Category Archives: Aerial

Significant Advances in the Consumer Drone Market

Lately I’ve been so focused on mobile, apps, development, conferences, and more that I haven’t posted much besides IBM work news and projects.  Well, I’m taking a break for just a moment…

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you already know that I’m pretty much obsessed with “drones”.  It is by far the most fun and exciting recreation that I’ve taken up in a very long time. Not only are they fun to fly, but they get you into some amazing views that were previously inacessible, and have applications far beyond just taking pictures.  I’ve written how-tos for aerial photography and videography, taken tons of pictures for fun, and even shot some indoor footage for TV commercials.

I’m always following the news feeds, watching the advances in technology, watching prices drop, and am continually blown away by what the industry is offering.  The last week to ten days have been nothing short of amazing.

First let’s start with the latest from DJI, who announced the Phantom 3 –  a consumer drone with some very impressive specs and performance.

The Phantom 3  is an easy to fly copter that sports a 3-axis gimbal (camera stabilizer), up to 4K video footage, an integrated rectilinear (flat) lens camera, live HD first-person view, integrated iOS and Android apps, a vision positioning system (for stabilized indoor flights) and up to a 1.2 mile flight range.  All for a cost of under $1300 USD.  That’s one heck of a package, and officially makes my old Phantom look like a dinosaur.

3 Days later, 3D Robotics announced the Solo, a direct competitor to the Phantom. The Solo is also very impressive, and has already won an award for Best Drone at NAB in Las Vegas.

The Solo also has a 3-axis gimbal for stabilized footage, and is designed to work with GoPro cameras.  In fact, it is the only copter that integrates with the camera controller and can control the GoPro remotely. The Solo also has dual processors (one in the controller, one in the copter), HD first person view, and has an upgradeable system that can have new camera systems or payloads configured.  It doesn’t have an optical stabilization system built in, but that can be added to the expansion bay.  What really sets the Solo apart is the intelligent auto-pilot sytem that appears to make complex shots very easy. All of this with a price tag starting at $1000 USD.

I currently own DJI products, but this has gotten me seriously considering a purchase.

Both of these are small aircraft targeting consumers, but from the look of it they are definitely capable of high end applications.  Their small size make them extremely portable, and a potential add in many industries and use cases.  Larger copters are always available for larger scale applications.

Let’s not forget drones for the enterprise…  Last week Airware launched their drone operating system.  Business can now license their operating system for commercial applications and data collection.

Meanwhile, people everywhere still freak out over drones as a political debate, ignoring their utility and positive value. The rules for commercial use continue to shake out, but oh man, it’s an exciting time.

Lens Correction For GoPro Video Footage Has Never Been Easier!

I love my GoPro camera.  It takes amazing pictures and captures incredible videos, and can get into some extreme situations that other cameras probably would not survive – no wonder it is one of the best selling cameras in the world.  I also love the fisheye lens, but there are times when the fisheye effect is too much. We’ve had lens correction in Photoshop and Lightroom for a while, optics compensation in After Effects, but now it is easier than ever to non-destructively remove the fisheye effect from GoPro video footage directly inside of Adobe Premiere Pro.  Check out the video below to see it in action.

Applying lens correction (or lens distortion removal) is incredibly easy.  There are new effects presets in the effects panel that enable video editors to simply drag an effect onto their clip to have the lens correction applied.  Just select the preset for the resolution and field of view (FOV) that match what you used to capture your footage, and drag it right onto your clip.  They under Presets -> Lens Distortion Removal -> GoPro. For those fellow quadcopter enthusiasts, you may also notice some presets for the DJI Vision cameras!

GoPro Lens Distortion Presets

Once you’ve applied the preset to your footage, you can tweak it as you like to customize the amount of correction.  You can under-correct, over-correct, or change the center/focal point of the correction.  I normally tend to leave it with the default settings…

GoPro Lens Distortion Effect Controls

Once you’ve applied the correct preset for your footage, you’ll be able to see that the lens distortion has been removed.  The straight lines will now appear straight, and everything will line up to scale.

Lens Distortion Removal in Action

Now get out there and go capture some amazing footage of your own!

Assembling A Panorama with Adobe Photoshop CC

I just put together a walkthrough of creating an aerial panorama from images captured with a GoPro camera and an RC helicopter over on Behance.  Check it out for full details.

Here’s the final panorama to whet your appetite:

Aerial Panorama
Aerial Panorama

High-res here:


360 Spherical Panoramas – The Creation of Planet Vegas

Here’s a fun tutorial for one of the last Friday afternoons of 2013… the creation of 360 degree panoramas, or “planets” as some like to call them.  If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, check out the image below:

Planet Vegas

A panorama is a wide-angle view, usually captured with either a special lens, or by stitching together multiple images to create the wide angle view.  A 360 degree panorama is a representation of the wide angle view into a sphere.

This image was created in Photoshop by taking multiple images which were captured by GoPro attached to a remote controlled helicopter, stitching them together to create a wide angle panorama, then creating a 360 panorama from the wide angle panorama.

Check out the video below to see a timelapse for the creation of this image. Details below…

Pretty cool, right?  I had a great time putting this together.  Just ask any of my friends, and they will tell you that I have been completely obsessed with this. It’s not a new technique – This has been around for years, but it’s one not everyone knows off of the top of their head.  You should know how to do it too!

