Tag Archives: Minnesota

U of Minnesota Gopher Tunnels

Ever wonder why the gopher became the mascot of the University of Minnesota? One might think that it is because of the extensive tunnels, and skyways, used by the students to travel the university campus that resemble gopher tunnels. Today I experienced the real reason, it is the method by which the entire campus is heated. The steam tunnels that reach every corner of the university campus, dwarfing the tunnels accessible by the students.

This video shows the route from the steam tunnel entrance at the C72 lot on Beacon St. to the Northrup Auditorium, enjoy.


Oldie But Goodie Yet Once Again

Here is one of my favorite views, it is from the porch of our family cabin on an early autumn morning with the Sun burning the fog off of the lake. Actually this shot was not at all planned, I simply woke up for my morning pee and was completely blown away. I wasted absolutely no time since the light was absolutely perfect. Yes, I set up my camera and tripod and blew off several exposures for this HDR image shivering while still in my tighty- whities. If you look close near the end of the peninsula you will see the sign declaring the boundary of Voyageurs National Park. (click on it for a larger image)


Yet More Oldies But Goodies

This is a special set of images that are deeply important to me. Any single image simply does not tell the story. This set is from two separate set of circumstances, the first an anti-Iraq-war rally centered on the University of Minnesota campus taken along with Andy, my Iraq Veteran co-student, and the other a single image of a couple of young millennials that wraps it all up from a Jason Davis Tax Cut Rally. I won’t imply any meaning to these images, I’m just the messenger, any artistic interpretations are left upon you — YOU and only YOU are responsible for any emotions and feelings from this montage… Enjoy!

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Another Good Oldie But Goodie

This is one shot that was taken in a park nearby my home. These flowers are actually quite mundane and very plentiful in a deciduous hardwood area of the park. These flowers were lit by very narrow sparse shafts of light that somehow make their way through the canopy leaves. The diameter of the flowers, when fully open, is about the width of a dime (about 0.7″ or roughly 18mm.) I think that they are actually considered weeds (any feedback welcome.)

At any rate this image was captured late morning when some of the flowers were in full bloom while others were waiting for their time to come of age. I don’t really understand why I like this one so much, all I know is that I do. It actually breaks a few rules of composition, maybe this is why I like it so much. When you can get away with breaking the rules — and it actually works — is really what I ultimately look for in any image.


2015 Fall Colors

This year the fall colors along the St Croix River were, although still spectacular, somewhat subdued. Still there were a few backwater areas that were worth shooting. Here is one panorama:

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The HWY 36 bridge construction still continues a year later, note that I now am using an architectural lens (Nikon 24mm f2.8 PCE) with tilt-shift capabilities and the images now show the bridge structures as actually parallel rather than pointing inwards. This is now my favorite lens.



Enjoying the last probable 85 degree day this year with some good friends:

Perseids Bust

Perseids meteor shower was a bust for me. Three hours and I only saw three meteors that were out of view of my camera, a full frame camera with a 17mm lens. Here is one shot, actually about one-hundred-eighty twenty-second exposure shots stacked into a single frame for a total exposure time of about one hour. This makes what is called a star trail. A few aircraft and a few satellites but, unfortunately, no meteors. I gave up about 2:30 am when the boredom overcame my ability to stay awake 🙁


First Successful Pano From My Multi-Rotors!

360 degree panorama of the End of the Ash River Trail: (click on it for a larger image)

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If you have been following me at all concerning my adventures into multi-rotor platforms for photography you may already know that I was pursuing a rock steady stable platform from which to take aerial photography shots from. Videography is definitely a back burner issue with me, my main interest is with still photography.

My initial disappointment was with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision in that the camera was rather poor quality, at least when measured against professional photographic equipment. The dynamic range was low, the lens was too wide an angle, the fisheye aspects were unacceptable, and worse the images from this camera were difficult at best to correct for image distortion.

I almost immediately sought out alternatives, the Go-Pro was also unacceptable to me since it also has a pronounced fisheye look to its images. Initially I adapted my Nikon J1 camera to the Phantom but found that it was simply too heavy to be safely flown with the Phantom. After exploring other avenues I found that I would have to spend over five grand to get a decent platform that could safely lift my Nikon J1, let alone my intended camera, my Nikon D800.

