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Category Archives: planetoids

In November I went on a city break to Berlin with some old school friends. We only had a couple of days but managed to cram in culture and hedonism in fairly large measures – it seems Berlin is pretty good for both of these. First up is the gang outside Berlin Cathedral:

Next we have Brandenberg Gate. We just missed him, but new F1 world champ Sebastian Vettel had just had some kind of celebratory doughnut session right next door and had left his skid marks all over the place.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or Holocaust Memorial, is a striking and somber reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. It consists of a 19,000 square metre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. There is a museum underneath the memorial.

Next we headed to an exhibition about Hitler at the German Historic Museum. Here’s the equirectangular panorama. I made the planet from it using Mathmap. Reminiscent of the Great Court in the British Museum.

So that was Saturday afternoon. Saturday night we headed to Berghain, “quite possibly the current world capital of techno”. Highly recommended but strictly no cameras.

Oh dear it doesn’t look like I’ve posted anything here for a while. Well, now that I’ve finally wrapped up my PhD, time to get back to some fun stuff. I’ve been living in Amsterdam for the last 6 months but before I post some of the many planets I’ve made here, I thought I’d get these underwater ones up. I took these about a year ago on a diving trip around St. John’s reef system in the southern Red Sea. Last year I bought a very nice Hugyfot housing for my Nikon which I then took with me underwater for the week. The housing was very easy to get to grips with and I was pretty happy with the shots I got with it. It wasn’t cheap though so it’ll be a few more years before I feel like I’ve got value for money from it!

I thought I’d try some underwater panoramas as you don’t see them very often. All the usual rules like staying in the same place to reduce parallax are very difficult to stick to when you’re dealing with currents, depth, buoyancy, sharks etc. but Hugin did a decent job and a bit of clone tool dealt with any errors.

These were all taken with a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye @ 10mm. Stitched with Hugin then some tweaking in Photoshop and some Topaz magic.

At the end of last year I was commissioned to take some shots of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) for their annual report. The EBI is a centre for research and services in bioinformatics (the subject of my PhD), part of European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton near Cambridge. Here are a few of what I came up with.

I thought I’d better get a few of the oak tree that’s part of the EBI logo so I got as close as I could! I like the way the canopy covers so much of the image, it almost feels like you’re inside the tree. There’s a tree on Wimbledon common that I climbed then tried to take a planet but there were too many parallax issues and it wasn’t a good place for a tripod!

I’m really keen on interior shots with complex ceilings. I used my tripod and Nodal Ninja for this one so it wasn’t too hard to stitch; if I’d done it handheld I’m sure I’d have spent a while longer touching it up.

Here’s where all the science goes on. This is my friend Mark who I used to work with at Inpharmatica. He’s in John Overington’s chemoinformatics group. Big thanks to John (who was also at Inpharmatica) for getting me involved in this project.

I shot all of these with my Nodal Ninja, bracketed then Enfused, before finishing with some Topaz Adjust.

Last week, UCL held the annual ‘Research Images as Art / Art Images as Research‘ exhibition and I’m happy to say that, for the second year running, I was one of the runners up! The winning entry is fantastic so I can’t have any complaints, I’m just pleased the judges liked my slightly mind bending entries. They’re both stereographic projections of UCL’s quadrangle, though I went for an inverted view (pitched 180 degrees) rather than for a little planet. The first one is by day…

And the second is by night…

Shot (bracketed) using my Nodal Ninja, stitched with Hugin, exposure blended with Enfuse, and finally a bit of Topaz Adjust which is fast becoming my weapon of choice. The prize money is a very welcome surprise and should just about cover the cost of one of these.

In June I visited sunny Stockholm for the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) conference, a scientific meeting on the subjects of bioinformatics and computational biology that has been held annually since 1993, and has grown to the largest and most prestigious meetings in these fields. The conference and special interest groups went on for a week so I had quite a bit of free time to shoot some little planets. About 10 minutes walk from my hotel was this church which I think is called the Church of Riddarholmen – seems to be a pretty good match with this model that someone has created – which would make it one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm. I was a bit optimistic shooting this as stitching a nadir composed of cobblestones is usually a bit of a nightmare. I got lucky this time though and Hugin stitched it perfectly first time.


