Sunday, 17 February 2019

Desert Trek II: How to publish 360 panorama pictures. The Good, the Bad, and the Just Sad

Note: Google has screwed up its support for third party 360 panorama viewers. Thus, you may not be able to see the panorama  at the beginning of this article. I am working on a fix. It may take some time.

Panorama 360 pictures are easier to create than you might think. If you are into photography, you can do it by taking several pictures and stitching them together in a program like Affinity Photo or Photoshop. You can also use dedicated panorama software like Hugin.

If you want to make it really easy, and have the money to spend, you can buy a 360 panorama camera.

 If you are into 3D, programs like Daz Studio, Blender, and many other 3D programs have the capability to render 360 panoramas. That's the easy part, but...once you have a360 panorama, where and how do you publish it?

Facebook: Painful, but it works

Facebook has had 360 panorama support for some time now. It works well, but uploading a panorama picture is a kludgy, slightly painful process.

Facebook uses metadata in pictures you upload to decide whether they are panorama pictures. This, of course, hinges on the pictures actually having the correct metadata from the start.

Unless you are using a 360 panorama camera, chances are, your 360 panorama won't have that metadata.

However, you can add that metadata to the picture yourself. The following description is for Windows 10:
  1. Make sure that you have a real 360 panorama picture:
    • The width is twice the height.
    • The picture uses equirectangular projection
  2. Right-click on the picture, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. The Properties dialog opens.
  3.  Select the Details tab.
  4. Scroll down until you see the Camera maker and Camera model properties.
  5. Enter RICOH in the Camera maker field.
  6. Enter RICOH THETA S in the Camera model field.
7. Click the OK button.

That is it!

Facebook will believe the picture is a 360 panorama shot with a Rico Theta S camera, and will handle it as the 360 panorama it actually is.

Google: How to get it, but get it wrong

The blog site I use to publish my blog, Blogger, is a Google owned sight. You may have noticed that I am using the Orb Panorama Embedder to display the panorama painting at the beginning of this article. That is because Google truly sucks at handling panoramas.

You would expect that Google, with its support for 360 panoramas in Google maps, would have an excellent way of embedding panoramas on its blog site, and have panorama support in Google Photo, and its other products, but no.

Google does offer 360 panorama support for web developers, but not for ordinary users.

The problem, I believe, is that Google has been so focused on using 360 panoramas in Google Maps, that they forgot all the other ways 360 panoramas can be used.

ArtStation: 360 panoramas done right

One site that gets how 360 panoramas should work, is ArtStation. When I upload a panorama to ArtStation, I just tell ArtStation that it is a panorama that I am uploading.

Then, everything works. No hazzle. No metadata to set manually.

Funny how ArtStation has managed to implement 360 panoramas in a much simpler way than Facebook and Google.

Instagram: Just a heap of bad news

Sadly, Instagram does not support 360 panoramas!

There is a workaround: You can publish panorama photos by slicing them up into square pieces, and publish them using Instagram's multi-picture upload feature.

Unfortunately, this works only on cylindrical panoramas. 360 panoramas are spherical. Think of the camera as placed in the center of a sphere. In order to project the spherical image to the flat surface of a picture in your camera or computer, a mathematical model called equirectangular projection is used.

I havent yet seen a piece of software that handles equirectangular projection when slicing a true 360 panorama.

There is another possibility: Convert the 360 panorama to a video, and upload that. You can probably do it with Pano2VR, but I haven't tried that yet.

For the time being, Instagram just isn't a good platform for publishing 360 panoramas.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Rescue - and a few words about cropping pictures

 What do you see in the picture above? I see a big, muscle bound dude in chains, about to get ripped to pieces by female werewolf.

We can deduce from the hair color that the big dude isn't Conan. Could possibly be Doc Savage, but the hair is too long.

Not a major hero, which means he can be sacrificed on the altar of dramatic storytelling.

Looks like he is a goner. Farewell, unknown muscle bound guy!

Except...that I cropped the picture.

Let's look at a version that reveals a bit more.

 Okay...this is different. Woman with bloody sword lurking in the shadows. The bloody sword indicates that she is a fighter, and a competent one. At least more competent than the person whose blood is on the sword.

If she intervenes, muscle guy has a fighting chance, even if it's not his fight. A bit of a nail-biter for him, except he can't bite his nails because...chained to two pillars.

If you have followed this blog, you may recognize the woman: Alice of Sandby. Well, one of the versions of Alice that I have used in other pictures. You may also notice that something is written along the side of the blade. So, the sword is Illi, Alice's not-so-nice-but-oh-so-lethal rune blade.

Suddenly, it looks like it is the werewolf that is in serious trouble.

So, the story changed completely because of how the picture was cropped. Cropping is about the simplest thing you can do with a picture, and yet, it is also one of the most powerful things you can do.

Try it! Whether you are a painter, a photographer, a 3D artist, or something else, have a look at your pictures, and see if you can change the stories they tell by cropping them.

One last thing:

Facebook blocked my previous blog post, The Importance of Reading. Check it out if you wonder why artists can benefit by reading.

Be seeing you!

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Importance of Reading

Kyla: T-Rex Hunt

The picture above is inspired by another picture I found in Words for Pictures, a book about writing comics by Brian Michael Bendis.

The picture in the book depicts The Hulk fighting a T-Rex, and smashing its head with a single blow. As you can imagine, it is a very dramatic picture.

The picture is also very well drawn. It uses foreshortening and a dramatic angle to create a sense of movement and action. There is unrestrained power and savagery.

I can't even come close to matching the skill that went into creating the picture in the book.

However, that does not stop me from trying!

I read, I study pictures, and I try to improve. The first step is to try to replicate what I see. I usually do not try to replicate characters straight off. Instead I focus on composition, movement, lighting, all the elements that create the mood and evoke emotions.

Here is another picture inspired by artwork from the same book:

Kyla: Close Combat

The inspiration is from a page spread with pictures of Hulk and Thor fighting, made by different artists. Even though all the pictures depict battles between the same characters, they are all very different.

And, the Hulk vs. Thor pictures, while they have some things in common with mine, like close combat between characters of uneven size, are also different from my picture.

The point is that without me reading that book by Bendis, neither of these two pictures would exist.

Reading, looking at pictures, and analyzing what I read and see, enables me to create things I otherwise could not.

Here is a third picture I could not have created without reading:

This picture is from a fashion photo session. I took the opportunity to also shoot a few portraits.

In order to create this portrait, I needed to know how to light a person, how to use my camera, how to do background replacement with Affinity Photo, how to do frequency separation, and a host of other things.

How did I get to know all those things? How can I go from Fantasy comics to fashion photography to portraits?

The answer is easy: Reading!

...and, of course, tons of practice. All of the practice I have done would not have mattered much though, if I had not read books on photography and post-processing, and discussed it with other photographers.

One of the most common mistakes I see in people who want to develop their artistic abilities, is that they learn a few things, then keep repeating them, with minor variations, without trying to learn and practice something new.

You can't do all new stuff all the time, because then you never master anything, but you can keep adding something new to the pictures you make, so that when you practice the things you know, you also keep learning new things.

Reading books is not the only way to learn something new, but it is one of the easiest, most effective, and definitely one of the most enjoyable.

So, decide what you want to learn next, then go pick up a book about it. You won't regret it!

I sure don't!

Saturday, 29 December 2018


Alone - B&W version. Be mindful that alone and lonely are two very different things. You can be alone without being lonely, and the loneliest place I know is a crowd.

Recently, I was asked to leave a group for people with "artistic aspirations" by the moderator of the group. There were two reasons:
  • I have the habit of writing a bit about each picture. According to the moderator of the group, this is bad, because art should speak for itself.
  • My pictures lack every ounce of artistic merit.
I left the group. Why spend time arguing, when I can spend it creating pictures, or discussing art with people who do want to discuss art?

I had not planned writing about it, but today, I saw that same moderator post a video about the importance of including everyone, and never, ever shutting anyone out.

The first thing I thought was, "wow, what a hypocrite!"
My second thought was, "is she a hypocrite, or just incredibly stupid?"
The third thing that popped into my mind was, "I really hope I am not that stupid too."

Alone - Color version.
I often find myself holding the view of a minority, and quite often, the minority is just me. That can make me feel more than a little bit lonely, but it also has advantages. It makes it easier to examine, and re-examine, my views to see if I need to adjust them, or if I am outright wrong.

Quite often, when I thoroughly re-examine facts and logic, I find that I was right from the start. This is of course quite worrying, because there are many more ways to be wrong than right. If I rarely change my mind, then maybe I am not as good at absorbing new facts and re-examining my beliefs as I think I am.

I try not to judge other people's art though.

Artists work with languages of symbols. There are many such symbol languages, and I speak but a few. I cannot judge the quality of art that is created with symbols unknown to me, or that do not evoke an emotional response in me.

In the cases where I am qualified to judge why should I? I either enjoy the piece, or I do not. If I enjoy something, yes, I do tell the artist that, but if I do not, there is no reason to say so. It won't help the artist. It won't make me happier either.

Discussing art is a way of transferring knowledge about the symbol languages of art. It makes it possible to appreciate and enjoy art that one cannot otherwise appreciate and enjoy.

There are many artists I admire, and many, perhaps most, of them are very good at discussing their art. Some, like Joe McNally, William Mortensen, Scott Kelby, and Stan Lee, have written books about their way of creating art. Alex Ross makes videos. So do many others.

I believe, very strongly, that if I do not write and talk about what I do, I would severely limit my own development. Wether anyone else finds what I write and say useful...well, that is for them to say. I just do my best.

Fortunately, I have friends who are willing to share their understanding of art. I just hope my ideas have enough merit, so I can give my friends something in return for all the ideas and insights they have given me over the years.

So, while I do withdraw from others quite often, in order to think and work, and thus is often alone, thanks to friends and family, I am rarely lonely, despite my tendency to be a misfit in social media groups.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Kyla Rising - Contrast and composition

I often look at pictures made by the artists I admire, like Joe Jusko, Gerald Brom, Frank Frazetta, William Mortensen, and Michael Whelan, to better understand what it is that makes their work outstanding.

One of the things is contrast! Look at the work of the artists I listed. Black & White pictures are nearly always high contrast, with the main subject clearly differentiated from everything else in the picture. It is the same thing with the color pictures. If you turn on of their color pictures Black & White, you will see the same thing: Clear separation of subjects and background. The main subject clearly separated from everything else.

There are exceptions, but those are deliberate exceptions, when blending different parts together is the point. It rarely happens by accident.

Me, I am struggling, and, I hope, slowly learning to do the same thing.

The picture above is a visual analysis of the picture, similar to the one I made for Arachnophobia II. Even though I have used many elements borrowed from Mortensen's visual language, and some from other sources, the primary element is contrast: Light and darkness, sex and fear, water (soft), and stone (hard).

Below are  four different versions of Kyla Rising, two in colour, and two B&W. Have a look at them.Which is your favorite version? Why?

That is all for now. I'll get back to preparing picture ideas and photo sessions for 2019.

Be seeing you!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Wolf Moon - Where are all the Female Werewolves?

Wolf Moon
A long time ago, when I was way to young to watch horror movies, I used to watch them anyway, with my grandfather. I was completely mesmerized by Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man, the 1941 original of course, not the 2010 remake.

Over the years, I have seen my fair share of werewolf movies, good and not so good: An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Howling (1981), The Company of Wolves (1984), Teen Wolf (), Wolf (Jack Nicholson, 1994), Dog soldiers (2002), and a couple of others.

Two observations:
  • Werewolves were more popular in the 80's than they are now. Yes, there are modern werewold movies, like the Wolfman (2010) remake of the original Lon Chaney, Jr. movie, but they are nowhere near as popular as they used to be.
  • There is a distinct lack of female werewolves, both in old and newer movies. There are exceptions like Ginger Snaps (2000, and supposed to be good, I haven't seen it), but overall, werewolves tend to be male.
 It struck me that if I want to do werewolf pictures, redressing the gender imbalance would be a good thing.
Wolf Moon - High Contrast B&W
So far, I am just experimenting with a werewolf 3D model, dramatic lighting setups, and postprocessing styles.

The next step is to create a storyboard, or two, and to try to get models interested.

Would you be interested in facing a werewolf a moon-lit night?

Storyboarding - the key to better collaboration between model and photographer

Cat and Mouse
For the past couple of years I have been storyboarding my photo sessions, usually with simple, and rather ugly, pencil sketches.

Some time ago, I decided to step up the quality of the storyboards a bit. There are two reasons for this:
  • I can set up and test the 3D parts of my pictures before the photo session. That makes it easier for me to see whether a picture will look as good on screen, or printed, as it looks inside my head. If it does not, I can scrap the picture before I do a shoot with a model. That saves both the model and me a lot of time and effort.
  • When I discuss a shoot with a model, I can show something that is fairly close to what the final picture will look like. That way, it is easier for a model to decide whether she/he is interested or not. It is also easier to discuss how to set up the shoot, what props will be needed, and what the model will have to do to prepare for the shoot. This also saves time overall, and improves the final result.
What I do now, is that I shoot my backgrounds first, then render and composit 3D elements, and use a 3D model as a stand-in for human models. After compositing, I also do the final painting process.

This gets me as close as I can to a final result without doing the actual photo session with a live model.
Cat People
Cat People is a good example. A model can see  what the final result will look like, the position she will sit in, and the overall mood of the picture. Of course, if the model I work with have suggestions for variations and improvements, I am happy to discuss them, and try them out.

I use the picture to figure out how to light the model during the photo shoot, camera angles, whether to change anything in the 3D render, possible variations... There is a lot of stuff that can change from when I created this storyboard to the final picture. What the storyboard provides, is a great starting point.

Taking the Jaguar out for a Spin

Rite of Passage

That's it, for now. Next time, a few words about werewolves.