I was searching for a cost friendly alternative so I first built a quad using DJI’s E800 motor/ESC combination but found that these motors don’t come close to their advertised thrust in their “Tuned Propulsion System” it should, in all honesty, be called the Detuned Propulsion System. So I set out to build my hexacopter.

I was having troubles tuning the necessary vibration isolators to prevent the inevitable resolution robbing vibrations away from the camera. I was even looking to scrap my drone program entirely in favor of a balloon based system which has very little or no vibrations at all.

Then it dawned on me after a test flight. I have used tie cord as a safety backup in case the vibration isolators would become separated from the camera platform and after a previous hard landing all four indeed became detached. The next flight I forgot to reattach the isolators so the platform was hanging by the tie cord loops. The four tie cord loops were not all equal in length so the camera was flown at a ten degree, or so, tilt angle. After landing and giving my self a Homer Simpson DUH! I decided to download the flashcard and see what I got.


To my surprise the sharpest images that I have taken to this day from any aerial platform! That was the key! For the first time I was able to stitch a decent ten image panorama together! The problem with fisheye lenses is that they don’t stitch into decent quality images very well. Even though the camera was tilted and the copter wavered around due to both the normal GPS wondering and well as the ten to twenty MPH gusty breezes my stitching program, PtGui Pro,  was able to easily stitch the ten images together. The other main problem with this particular panorama is that I did not take the images with enough overlap. While there are some areas of the image that certainly need improvement it is the IMAGE RESOLUTION that beats all previous images taken from any ariel platform, at least by myself!

Next to stabilize it even more I will be looking into a downward facing stabilization camera to supplement the GPS for position hold as well as an ultrasonic range finder to supplement the altitude hold function. Using vibration isolators between the camera platform and then suspending the gimbal from the airframe with tie cord is a perfect answer for total vibration isolation for still imagery, while this is obviously not a very good solution for videography – well I really don’t care that much about moving pictures anyway 😉

Update: I may have spoken too soon when suggesting that tie cord may not work for video, here is a video taken with the exact same setup as was used for my stitched pano:

You can clearly see the difficulties in taking a series of still images to stitch together for a pano, the copter is flailing around in the wind. Most of the jitteriness seen in the above video would be minimized when a two axis stabilizing gimbal is utilized. Note that the video from the Nikon J1 is not very good to begin with, compared to the D800, slow panning on a stationary tripod results in marked  loss of resolution, not seen at all in this video. I am becoming convinced that a third axis gimbal motor may be necessary due to the unreliably unstable rotation control of the hexacopter is around the z-axis, especially when windy. Yup, retractable landing gear and a third axis gimbal motor may ultimately be necessary.

My FrankenDrone Gets Eyes

Well I finally attached my Nikon J1 onto my quad, actually I first attached it a few weeks back but the jello effect prevented decent video. Actually the jello effect was not that bad but it still was there. I used the vibration isolation platform from my Phantom Vision 2 so it is a bit overloaded. I must shop around for some heavier duty isolators.

You will notice that when pointed into the wind everything is fine, however, when pointing away from the wind the copter had to point nose high in order to offset the wind. This caused the isolator platform to rest on the battery causing a slight jello effect which then caused the camera difficulties auto focusing. Also note the tilt of the horizon when pointing perpendicular to the wind.


The battery tested well, with out any wind, the battery flight time for simply hovering was 30 minutes from full charge to 22.2 Volts, where I have programmed the PixHawk to Return To Launch (RTL) mode, providing ample reserves. But in todays wind the flight time was limited to about eighteen minutes, Remember while stationary hovering in one position it was actually fighting the wind and actually flying at an airspeed of 15-20 MPH+.

I am now ready to design and build a two axis gimbal for it as well. Here is a short video, note that I was testing this beast in a 15-20 MPH wind that was gusting to well over 30 MPH. While the video may cause air sickness I think the PixHawk handled it quite well, at least after it decided on a point on which to hold its position. I had to provide some inputs initially to prevent it from blowing into a tree.