Here’s how you go about creating a 360 degree spherical panorama:

Step 1: Start with the image  

You don’t have to have a massive panorama. You can use any image that you want. Though, I’ve had the best results by applying this to panoramas.  You could also crop an image to be much wider than it is tall.  If you want to learn how to create panoramas, check out these tutorials:

The starting panorama
The starting panorama

I did a manual process that is a variation of these… The original images I had were from a GoPro Hero 3 camera.  I applied lens profile correction in Lightroom, then loaded the images into Photoshop as separate layers of the same PSD composition.  Then I used auto-align layers and auto-blend layers to merge the images into a single panorama.

Step 2: Straighten the image (if needed)

Next, make sure that the image is straight. It’s best to have a level horizon, without significant curvature. You can straighten the horizon/lens distortion using Adaptive Wide Angle in Photoshop. Check out this video tutorial also from Russell Brown to learn more about Adaptive Wide Angle in Photoshop.

Straightening the image with the Adaptive Wide Angle filter
Straightening the image with the Adaptive Wide Angle filter

Step 3: Rotate and Crop

You’ll want to rotate and crop the image so that the horizon is level, and you get rid of missing areas within the image. If you’re missing part of the image, but you don’t want to crop any more, you can use content aware fill or the clone stamp to synthesize the missing parts.

Rotating and cropping in Photoshop
Rotating and cropping in Photoshop

Step 4: Get Rid of Seams

You don’t necessarily need a full view of 360 degrees to create these types of images, but you will get the best results if the image doesn’t have any glaring seams. The way that I usually go about doing this is by splitting the image in half, and swapping the two sides so that the seam is in the middle of the image, with some overlap.

Work in progress removing seams
Work in progress removing seams

Then I use Photoshop’s clone stamp, brushes, or content aware fill to get rid of any glaring visual seams so that it is one complete image. You’ll probably need to crop this again to get rid of any whitespace introduced from the overlapping.

Step 5: Make the image a square

Just go to Image->Image Size and make the width and the height of the image the exact same value (you’ll need to unlink width and height).  This will stretch your image out vertically – don’t worry, the stretching is OK and is part of the process.

"Squareifying" the image
“Squareifying” the image

Step 6: Flip the image

Next, you’ll want flip the image so that it is upside down.  You can do this either by going to Edit->Transform->Rotate 180, or Edit->Transform->Flip Vertical.

Flipped Image
Flipped Image

Step 7: Apply Polar Coordinates Distortion

Make sure that your image has been flattened or that all layers are within a smart object, so you are applying this filter to only one layer.  Select the target layer, then go to Filter->Distort->Polar Coordinates.  Make sure that the “Rectangular to Polar” option is selected, and hit “OK”.

Polar Coordinates to "spherize" the image
Polar Coordinates to “spherize” the image

When you apply the distortion filter, the content in the top 25-30% of your image will be stretched out, and the bottom 25-30% will be pinched/squeezed, so just be aware that this will happen.  You will want to play around with this feature with variations of image cropping to get a feel for what it will do to your images.

Step 8: Polish your image

At this point, you will now have a 360 spherical panorama, but you might not be 100% happy with the output.  If you don’t like how the distortion was applied, go back and change cropping and try again. If you want to make the colors “pop”, try applying Camera RAW as a filter.  You’ll also notice that the corners of the image are partially transparent and stretched badly… you can crop this area, retouch the area, or layer assets within a composition.  This is really up to you as the creator of the composition. Whatever you do, take advantage of Photoshop – it has a LOT of features you can use to enhance your creativity.

Color correction with Adobe Camera RAW
Color correction with Adobe Camera RAW

To see the final output at a higher resolution, check it out on my Flickr account! Or check out my Flickr set to see other spherical panoramas.

The Golden Gate
Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD
Another Angle at Las Vegas

Tools I used in this composition:

All of which are a part of Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’re not already, become a member today and unleash your creativity!

Video: GoPro Cameras, Quadcopters & Creative Cloud

Last week I had the opportunity to present an incredibly fun topic to the DC/MD/VA Creative Professionals user group… GoPro Cameras, Quadcopters, and Adobe Creative Cloud.  Thanks to everyone who attended.  This topic is a personal interest of mine, and I had a great time.  There were great questions and great conversations all around.

For those who weren’t able to attend, here’s a video of the full 2-hour presentation.  The audio quality isn’t perfect, but you can still catch most of it:

My slides are available here:

Slides: GoPro Cameras, Quadcopterss & Creative Cloud
Slides: GoPro Cameras, Quadcopterss & Creative Cloud

Attribution: I included some images from the GoPro photo of the day gallery.

Here are a few quick links for getting started with Adobe Creative Cloud for producing video and photography content:

For those who were asking about my copter rig, here are the details on what I am flying:

  • Copter: DJI Phantom
  • Gimbal: Beholder Lite (details on my configuration – definitely requires some tuning)
  • FPV: KumbaCam – Great for a remote viewfinder, though the GoPro feed flickers when in time lapse photography mode.  I put it on a tripod at eye level so I can quickly glance between LOS and FPV viewing (FPV = First Person View). I use this as a remote viewfinder, not a primary flight mechanism, and never go beyond line-of-sight.
  • Case: Nanuk 940 – perfect size to fit the Phantom
  • Batteries – get lots of extras b/c you won’t want to stop flying!
  • Camera: GoPro Hero 3 Black

Without the gimbal and FPV, you’ll get about 12-15 mins of battery per flight.  With the gimbal and FPV, I get about 7-8 minutes per flight… I’m currently researching options to extend battery life & flight time.

You can definitely get bigger copters with a heavier lift capacity, but this configuration is great for getting started, and is designed specifically for the GoPro. Then, use Creative Cloud to polish your images and video.