Monday, July 23, 2012

New Animated Landscape Cover Photo for my Google+ Profile

When a lot of people hear the term "animated gif" they shudder.  Unless it has cats in it, then a lot of people squeal with delight.  On Google+, I've seen a few people use animated gifs in some really cool ways, so I decided I'd take a crack at it with the cover photo.  

The cover photo is a very wide shot, 940 by 180 pixels, so landscape panoramas work well.  While I was out west teaching field camp earlier this summer, I got to visit a number of cool geological sites, and I took a number of photos of places like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Beartooth Mountains, & others.  Of course, a regular camera doesn't take pictures with such wide dimensions, so at several locations, I took overlapping shots so I could stitch them together.  I stitched the photos together in Photoshop to create each individual panorama image.  This is fairly easy through the photomerge function.  

The first one is from Badlands National Park, in an overlook area where these colored rocks are located.  The Badlands are notoriously white and shades of gray and lacking in much color, but here a couple of Fe-rich layers stand out nicely as yellow & red layers.   

The second is from Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park, a short walk from Old Faithful.  The colors here are fantastic; I didn't really capture the deep blue in the center of the pool, unfortunately.  

The next is a shot of the Grand Tetons.  Here I really liked the various shades of blue and green in the sagebrush and other vegetation in the foreground paired with the blues of the mountains and the sky in the distance.

The next is within Grand Teton National Park, along Cascade Canyon Trail, looking up and to the North.  My goal with this one was to capture the height of the peaks in the distance in contrast to the talus pile in the foreground.  Sometimes it can be tricky to keep the trees all upright in an image like this one, but a "cylindrical" stitching usually works to keep the trees upright.  I've found that different stitching options in Photoshop work for different situations, so many times I'll stitch a set of photos together in a couple of different ways and choose the one I prefer.  

The last is from the Beartooth Mountains, a view of an enormous glacier-carved valley.  A number of glacial features, such as cirques & hanging valleys, can be seen in the image.  

To overlay them and animate them, I must give credit to Scott Horwath, who has a fantastic cover photo; I modeled mine after his.  Back when Google+ had "Scrapbook photos" (5 small images instead of one large one), he wrote up a great tutorial on how to created animated scrapbook photos, including a video he posted on youtube, and a .tiff template file that you can download.  I originally put something together for the scrapbook photos, but those are now gone and it was time for an update.  The template file Scott has created has guidelines showing what the image will look like in Google+.  The panoramas that I took and stitched together were much, much larger than the size of the Google+ cover photo, so shrunk them down and imported each one into a layer.  Then it was a matter of tweaking the size and position of each one to fit in the template.  The simplest animation would be to simply flip through the pics, but that's a bit boring.  To get this thing into awesome mode requires just a bit more in my view, so I went with a simple fade between shots.  This is fairly easy to do in Photoshop.  The animation consists of each photo being displayed for 3 seconds, followed by 0.1 second steps where the photo becomes more & more transparent (10% each step) until it is completely gone.  As the photo becomes more and more transparent, the image below comes into view.  The animation ends with the original photo showing up under the last one, and then the animation loops & repeats the sequence over again.  If you haven't seen the final product, check it out on my Google+ Profile.

Beyond just showing some pretty pictures, animated photos could be used could be used to highlight one's areas of expertise, or show off places from a recent trip as mine does.  But to make this a bit more scientific, an animated photo could also be used to demonstrate a process, such as the rock cycle, or the development of a structure or feature.  To understand materials that form over millennia, geologists look at similar features that are in various stages of formation, and try to connect the dots between them to understand the underlying process.  Also, I didn't include anything this time around of considerably smaller scale.  I'm thinking the next one I create might include some thin sections images.  

What say you, geos?  What other kinds of photos would work well here?  How could this type of thing be used to do something cool?  

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