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Category Archives: photos

I spend a lot of time studying the middle reach of the Owyhee River in SE Oregon…both in the field and in the office. You may know that I am in love with the LiDAR data we recently got from this area. Here is another reason:

Failed margin of Pleistocene intra-canyon lava flow.

Failed margin of Pleistocene intra-canyon lava flow.

Check out this image of a catastrophically failed margin of a ~60 ka intracanyon lava flow. In this image I simply combined the high-resolution NAIP imagery with the LiDAR data by altering the transparency of the imagery. It is not draped, just an overlay, but it looks pretty amazing. Check out the pressure features on the lava and, or course, the plexus of brittle fractures in the wasted margin of the flow. The large cracks that are so clear on the image are spectacular and mildly frightening  in the field. Bascially, the area is an amazing mess. Check it out some time if you are in to that kind of thing. This summer I will be taking the UNR geology field camp out here.

Lambert Rocks area, Owyhee River, Oregon


I recently had some success with my new gigapan robot. Got what I deemed the perfect camera to go with it (Canon Powershot SX110IS 9MP with 10x optical zoom) and dragged it out into the field. I can’t embed the images in the blog and am working on getting them on my website. For now you can see them at the following links:

Gigapan of Key stratigraphic section documenting the birth of the lower Colorado River

Gigapan of unnamed wash containing key outcrops of the Bouse Formation

The former one could be larger; the latter one is not thrilling, but it was the only windless place that day.

Turns out that the Gigapan Robot is out of beta…it costs a bit more but looks more finished.

Yes. I love to name stuff. Let’s move on.

I finally made it out into the field to try out the gigapan robotic camera mount. Bottom line….sweet, man. This thing is a cinch to use and a kick to watch the first few times. It went so well that I started a new project that will be intimately linked with my too many other projects.

I have been swamped with many things ungeological at the office and could only make it to a local venue for the experiment…a cutbank along the Truckee River bike trail that I map in my mind each time I ride by it. Was hoping for a bigger splash with my first try, but settled on something simple.

After some basic setup procedures (maybe 5 minutes worth), I watched as my old sony digital camera was forced to take a systematic series of 33 pictures. Note that this is a small number and I could have taken 10s more with a higher resolution lens or a more expansive subject. Explore the gigapan site and you will get an idea of the possibilities.

Using the Gigapan stitcher software, I went from the image above to:

The result is a flawlessly stitched image (yes. I added the goofy deckled edge).

Take a minute to visit the hosted image at to get a better feel why I think this is a great tool for geology. There you can zoom in and pan around and really check stuff out. The alluvial stratigraphy at this site is pretty straightforward, but you can imagine the insightful fun you could have with a particularly complicated exposure, right? Eventually, I will find out if the white bed is a tephra and get some radiocarbon dates on the organic muck horizons. Once I do that, I will tag the online image with the data.

A database of these types of (geotagged and geoannotated) images would be of great value. I need to ask some questions of others much smarter than I as to how I can add annotations and lines that can be turned on and off, etc.

Want to see some absolutely fabulous examples of what can be shown with gigapixel photography? Sure you do. Then check out the brilliant work of Greg Downing and others at xRez:

The images of Yosemite are amazing. Also look for the images of the Eastern Sierra front and the Alabama Hills. Rumor has it that the Grand Canyon is in the offing. I and a group of like-minded digital geoheads are trying to get Greg to show the xRez stuff at the GSA annual meeting in Portland this year. Stay tuned.

Note also that Dr. Ron Schott has many geologically interesting gigapans that are easily found on the gigapan site by searching on ‘geology’. For my AZ pals, he has a lot from your turf…why not check them out and provide some insights you may have?

Of all the interesting things I learned at AGU a week or so ago, the utility of the Gigapan system for understanding and illustrating geology sunk in the hardest.

Ron Schott of Ft. Hays State University gave an excellent presentation that made this particularly clear. The gigapan system is elegant in its simplicity and it offers an avenue for simply depicting the elegant complexity (good one, no?) of huge geological vistas and outcrops. It even has an application for looking at very small things in a big way. Check out Ron’s blog for some details.

What is Gigapan? Well, it is a system for taking a panoramic photograph that is composed of many, many, small and detailed photographs. Presumably you have personally attempted to make your own pan photos, say, with a software package or with a built in camera function. Dare I say that you probably didn’t wan’t to try to stitch together more that 5, maybe 6 photos, right? You probably stopped at 3 or 4…like the image below:

The Gigapan cranks this technique up a giganotch by stitching together 10s and 10s of high-resolution images into a…wait for it…Gigapan. The image below is a faked example to illustrate the difference between your approach and the Gigapan approach:

So. Why would you want to do this? Well, for one thing, it is totally cool. For another, it offers an exceptionally efficient way for exploring a large outcrop or geoscape. Once you have taken this series of images, stitched them together, and uploaded the result to the Gigapan site, you can view it at all levels of resolution. In the case above, you can bask in the glory of the huge stack of intracanyon basalt flows on the Owyhee River. Then you can zoom in and look at the complicated cooling structures in great detail. Then you can zoom in and check out the contacts between the flows. While you are at it, you can check out the thin beds of gravels sandwiched between the basalts, etc. etc.

While you are looking at the details, you can pull out images that illustrate some of the aforementioned features. These high-res thumbnails can then be tagged and described for your colleagues to check out. They can then do the same thing and point out obvious stuff that you missed.

