Category Archives: Drone

Drone Photos Without a Drone

Last year when we were in Tucson, staying at the Lazy Days KOA, I wanted to take a decent photo of our campsite. The best shot would have been from a drone, but I didn’t think the KOA would allow me to fly my drone there. Not to mention that campground is in the airspace of a commercial airport and two(!) military airbases. There really was no chance of getting permission to fly a drone there!

So, what to do? I did some searching, and found photos that looked like photos from a drone that were taken without a drone. How did they do it?

One person that had some pretty interesting photos had taken the photos with a 10′ “Selfie” stick. That’s right, 10 feet! That sounded great to me, so I purchased one. Click here to get your own from Amazon (this is an affiliate link).

OK, it’s not really 10 feet. It’s actually 3 meters, or about 9.8 feet. It’s a carbon fiber pole that extends in sections, so you don’t have to extend it to the full 3 meters. When collapsed it’s only about ~18″ long.

When holding this pole up over my head, the camera is about 16′ above ground. Perfect for many photos.

I attached my GoPro to the end of the pole and used my cell phone to control the camera. I could see what the camera was seeing through my phone, and snap the shot (or shoot a video). It takes a little practice to hold the pole steady and aim it where you want.

The pole seems to be made well. It locks into position and stays there until you want to collapse it (a slight twist at each section releases it).

Using this pole, I was able to get some pretty nice shots of our KOA campsite, as seen below.

Tucson Lazy Days KOA campsite
Tucson Lazy Days KOA campsite

Model of my Deck

I entered the following in the WebODM (Open Drone Map) forum. Some of it is a bit technical for this blog, but thought it might be interesting to some people.

Just for fun, and to learn more about WebODM and Blender, I flew my DJI Mini 2 drone around my deck to create a model. My deck has trees on 3 sides of it and overhanging it. Flying between the tree branches to get some of the shots was a bit challenging. There was a bit of a pucker factor a few times when flying inches below a branch and the drone started drifting upwards! (The Mini 2 has only forward and downward sensors, which is good here – I could never have flown that close to the trees if there were active sensors the other directions.)

I shot 142 images and processed those and saw some areas that didn’t seem to have adequate coverage. So I shot another 49 images to fill in some areas. That improved the places I concentrated on, but it seemed that some other areas decreased in quality. The glass railing and adjacent sunroom windows and doors caused some oddities, as expected. One thing I found odd is that the deck and other items seem to be “reflected” in the undersides of the tree branches.

My processing system is Windows 10 Pro on a laptop with 64GB of RAM. I initially processed this using Docker/WebODM, but ran out of memory when I increased pc-quality to ultra. I then processed it in Windows native WebODM, and it processed in 24+ hours. The WebODM timer showed 36 minutes, so I don’t have accurate information…

I postprocessed this with Blender to clean up some of the extraneous parts of the model, but purposefully left most of the trees. To get the upload files under the 100MB limit for the free Sketchfab account, I decimated the model in Blender to 70% and converted the PNG files to JPG.

Processing parameters:

debug: true, mesh-octree-depth: 13, mesh-size: 1000000, min-num-features: 30000, pc-quality: ultra, resize-to: -1, verbose: true

Click on the image below to activate the model. Use your mouse buttons to change the view, and your scroll wheel to zoom in and out. Type “F”, or click the double-ended arrow in the lower right, to open it in full screen. (I highly recommend viewing it in full screen.)

360° Panoramas (again)

In my last post, already several months ago, I promised another 3D printer post. That is still coming. It’s half written. Make that a quarter written. I’ve been sidetracked, not to mention that my laptop computer bit the dust and I haven’t yet decided what to replace it with.

My first 360° panorama post was a little over a year ago, Feb. 4, 2020, where I discussed how 360° panoramas were made and showed one from Gates Pass near Tucson, AZ. My second post on panoramas was written on March 9, 2020, noting that 360° panoramas could be displayed on YouTube.

So, what’s new with panoramas?

First, 360° can be displayed on Flickr (I knew that, but had never tried it). Here’s my first panorama on Flickr. Flickr isn’t as good at displaying these as it could be – maybe it will improve in the future. The first problem I noticed is at the very bottom of the photo – directly below the camera. There’s some distortion there that shouldn’t be. Also, it is more difficult to zoom in and out with the mouse scroll wheel, as it usually scrolls the page instead. And it was difficult to go into full-screen mode, and once there I wasn’t always able to pan around the image.

It is possible to display panoramas interactively on WordPress, but only if I pay for a “professional” level. Since I don’t make any money from this site, I can’t really justify doing that. If you wish to see my photo(s) in a better viewer, take a look at it (them) in Roundme. This photo was taken a few days ago while on a cross-country ski outing to the top of Amabilis Mountain. 11+ miles and 2000’+ elevation gain, but the views were totally worth it! What a gorgeous day we had. Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.

You can see all of the photos I’ve uploaded to Roundme by going to https://roundme.com/@garystebbins/tours.

What else is new?

All of the 360° panoramas I have posted in the past were shot by using my DSLR camera mounted to a tripod (or, in one case, handheld). The latest two were shot from a drone from tens of feet to several hundred feet above the ground.

I got my first done 3+ years ago, but it’s a bit too big to take on a backpack or cross-country ski trip. About a month ago I got a much smaller drone that is something I can take along with me. The drone itself weighs about 1/2 pound. I carried it in my backpack on my cross-country ski trip.

Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mini 2 drones
Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mini 2 drones

The larger drone in the photo above is a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, and the little guy is a DJI Mini 2. Both drones can automatically shoot a series of photos to be stitched into a 360° panorama photo. I then use the program PTGui to stitch the multiple images into a panorama image.

If you are curious, the panorama image is just a regular JPEG file, although it is stretched “a bit” at the top and bottom. As mentioned in my first post, it is exactly twice as wide as it is high – 360° wide and 180º high. The right and left edges join together in the panorama viewer, and the top and bottom edges are compressed to display as a single point – straight above the camera for the top edge and straight below for the bottom edge. Some additional metadata is added to the file so that the viewer program knows how to interpret the file. Here’s what the photo looks like when viewed without a panorama viewer.

Kachess Lake Overlook

There you have it – one more 360° blog post. Next (I hope) I’ll actually finish writing the 3D printer blog I promised a few months ago. Stay tuned!