In March 2009, thanks to support from the Fine Family Foundation, gigapan was introduced to the Dorset coast. Gigapan is a panoramic camera system like no other!
Rather than simply taking a series of say 6 wide angle shots of a view, gigapan will take 60 or 80 or even a lot more, with the camera set on zoom. Then, using software from the NASA Mars landers, the images are stitched together on a circular projection to create a panoramic image with amazing detail. Once loaded onto the gigapan web site, viewers can explore the images, zoom into detailed features and even take their own photographs. It is also possible to create a series of snapshots and to write captions about them, essentially interpreting the view in great detail.
This system has obvious applications to the Jurassic Coast. It is possible to photograph a landscape and interpret the geology or landforms along with all the other features within it. It is possible to photograph inside, for instance a geology display within a museum, where every single object and label can be read. Two examples are already available: Budleigh and Honiton Museum displays refurbished using the Heritage Lottery Collecting Cultures project money. It is also possible to photograph fossils or assemblages of fossils which again can be explored down to a millimetre level.
One problem with the gigapan web site is that each image stands alone and for most users the interest is the system rather than the subject. On the other hand, it is not a problem as the gigapan web site simply provides the software to support the image and format. The next step is to embed these images into web pages relevant to the subject. So, for instance, if we wanted to use a gigapan image to help people understand how to search for fossils, all we need to do is embed that image into our web site. Similarly, we could take a series of images and use them to illustrate a walk along a section of the Jurassic Coast. Or we could use the system to explore a specific story such as the building stones and how they give rise to the distinctive character of the towns and villages long the coast. Or we could create a virtual museum of fossils. We can even use gigapan to provide an image of the World Heritage Site team with snapshots explaining who we are and what we do.
Gigapan is only limited by imagination and time, the latter being quite a problem. Much as we would al like to be paid to wander about on the coast taking amazing images, we do not have the time and so far most images have been taken when opportunity presents itself or at weekends and evenings. Indeed, we are still ‘feeling our way’ with this system but it has a clear and exciting application for years to come. Just search for any of the subjects above or for ‘Dorset coast’ or ‘FOFS Dorset’ to explore the images.
Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager.