snow goes into the water without passing any water treatment plant, which is the normal procedure, taking with it dirt, oil and other pollutants that one finds on city streets.
Before you reach the Old Town you come to Slussen ("The Lock"), which is a hotly-debated piece of architecture in Stockholm. It is both universally reviled and universally loved: Reviled, because it is one decrepit piece of old concrete that is more or less about to collapse. Loved, because so far all other plans drawn up by architects have been inferior in that they have more focused on being cheap to build, rather than preserving the character of the area with its great views of the water.
Climbing up on the other side you reach Skanstull - normally a very crowded place, but at this time of night near abandoned. The road coming from the far left and exiting the photo in the near right edge is Ringvägen ("The Ring Road"), which performs a wide U-shape along the south edge of Södermalm. At this point it is going almost exactly in a east-west direction. The other road, going from near left and disappearing into the distance mid-right, is Götgatan, which is one of the main road of Södermalm and the main north-south going one. Walking up it you end up at Slussen, and a couple hundred meters more will bring you to the Old Town.
There are two ways to walk from Gullmarsplan north to Skanstull and Södermalm - one is to walk across one of the bridges seen here, and the other one is to the the low road, which I am doing here. The canal seen here is the Hammarby Lock, which allows boats to pass from Lake Mälaren to Lake Saltsjön ("The Salt Lake") and vice versa.
Going past the two Årsta bridges and looking at them from the south-east side one gets a view toward Hornstull under the span. The rightmost bridge is the old Årsta bridge, and the scaffolding used for restoration and preservation efforts can be seen lit up at the far end of the bridge. It is currently used for commuter trains, while the long-distance trains are routed over the new bridge, whose slim shape stands in sharp contrast to the heavy framework of the old. The view from southbound commuter trains during sunrise is quite a sight. The train is high enough so that you see over the sides of the bridge, and since the train itself is on the east (trains go on the left-hand tracks) track, you see a beautiful sunrise over the water.
Not wanting to walk back the same way I came, I proceeded east-south-east along the waterline. At the edge of Liljeholmen one gets this view looking under the two Årsta bridges toward Gullmarsplan and Hammarby Sjöstad. The tower seen in the distance is part of Hammarby Sjöstad and the hill behind it is Hammarbybacken.
This area, the north-easternmost portion of Liljeholmen, is a fairly recent development. The houses are the usual kind of cookie-cutter apartment buildings: Not much to look at, but pretty nice to live in. The whole area looks a lot like Hammarby Sjöstad; it has the same architectural style, the same kind of mix of commercial and residential spaces, and even the restaurants look kind of the same. These are just some stairs where I liked the lines and the light's contrast with the snow.
This is where Liljeholmsbron reaches Liljeholmen. At the far end of the bridge one can see the lights of Hornstull on Södermalm. Shot hand-held at ISO 1600, mostly to see if it was even possible to get a working panorama from hand-held photos at this low light. The panorama projection is a general Panini[s] with some fine-tuning of the top and bottom parameters to keep those areas from dominating the image. I tried to create a Escher-esque view of the staircase on the bottom, but the photos didn't quite line up to support it.
Mosaic in the Golden Hall. The woman in the center is the "Queen of Lake Mälaren" (an old nickname for Stockholm), sitting in the center of the world, with The East and The West to her left and right. A couple of fun historical facts: First, the art critics of the day were not merciful to the poor woman in the center. She was universally condemned as being just plain ugly and not representative of Stockholm. Since the artist had used his own wife as model, that criticism hit very close to home and he explained her appearance thusly: "Her eyes are big, so she can watch over the citizens, her feet are big so she can stand firm, and her hair symbolize the Sun (and not Medusa's snakes, as had been asserted)". The second fun fact is that it took a couple of years to finish the mosaic, only for the workers to realize they had made a huge mistake. As you can see on the photo, the bottom edge of the mosaic is a slight bit above the floor, and the top of the mosaic is a slight bit below the ceiling. What happened was that the artist in charge forgot about the bottom padding, and the whole mosaic is therefore about a foot too far up. Of course, by the time this was noticed it was far too late to do anything about it and still make the deadline. This isn't really noticable on this side, but near the entrance to the Golden Hall there is a picture of Stockholm's patron saint, St. Erik, whose head has been chopped off by the ceiling.
