Gigapan Behind-the-Scenes

Ever wonder how the Mars Rovers are able to capture such incredible images of the Red Planet? Well, the Gigapan EPIC series of panoramic photography equipment is based on the same technology employed by Spirit and Opportunity to capture these incredible images. Thanks to researchers from NASA, Google, and Carnegie Mellon, now any photographer can harness the power to create incredible gigapixel panoramas of whatever they choose.

Gigapan was formed in 2008 as a commercial spin-off of a successful research collaboration between a team of researchers at NASA and Carnegie Mellon University. The original Gigapan prototype and related software were devised by a team led by Randy Sargent, a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon West and the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and Illah Nourbakhsh, an associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

In late 2014, OmegaBrandess purchased the hardware assets of Gigapan, LLC. The mounts are now manufactured by OmegaBrandess in their Hampstead, MD facility. I was given the opportunity to take a little tour and learn just how these awesome pieces of technology are manufactured. Here’s to hoping that Mark Watney doesn’t show up to wreak havoc on even more rover tech…


Kaiju aren’t all bad.

This week I did another fun project with Triggertrap. The weather here on the east coast has been absolutely miserable, but I used this tutorial from Triggertrap to brighten up my morning. While I don’t have a cute little Danbo figurine, I do have an army of action figures from Pacific Rim and Godzilla at my disposal. (Thanks, Dad!)

Like I did with my last tutorial, I’ve got a few tips for you guys!


I actually used the Triggertrap Mobile app on my iPad for this project since I was also taking pictures with my phone.  The sound sensor worked beautifully! I personally prefer snapping instead of clapping, though.

In the first picture, you can see my father’s army of kaiju and robot action figures, as well as all of the supplies I used and the setup for the shot of Godzilla’s birthday (which is actually November 4th, fun fact). The second shows my setup for the window shots. I used a Giottos Memoire50 tripod and a light stand with a boom arm to attach the skewers.

I was tempted to use my macro lens, but I wanted to show you guys that a kit lens like the Canon EF-S 18-55mm Lens will do just fine!

Edit: I’ve added a screenshot of my sound sensor threshold. I believe the phone is going to be a little more sensitive, but on the iPad that level worked perfectly fine with snapping triggering it.

On with the tips…

  • You may have to fight with the sticky tack and gaff/painter’s tape. I wanted to have a shot of the large Mothra flying above a larger Godzilla, but no combination of tape and sticky tack could support it. Now of course there’s a simple solution to this…don’t use such heavy figurines!
  • Don’t be afraid to use props! I made a little sign for Godzilla’s party. I also printed out a little map of Japan for all of the other giant monsters to be standing around.
  • Experiment with backgrounds and figures! Maybe put some toys under the Christmas tree and grab some photos with a really cool bokeh effect.
  • The tip Matt Cooper mentioned about leaving things set up while you check your pictures on a computer to make sure you’re happy with them was suuuuper helpful. More than once I did a reshoot of some of these scenes.
  • If your camera has a live view mode, use it to check your focus!
  • All I did in post-production was crop/rotate, remove the skewers and some of the sticky tack with the healing brush tool, and play with the levels. Have fun with it! Apply as many or as few filters as you want.

Steel Wool Spinning: The Final Product!

1. Please exercise extreme caution if you choose to try this! Minors must have adult supervision, and everyone needs a bucket of water or hose nearby in case of rogue sparks. While the sparks from steel wool burn out very quickly, some may last longer than others and can cause minor burns on unprotected skin. Wear non-flammable clothing to cover all exposed skin and minimize chance of injury. OmegaBrandess and Triggertrap are not responsible for any injuries or damage sustained while doing this experiment. 
2. The only reason I did this on my lawn was because it had just rained and the ground was soaked. Find a concrete or gravel surface to do this on, but do not trespass on someone else’s property. DO NOT DO THIS ON DRY GROUND! SMOKEY THE BEAR WOULD BE VERY UPSET WITH YOU.

I just want to start off by saying I had so much fun with this project! While it did take two tries, the anticipation I had every time I walked back to my camera after spinning was so incredible. My mother as my witness, the excited noises I made sounded like a squirrel.

Anyway, let’s get back to the point. I was using this tutorial from Triggertrap to make these photos. It’s pretty simple to follow, but I do have a few notes of my own!

  1. Be sure to pull apart the steel/wire wool before stuffing it into the whisk. If you don’t, there’s a pretty good chance that it will turn into a giant glowing ember at the end. You can still make some cool pictures with that, but it may be difficult to get out of the whisk at the end and it’s also kind of a fire hazard. Not that this whole project isn’t a fire hazard, but every precaution counts.
  2. Let the whisk cool down before starting again. Not only will you probably burn yourself, but you may end up warping the whisk. I know both of these things because they happened to me last night. Whoops.
  3. I know they used different settings in the video to get that particular effect, but in my case I switched it up to get a brighter photo where you could see the sparks more. I used my Canon Rebel T3i at f 7.1 and ISO 800. As far as Triggertrap settings go, I used Star Trail mode with five three second exposures with five seconds in between each. I probably could have had less time between them to get more pictures with each spin, but oh well. By the end of each cycle the sparks were pretty dead. Switch it up yourself to get different effects!
  4. Have fun with swinging around the rope! That’s how I got so many cool designs. Yeah it’s kinda scary when the sparks start falling on your head, but they die quickly.
  5. Setting up during the day is a little easier than setting up at night because it’s easier to get your focus right. If you set up at night like me, then having a friend or assistant there with you is super helpful! My mother was out there with me holding my phone and pressing the big red button for me. I also had her stand in with a flashlight illuminating her face to help me set up the shots.
  6. GET A PHONE TRAP! They are super helpful for when you don’t have someone there to hold your mobile device and there’s nowhere safe to put it.

Enough of my ranting. Here’s what you came to see!

Steel Wool Spinning Test Run

So, I said I would be starting a little Triggertrap project and here it is: wire/steel wool spinning! I used this tutorial from Triggertrap as a starting point.

These were just some test runs to make sure I was doing things correctly. They were shot in my driveway with my friend Kayla. I ended up using 0000 grade steel wool, because that’s all I could find. I believe it burned a little faster than 000 would have because of how small the fibers were, but that’s okay.

Pro tip: pull apart the steel wool before packing it into the whisk. It helps to spread out the fibers and keeps it from becoming one giant ember near the end.

I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty nerve wracking at first. Sparks are gonna fly and there will be a lot of them. The key is to stand still! I got a little more motion blur than I wanted to in the one that I think turned out the best, but like I said these were just the tests.

I’ll be shooting in more fun places later this week, so stay tuned!


Get hyped for Triggertrap tutorials!

We’ve been posting some nice introductory tutorials from Triggertrap over on our Facebook page. If that wasn’t awesome enough, it’s about to get better!

Next week, I’m starting a little project: I’ll be following along with the tutorials we post and creating my own photos with Triggertrap. While they may not be the greatest photos in the world, it’s going to be one heck of an adventure!

I don’t want to give away all of the surprise, but the first project is going to need a spark of creativity. I try to be punny sometimes. It doesn’t always work.

But I digress. Get excited! Because you, dear reader, are going to have the opportunity to submit YOUR Triggertrap photos for a chance to be featured here on our blog, as well as over on our Facebook page and Instagram profile.

Head over to our website to learn more about Triggertrap and pick up your own mobile kit to join in on the fun.

Stay tuned for more exciting Triggertrap news and tutorials, as well as a chance of maybe seeing me set myself on fire. This is going to be awesome, I promise!


Signing off,