Close by is an area know as Gamla stan which means ‘Old City’. Gamla stan consists primarily of the island Stadsholmen and is home to Stockholm Cathedral, the Nobel Museum and Sweden’s baroque Royal Palace. Here are two of my partners in crime for the trip, Daniel and Tracey, who assisted me in conducting a thorough analysis of Stockholm’s nightlife.


One of the conference receptions was held in Stockholm City Hall. It stands on the eastern tip of Kungsholmen island, next to Riddarfjärden’s northern shore and facing the islands of Riddarholmen and Södermalm. It houses offices and conference rooms as well as ceremonial blue and golden halls. It is the venue of the Nobel Prize banquet and one of Stockholm’s major tourist attractions.


One of the strangest things about Stockholm in summer is that night seems to last only a few hours. It was dark by about midnight, but then light again by about 2.30am. If you’re out drinking until this sort of time then you face an inevitable walk of shame home without the cover of darkness. Not particulaly fair, but in winter I imagine the situation is reversed so things probably even out. This was taken using ISO 1600 at just before 3am.


I didn’t have my tripod with me for this trip so all these planets were handheld, so no bracketing, enfusing or HDR. I’ve recently reinstalled Windows XP and am having lots of fun with CS4 and a plugin called Topaz Adjust, which produces HDR/enfuse-like effects via adaptive exposure adjustments – perfect for handheld panoramas. There’s a free trial but it’s quite cheap anyway.

The weather in London over the last few days has been pretty awful, and it made me realise that some parts of our recently departed summer were actually pretty nice. June for example was fantastic – living in Wimbledon, where the All England Club host the annual tennis grand slam, we had two weeks of glorious weather, almost certainly a jinx due to the construction of the new sliding roof on centre court. As much as I like to complain about the traffic restrictions they impose during the tournament and the influx of slow moving tourists, I love watching the tennis and you feel quite privileged getting your local weather forecast on the national news.

On the Wednesday of the first week I got in line and queued for a good three hours to get it. Armed to the teeth with booze, crisps and some roasting sunshine, that wasn’t as tough as it sounds so seemed to pass quite quickly. But when we got in the afternoon drinking had gone to my head a little so we went and had a sit down on the hill adjacent to court number one.


A couple of year back it was Henman hill, now I think they call it Murray mountain. Either way, it’s a great place to sit back, have a drink and soak up the atmosphere. There’s also a big TV screen where you can watch what’s going on in centre or court number one. I wasn’t the only one who was feeling the effects of afternoon drinkies as there were more than a few casualties having a siesta, surrounded by a plethora of empty beer cans and wine bottles.


At the top of the hill they have a white picket fence which encloses a little water feature complete with lilies and a fountain. Here my friend Sarah gazes out (eyes closed obviously) over the 19 tournament courts that make up the club.


In the heart of the complex they have some pretty fancy architecture like this spiral staircase that leads up to what I think is the press area. Lots of glass and steel, obviously very high budget.


And a very heavy media presence too. This is Wimbledon park golf club, just across the road. When else are you going to be allowed to park a van like this on the 18th hole? There was no one inside so I was very tempted to jump in and start pressing some buttons.


And more to the point, when else am I going to be able to take a load of photos from inside a sand bunker, without getting chased off by some angry guy wielding a golf club?

Wimbledon park golf club

Time for a few stereographic shots from some of London’s many train stations. First up is Paddington station, from where you can catch trains to the west country (I used to  travel from here to Bristol when I was a undergraduate). This was taken at about two in the morning so it was completely deserted apart from us lot. The huge 200 meter long roof is supported by wrought iron arches in three spans – this shot only shows one of those so you get some idea of the scale.  Lots of detail and not too much noise at ISO 3200.


Next up is Waterloo station, the main London terminus for trains to the south west of England and the suburbs of London. What works nicely here in a stereographic projection is the roof. It was a bit of pain to stitch and retouch the beams and girders but I think it was worth it. Most planetoids have relatively little going on in the ‘sky’ region but here the situation is reversed.


Waterloo is a big station – apparently it has more platforms than any other station in the UK – this is a little further along. It was unusually busy for this time of day due to tube strikes so I had to remove quite a few duplicate people from this one.


Flip it 180 degrees and you get a better view of the roof. This is right underneath the central clock.


