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Playing with Photosynth

July 24, 2010

I wrote some time ago about our use of Seadragon to display student projects where I work. Tonight, I am looking at a different technology to have come out of Microsoft Labs in the recent past: Photosynth.

Photosynth is a display technology which analyzes a set of photographs in order to find common areas. The results can be quite compelling, but there are still some oddities in specific photosets. I expect that this boils down to learning how to take photographs for this kind of application, but I won’t know for sure until I get a few more made.

Photosynth of Chicago Model City

The link above will take you to a synth I put together on a recent trip to Chicago. The subject is the model of downtown Chicago that is on display at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The technique used for this was to step sideways around the model, snapping a photograph about every five feet. There were some portions of the city that drew my eye more specifically (like the Aqua tower), so I also laid in extra photographs of that from several angles.

Other photographic techniques I have tried include a walkthrough of a space, shooting every few feet in a linear fashion, and a pinwheel pattern – taking a specific vantage point and taking a photograph every few degrees around. Thus far, the best results have come from this last method – although there are still issues that arise when I attempt to combine images from several pinwheel vantage points in a single synth. As an example of this issue, check out the two iterations I produced of the US-Algeria watch party at Columbus Crew Stadium (version one and version two) – the first version stitches fairly well, although the second iteration – with additional images – introduces some oddities in navigation as the viewer can occasionally be whisked around the space in a disorienting fashion.

If you are interested in seeing additional examples, check out my profile on

Technical Note

One implementation challenge which Photosynth will face is that – as far as I can tell – it can only be instantiated via an iframe tag. This restricts the technology’s ability to spread virally, as many platforms (like WordPress) won’t allow their users to use a tag like this. Video embeds from sites like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as other viral-friendly content, tends to use the more accepted object or embed tag.

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