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Archive for May, 2007

A Review of Serif PanoramaPlus 1

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
Before and After Using Serif PanoramaPlus
Which Flag Do You Prefer? Before and After Using Serif PanoramaPlus 1

I was in a local bookstore last week going through the magazine section and pulled the current issue of the astronomy magazine BBC Sky at Night. I’m in the habit of going through all the astronomy magazines in search of interesting articles. Unfortunately for Sky at Night I’ve never came across an article in their magazine that would make it worth its price. Looking at the May 2007 issue, it wasn’t what was inside the magazine that grabbed my interest but what was on the CD that comes with the magazine.

The CD has a full version of Serif’s PanoramaPlus, version 1. This program automates the creation of panoramic images given a list of individual source images. Previously I had created my panoramas by using Adobe Photoshop’s Transform Tool and layer masks. Needless to say the Transform Tool is definitely suboptimal – especially when it comes to altering the geometry of the individual images. While I wasn’t thrilled that as a part of the software activation process I had to call the UK offices of Sky at Night, I figured that would be cheaper than going out and buying the software. What bugged me about this is that for all other magazines containing CDs with full versions of software being offered, I’ve never had to make a phone call to activate the product: either it was ready to go or all I had to do was point my browser at the specified web page to complete the registration.

Fortunately the software did have a one time use without registering so that I could fire it up and test it out. I fed the program a total of 11 images from an Apollo 16 EVA to merge. Their combined file size was 8.5 megabytes. PanoramaPlus quickly stitched them together and as far as I could tell from the software’s preview window, had done a good job of it.

The final step was to export the newly created panorama. Therein lies the source of my disappointment. The only export format available was to save as a jpeg. Not only that but there was no option to specify image quality and no documentation identifying what compression setting the software was using. The other shock was the size of my new panorama – just 3000 pixels wide. PanoramaPlus had taken 11 separate images with a combined width of 25,740 pixels and combined file size of 8.57 megabytes and created a panorama just 3000 pixels wide with a file size of 880K.

As a before and after comparison I took the American flag from the panorama and enlarged it to match the flag in one of the source images. The comparison of the two flags is shown at the top of this article. Note that the image shown is a scaled down version of the full size comparison. On the left is the original source flag image and on the right is the flag image from the PanoramaPlus panorama, upsized to match the size of the original flag. The qualitative difference is obvious.

Going to the Serif web site, I see that they are now on version 3 of the software so it is probably no longer the same product. Bottom line: if you’re thinking of buying the May 2007 issue of Sky at Night because of the PanoramaPlus version 1 software, don’t – big mistake. And the special upgrade offer they are running in the magazine: if you’re in the U.S. and paying in U.S. dollars, the standard price for the software is cheaper than the Sky at Night special “discount.”
Ad Astra, Jim

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ISDC Presentation Schedule

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
NSS International Space Development Conference
International Space Development Conference (ISDC)

Tomorrow I leave for Dallas and the International Space Development Conference (ISDC). If you are attending the International Space Development Conference this weekend, you may be interested in attending one of my presentations.

My original schedule had me doing three presentations and serving on one panel – “Chapter Outreach Tactics: What Works, What Doesn’t, What Hasn’t Been Tried Yet?” Unfortunately tight scheduling forced me to withdraw from the panel as one of my other presentations was slated for the same time slot.

Following is my presentation schedule for the ISDC, all of which are on Saturday May 26:

Time Program Title
2:30-3:00 Selling Space: The Waterfall Approach to Public Outreach
5:00-5:25 The National Space Society Space Settlement Art Contest
5:25-5:45 Imaging Mars: The Process of Digitally Processing Planetary Images

The ISDC is a great space conference and has quite a lineup of speakers, including Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Rusty Schweickart, and Harrison Schmitt. This is the only space conference that I regularly attend.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Photoshop NSS Banner Let’s Build a Future Together

Friday, May 11th, 2007
NSS Banner Let's Build a Future Together
Photoshop National Space Society Banner Let’s Build a Future Together by Jim Plaxco