One of my photographic passions other than creating planets and panoramas is underwater photography. Unfortunately it’s a pricey game – underwater camera gear is very expensive, as are flights and dive trips to tropical destinations where all the good fish hang out. At the moment I use my trusty Canon G7 in an Ikelite housing, with Inon wide angle and macros lenses, and an Inon z240 strobe. This kit has served me very well so far and I’ve been pleased enough with the results to get a few shots printed on canvas. The setup does have its limitations though. The Ikelite housing is robust but it’s certainly not particularly ergonomic – it is essentially an expensive perspex box. And while the G7 is a great camera in bright conditions, like most compacts with small sensors, noise becomes a problem in the depths where light struggles to reach. Shutter delay is a problem too, as it is for all types of nature photography. Compacts do have their advantages underwater though – in particular, wet lenses that you can swap on or off mid-dive. The G7 also has a great macro capability which you can enhance further with an Inon macro lens. In the future I hope to purchase a housing for my Nikon D90, with an Aquatica or Hugyfot looking like good (although eye-wateringly expensive) options. Here are a few of my favourite shots from my recent trip to the Similan islands. You can see the rest of them on Flickr.

Unfortunately the conditions in the Similan islands weren’t great for taking panoramics or planets. Above land, photographers always talk of the need to rotate the camera around the nodal point in order to minimise parallax errors. Underwater in a strong current this can be a real challenge! Ok true, parallax errors are less of a problem here where there are rarely straight lines about, but if you end up 5 or 6 meters away from where you took the first shot of a pano, the end result might not be so good. That’s what happened here but luckily a bit of clone tool on the coral saved the day (click for a bigger version).

In addition to light currents, to make a good pano underwater you need a combination of a shallow dive with attractive topology, and good natural light. Unfortunately this combination was somewhat elusive so the colours in the pano above weren’t great, even though I shot RAW and fixed the white balance afterwards. The colours in these panos from Sipadan off the coast of Malaysian Borneo I took a few years ago came out much better (click for big).

The one above is taken as Barracuda point, the one below was on the West ridge. Both are about 6 photos. With an SLR and fisheye with a dome port I could probably have done them in 3.

Last year I went on a liveaboard trip around the southern Red sea. We were mostly diving around offshore reefs, looking for sharks, so we were quite deep in strong currents and there wasn’t much coral. So again, not great conditions for panos. One of the islands we dived around looking for hammerheads, Big Brother island, did have a lighthouse which provided a great backdrop for this rather desolate planet.

I’ve just returned from a fantastic two week trip to Thailand. The highlight was eight days diving from a liveaboard around the Similan Island (I’ll write a separate post about this later), but I spent some time before and afterwards relaxing in Phuket and Bangkok. The day after I arrived we headed to Pantip Plaza, a huge 5-storey IT shopping mall in the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok. I spent a few hours checking out prices and tapping on all the different netbooks. I was considering buying a new lens for my D90 but prices were much higher than I expected; I think you could get better deal from UK suppliers over the internet. The same could be said for netbooks, though to be honest I’m going to wait until specs are a little higher before buying one. So I came away with a 100 baht (£2) torch containing 16 super bright LEDs, and this planet.

Pantip Plaza

A few days later we caught an Air Asia flight down to Phuket and headed out for the dive trip. This was great fun, but exhausting, so on our return we spent a few days exploring Phuket’s beaches. I’m not sure what this one’s called, but it was just south of Kata Noi on the west coast, and there’s a wind turbine on the hill at the south end. The sun was hot and the sand was nice, but for snorkelling give this one a miss.


The next day we headed to Patong beach. Patong is the main tourist beach in Phuket and has everything that you probably want to avoid when you’re on holiday – 24 hour McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks etc.. you get the picture. Just as we parked up it started raining so we didn’t stay long, which was no bad thing. If you visit Phuket I’d recommend giving this one a miss. The planet came out pretty well though, I do like a nice thick atmosphere.


Later that evening I flew back to Bangkok for a night of partying in the RCA district. I got to the airport pretty bleary eyed the following morning and managed to take a few more shots before I caught my flight home. The new Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok is impressive; a mixture of glass, steel and and lots of curves make it well suited to a fisheye lens. I grabbed one more planet before getting on my plane; this one probably took longest to stitch and it’s not quite perfect but I’m glad I put the effort in as I think it came out pretty well. The abstract swirls do however bring memories of my hangover flooding back!