Ron Schott and his 1,000 GigapansRon Schott became an early adopter of Gigapan in 2007 when he was selected by the Fine Foundation and the Carnegie Mellon Create Lab as one of the original beta testers for the EPIC panohead. His charge was to find innovative scientific applications for Gigapan technology.
As an Associate Professor of Geology at Bakersfield College, Schott uses gigapan images throughout his geology research. He describes, “I was fortunate to be introduced to America’s National Park System and many scenic landscapes as a kid, and photography helps me share the wonder of these awesome places with those who haven’t yet had the opportunity, or aren’t able, to travel to see them, and as a reminder for those who have. Understanding the origin of these special landscapes is what drew me to geology, and I want to give back to the science and its students views of the landscapes and rocks that inspired me. I realized fairly early in my time as a digital photographer that the only scarcity in this medium is time, so my philosophy is to shoot and share as much as possible in the hope that every image will have some value, whether that be scientific or aesthetic, to someone.”
Schott recently posted his 1000th gigapan, Lake Isabella and the Southern Sierra Nevada Range from Cook Peak, in October 2013. His “magnum opus”, at nearly 15 gigapixels, was shot with an EPIC Pro and Canon EOS Rebel T5i. It joins Schott’s impressive collection of public gigapans which, in total, have a larger than average size of 1.51 gigapixels - a significant contribution to the images on gigapan.com.
“I hope that the images I shoot will help educators teach the science of geology and will inspire others to get interested in geology and strive to learn more about the planet they live on,” says Schott.
Schott has captured gigapans on numerous geology excursions to document the changing geologic environment, as the images can provide him with photographic notes comparing a particular site over a period of time to record changes in the environment such as glacial advance and retreat, erosion and deposition, or evolution of lava domes and flows.
Schott says gigapans can be excellent tools for geological reconnaissance. “On more than a few occasions I’ve discovered things in my gigapans after getting home from fieldwork that caused me to go out again and reexamine a part of a field site in more detail. Moreover, gigapans provide an excellent means of orienting a field party by giving them a lay of the land and giving them a chance to ‘pre-explore’ and designate areas or features that they can more fully explore in the field, where time may be limited.”
In his classroom environment, Schott also uses gigapans to share field sites with his students. “The single thing that continues to most thrill me about gigapans is the inherent joy of discovery associated with exploring a gigapan image. Photographs are a powerful tool for teaching geology, and gigapans make the photographic experience much more interactive for the geology student - in many cases, it’s the next best thing to getting the student out into the field to experience a scene firsthand.”
Schott says this is just the beginning for using his gigapans in geology. “Although I am not aware that this has yet been demonstrated, I also feel confident that it is only a matter of time and computational power before a number of gigapans, if shot from the proper variety of locations and angles, will be able to be used to reconstruct a field area in three dimensions with high enough resolution to accurately map details of the geology of the area in question.”
Choosing favorites can be a tough choice when you’ve shot a thousand gigapans, but Schott’s three favorite images span the variety of his work from landscapes to rock formations to macro gigapans, across the EPIC Series product line of the EPIC beta, the original EPIC 100 and the EPIC Pro.
Stump & Shrooms is one of Schott’s earliest efforts at shooting a macro gigapan, and one he still considers one of his best. Captured with the original EPIC beta unit and a Canon S5 IS on the campus of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas in April 2008, the image shows new mushrooms feeling the "fierce urgency of now" as they burst forth in the warm spring, contrasting with the weatherworn tree rings on the stump.
The image was not captured without some challenges, says Schott. “Because of the angle with which I shot this, I had to focus individual frames rather than using fixed focus in order to capture the entire image in focus. Nonetheless, the details turned out crisp and the Gigapan Stitch program had no troubles pulling it all together.”
“It’s great to learn how to shoot gigapans with classic, sweeping panoramic views, but once you’ve mastered the basic gigapan technique I highly recommend exploring other subjects that you might not have originally considered, “ says Schott. “Many macro subjects may require focus-stacking to capture the entire image in sharp detail, but if you choose your subject wisely, simply focusing on each individual image will
give you great results as a ‘poor man’s’ focus-stacking.”
Panamint Valley from Father Crowley Point, Death Valley National Park is one of Schott’s favorite landscapes. His image of Panamint Valley and the Panamint Range looking eastward from Father Crowley Point in Death Valley, California, was shot in April 2012 with the EPIC 100 and a Canon T2i with a Canon EF 70-300mm zoom lens at less than full zoom.
Schott considers it one of his best landscape panoramas, taken with perfect lighting conditions and cloud position. “There are a number of interesting geologic features in here, including a great recumbent fold in the Panamint Range and a lovely cinder cone in the foreground, but my favorite part of this gigapan is knowing that I nailed the lighting, and captured some beautiful clouds to fill out the sky.”
After already having shot nine panoramas in other locations that day, Schott says, “I got to this spot and got set up with not a moment to spare. I dialed back the zoom just enough to get the shot while not losing any of the important details. I shot it ‘Rows, Up’, maximizing the foreground light, while still capturing some spectacular shadow effects. That the clouds behaved and stitched nicely was the icing on the cake.”
“Managing changing lighting conditions and anticipating how best to set up and execute your shot are what sets experienced Gigapanners apart from the frustrated masses,” says Schott. “Even after a thousand gigapans I’m still learning my technique, but lots of practice has also taught me valuable lessons, and when I apply them all skillfully, shots like this can be the result.”
The King’s Squash (Detail) highlights one of Schott’s geologic subjects in Kings Canyon, about one kilometer southeast of Boyden Cave in California’s Sequoia National Forest. Shot in July 2013 with the Gigapan EPIC Pro and a Canon T5i with a Canon EF 70-300mm zoom lens at full zoom, Schott says, “Marbles of the Boyden Cave Roof Pendant show the results of deformation culminating with batholith emplacement. In addition to the intricate folding displayed here, don't forget to appreciate the patterns that recent weathering has superimposed on the exposure. This gigapan highlights the detail of the exquisitely folded marbles - a wider view that establishes a full context of this roadcut can be found in my other image, ‘The Kings’s Squash (Wide)’
Conditions proved optimal to capture the detail of the cave roof with excellent lighting and the camera fully focused at maximum zoom. “Every nook and cranny is worth exploring! The geology is exquisite, with both ancient folded layers and recent weathering contributing to the scene.”
Schott’s 1,000+ images have averaged 1.5 gigapixels, over 1.5 terapixels cumulatively, which is more than any other Gigapan photographer. Other gigapan favorites of Schott’s include Lower Yellowstone Falls from Artists Point (Morning), Giant Forest Granodiorite, Dunite in Cross-Polarized Light and Donnell Dam & Lake, Stanislaus River Valley, Sierra Nevada, California.
Schott shares his gigapans in his portfolio at gigapan.com as well as on his geology blog, Ron Schott’s Geology Home Companion Blog, Twitter account (@rschott) and Google+ account. His indefatigable field assistants Berti and Edi (pictured at right) also share their favorite geologic GigaPans on Twitter using his GigaGeology account (@GigaGeology).