Last night I submitted an entry to the NSS (National Space Society) Banner Design Contest. What made my submission unusual is that I am one of the judges for the contest. This left my fellow judges wondering what my intentions were – was I dropping out as a judge to become a contestant? Did I want a crack at the $500.00 cash prize? Not at all I explained. The night before (Wednesday) I had gone to the NSS Banner Design Gallery to look over the submissions that I would be voting on. Unfortunately I didn’t see any that I really liked. Most were far too science fictiony for my tastes given that these designs are to be used to produce a banner promoting the NSS and its chapters. I expressed my negative feelings to my fellow judges in an e-mail. After sending that e-mail, I thought “why just criticize – what can I come up with?” I figured that I would see what I could do so later that night I set out to create my own banner design. It is that design which is the illustration for this post. You can see a larger version on my submission page.

In creating this banner, there were five basic elements to consider:

  • the background image
  • the NSS logo
  • the NSS name
  • an appropriate slogan
  • creating a composition from these individual elements

For a background, I decided to go with a lunar landscape that featured an Apollo LEM (Lunar Excursion Module). To achieve this, I composited together a series of Apollo 16 70mm Hasselblad images. These became a single layer in my Photoshop document. I located a separate image of the Earth, also from the Apollo 16 mission, taken en route to the Moon. I brought this into Photoshop as another layer. To this I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer as a clipping mask and slightly increased both the saturation and lightness of the Earth.

I now had to come up with a slogan. A page full of scribbled ideas later, I decided to go with “Let’s Build a Future Together.”

Lastly, with the Moon, the Earth, my slogan, the NSS logo, and the NSS name all on separate Photoshop layers, I began to work with both the placement and the sizing of the individual elements. At this point the only element that remained static was the lunar background. I eventually arrived at a composition that I was happy with and called it a night.

Yesterday after work I used the automated design submission form to enter my design in the contest. Why not give it a try yourself. You can find all the details about the contest at the National Space Society Banner Design Contest web page.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Desert Reality?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
Desert Reality Inspired Bird House
Desert Reality Inspired Bird House

Looking through my April issue of Rangefinder magazine I came across an interesting profile of photographer Ed Freeman. Titled Desert Reality, the article focuses on the composite images Freeman created and then used for his book Desert Reality. While the photographs appear totally realistic, they are fakes. For Freeman, Adobe Photoshop is as important as his camera because his “photographs” are actually very well done creative composites. The theme is that of unusual or dilapidated buildings, isolated, and placed into a California desert setting. Freeman photographs a building, removes it from its original setting, and then composites it with a desert landscape and an appropriate sky.

One fascinating aspect pointed out in the article is that the background mountain range in all but one image in the book actually came from the same source photograph. Freeman used various Photoshop techniques to alter the appearance of the mountains for each of the images in which it was used.

If you visit the book’s web site,, there is a gallery displaying some of the images from the book. There is also a before and after feature whereby for two of the images from the book you can see the original photograph of the building and then the building as composited into the desert landscape. You may also want to visit Ed Freeman’s web site.

As I was writing this entry, it occurred to me that I would need an appropriate illustration. I went to to grab a couple stock photos. One of the first pictures I found was of a bird house – that would be my structure. Next was to find an appropriate background. Seeing an image of a stately lawn, I knew that I had my picture. It was a simple task to use Photoshop’s Lasso Tool to isolate the bird house from its background and drag it in as a new layer on the lawn photo. Positioning the bird house slightly back from the central gravel path seemed natural. I then used a combination of the clone stamp and eraser tools and layer masks to blend the base of the house with the gravel path. The final step was to create a shadow layer for the bird house so that its lighting would match the shadows being cast by the trees to the left. One thing I thought of doing but didn’t was to enlarge the bird hole and add a sign “Beware of Bird.”

Just one more example of how Photoshop can be the digital photographer’s best friend.

Ad Astra, Jim

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