I already have my Gigapan gear en route. It works with my existing digital camera collection and is shockingly cheap. Stay tuned for some obvious examples of the application of this to geological studies. Also, stay tuned for the NeGIGAvada project…it is coming. Or should it be GIGAvada?

As a follow-up to recent and elementary post about how useful Google Earth is for field mapping, check out the traverse that I actually made:

Also, check out the online photo album that I created from the geotagged images shown on the snippet above:

Lower Walker River

If you don’t think these technologies are useful, you may need to seek counseling.

I recently realized that I had more than 1200 slides that I had taken in the field between about 1990 and 2001. For example, this insane waterfall I visited in Iceland in July 2000. I also realized that they were becoming distant memories as the years passed and the files from my digital cameras piled up on my hard drive. It was obvious that I was never going to see all or most of these slides again, so I took an evening to go through all of them, toss out the real losers, crudely organize the remaining 996 and send them to a service that scans and archives them to DVD at a cost that I could never, ever match. I chose where they scanned my many slides at 2000 dpi, burned them to DVDs (as full res tifs and medium res jpgs), archived them, printed out a thumbnail album, and mailed them back in less then a month for only $550! After having the digital results in my hot little hands for a couple of hours, I am convinced that it was money well spent.

If you are an aging geologist with a rich photographic slide archive, sit back and think about the likelihood that you are ever going to delve very deeply into it again. My guess is that you may never see most of them again. Have them scanned and you will be able to peruse every single one of them, otherwise they will just get more deeply buried, more disorganized, and ultimately fade away. Take a few minutes to think it over…once you have faded away, no one wants to go through your slide collection if it is not digital (at least probably not).

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Geotagging photos of key outcrops or geoscapes in the field is a very useful thing to do. To geotag a photo is to inscribe the digital file with geographic coordinates. Lots of people are doing it, but I fear that not enough geologists are.

All photo files from digital cameras have an exif header. This stands for ‘exchangeable image file format’ and it is the area where the file name, date, time, exposure, etc., info is stored. Recent interest in digital mapping has lead to the ability to add specific geographic information (i.e. geographic coordinates) to the exif header. This offers great potential to the field geologist. There are various ways to geo-tag a photograph. Up to now, my preferred way has been to use the free photo-sorting program Picasa (yup, a Google product…more on this at related post) wherein you can manually link a photo to a specific location by dragging it to the map. This works fine in many situations, but can be tedious. Over the last couple of days, I have experimented with a more automatic approach using a program called ‘Geosetter‘ which very efficiently and easily geotags my field photos by directly linking their time-stamp with a corresponding GPS tracklog. Brilliant! In this way, you automatically create a geographically accurate set of field photographs. If you use Google Maps, Picasa, or Google Earth, you can then display the images on a base map of your choice.

Check out an example I made using a Picasa Web Album:


Once at the album, click the ‘view map’ link. Be sure to zoom way in using the satellite mode to fully appreciate how useful this application is. Furthermore, consider the fact that some of your field photos may be of great value to other geologists, botanists, historians, etc., at some point in time. By tagging them with key words, geo-tagging them, and making them available online, you may be doing a great service to other scientists. Burying them in a paper archive or on a CD somewhere does no good.

Note, you can use Picasa to geotag your photos one-by-one through a link with Google Earth, using a simple drag-and-drop procedure. At some point it is obvious that digital cameras will automatically stamp the file with the coords, but I think the linkage between digital photos and a GPS tracklog may be the best way to go.

Are you the creator of an intricate directory structure in which you try to keep track of your digital photos? Have you actually saved multiple copies of a photo in order for it to be represented in relevant folders? I was once such a fool. For several years now, though, I have been using Picasa, a free and simple photo organizing program that allows you to tag your photos with key words instead of storing them in directories with key names. This turns out to be an extremely useful application if you have lots of digital photos. Tagging items with key words is superior to elaborate directory structures. Consider the following situation: You have a photo of a key outcrop in a specific map area that conveys multiple types of information. You can store that photo in a directory that is keyed to that map area and hope to remember that it also contains information relevant to other areas or geologic concepts.

Example from my work: Spirit Mtn. Northwest quad; Colorado River Sediment; Bullhead alluvium; erosional unconformity; sediment sample location.

What to do with this much information? By using tags in Picasa, I can store one copy of this image in a directory of my choice, but then tag it with all of those labels (likely shorthand versions like SMNW; Tcb; Unf; SSamp) so that all I have to do is search on the tag to find the image. Easy? Yes.

Picasa isn’t the only program that does this, but I use it exclusively because I can so easily then link the photos with Google Maps, Google Earth, and any of my blogs (also, it is free). Be sure to check out the related post about geotagging photos and displaying them in a Picasa Web Album. The preceding screen-snag of the interface shows the basic layout. The circled area shows a compass rose icon indicating that the image has been geotagged and an arrow that indicates that it has been uploaded to a Picasa Web Album where the photos can be viewed in relation to the point from which they were taken in the field.

It should take you only 30 minutes to figure out how to use the program. Note that it will automatically search your computer for images and if offers some basic image editing functionality.

Another option for providing spatial context for geologically oriented photographs is to geotag them in an online photo album that links to a map. Here is an example made using Picasa, a very handy (free) photo organizing program that can geotag photos for viewing in Google Maps or Google Earth: Geotagged Photo Example

Visit: for quick conversions of Rasters to Vectors. The results are surprisingly good. Below is an example from the Owyhee River:

Original Photo:

Vectorized Result (click image to expand):