The council chamber ceiling. Originally the ceiling was intended to be flat, with the beams being hidden, but it was later decided to open it up and give the chamber a higher ceiling, which is 19 meters from the floor at the highest point. The beams are encased in a wood boxes.
The opposite of the VR panorama. A shot taken with a tele lens of the burnt area. It captures the lack of vegetation, but not the general desolation as well as the panorama. On the upside, it was a lot easier to get done. Hand-held and maybe three or four minutes of post-processing was all that was needed.
The final panorama. By now I had gotten the actual shooting down to routine. I also decided to get the moon into the panorama, as it was visible since the clouds had moved away. The challenges were to find the right spot where the moon was seen, find the right exposure and shoot at the right time. Add to that the fact that the moon is moving and disappears behind a tree every now and then and you get a couple of variables to juggle. I was also worrying about the nadir image. In my attempts are finding the best position I had moved the tripod around and left a lot of footsteps in the previously undisturbed snow. Getting them out of the panorama would be quite a task. I also had to switch to a timed remote release, as the camera was wobbling a little bit every time I rotated it to a new position. This added two seconds to each shot, or almost a minute in total.
This was the first panorama I assembled when I got back home, and just as with the shooting, the first time I couldn't get anything right. I mis-aligned the photos, got bad zenith and nadir images, and so on. I think it took something on the order of eight hours to get the editing done. By the end I had a 1.2GB PSD file that took a couple of minutes to save, and my computer was swapping all the time. I considered including "a book to read" in my list of equipment for VR panoramas - it'll keep you from boredom while you wait for the computer to do something.
This is the third panorama I shot (the second didn't turn out as well, with a lot less interesting sky). Like the first and second, there was a lot of fumbling and stress. This time it wasn't as much caused by forgetting things - it was related to the rapidly changing conditions. In the panorama you can find the sun, a bunch of clouds and the burnt area. I wanted to get them all properly placed and exposed in the image. This meant I had to find the right time where the sun lit up the clouds the way I wanted, and where I could get an exposure that would capture both the view toward the sun and out toward the burnt area without losing shadow or highlight detail. Of course, once perfect shooting conditions appeared, I had to get my 24 shots[t] done before they disappeared.
I briefly toyed with the idea of shooting the panorama in priority order. That is, get the most important shots done first, then fill in the rest. I then realized that if the conditions changed between the high-priority shots and the low-priority shots, I'd be without a panorama no matter the order, as they would be a nightmare to assemble. It was therefore to my advantage to just stick to the routine - get all the 24 shots as fast as possible.
This was the first VR panorama I shot. It turned into a nightmare, but fortunately the shooting conditions were fairly constant. In an attempt at getting the tripod out of the image as much as possible, I set it up with the feet in a very small triangle. Combined with uneven ground hidden beneath the snow, a lot of fumbling by me, and a desire to not disturb the snow I ended up bumping the tripod a lot. I also managed to forget at least one step in my list[u] every time I tried to get it right. Persistence pays off, though, and once done I was a lot more prepared for the next two shots.
Getting close-up shots with a wide-angle lens is hard. On one hand, they have very small close focus distances, but on the other hand their wide field of view tend to make anything in the image center disappear in a pinched-up point. They also have great depth of field, which puts more or less everything in focus. This was an experiment to see if I could get a reasonable separation of fore- and background by using the lens wide open, and get a reasonable framing of a small foreground object (the twig in this case). The biggest difficulty was to find the close focus distance of the lens. I ended up putting the center focus point on the twig, holding down the shutter release, and then slowly moving the camera away. The camera would then release the shutter as soon as the twig was in focus - a kind of faked focus-priority release.