December 22, 2009 – Earlier this month we got a call from an international oil field services company asking us to bid on a virtual photographic tour of their new offshore workboat. This is no ordinary ship. It is the world’s largest coiled tubing vessel, and is truly spectacular in both the size and the technology it employs to service deepwater oil wells. The virtual tour sample they sent us showed a traditional 360 degree panoramic photography, best known as a “QuickTime VR Tour”.
These panoramic tours have been typically used by real estate agents to provide prospective homeowners with a better understanding of a property. I have never been a big fan of this type of photography, because the quality of the images are usually poor, and it seems more of a gimmick than a truly immersive experience. Some tours may require a plug-in be downloaded, which can reduce the size of the viewing audience as many people just won't (or can't due to company policies) do it. I decided to use this bid opportunity to see if anything new was happening with panoramic photography. I was blown away by what I found.
In version 9 of the Flash player, Adobe introduced the ability to view 360 degree panoramic photography FULL SCREEN. The results are truly stunning and you can see some samples here and here. In Flash 10, Adobe increased the power of the Flash player, adding additional features and functions. Since the Flash player is on virtually all desktop computers, the ability to experience this type of photography is available to almost everyone.
We met with the client and demonstrated the advantages of this type of viewing experience vs. the old (and in my opinion outdated) QuickTime VR tours. They agreed, and awarded us the project. Initially, the bid had two weeks for us to assemble the new equipment and software we would need for the job along with two days to do the shoot. We were planning to buy a specialized tripod head, fisheye lens, as well as the specialized software programs needed for stitching and building these types of tours.
Unfortunately, the timeline for the photo shoot was dramatically shortened because the boat was scheduled to be in Houston for only 7 days from the day we were awarded the job, and all the photography would to be completed in that window. There would be no “reshoots” it would have to be done perfectly the first time. I could almost hear the music from “Mission Impossible” playing in the background as the client called to let me know her plans. The timeline called for us to spend a day scouting the boat to determine the best tripod set-up positions and the lighting for the shoot. The plan called for us to return two days later, work a very long day and get it done with no room for error.
I started by calling around to see if I could buy all the equipment we needed and immediately realized I could not find everything locally. I started calling to vendors around the country, and the logistics of getting the equipment shipped to Houston and tested prior to our shoot would be next to impossible. We would have to find another way to get the job done. I called Ted Washington, a longtime friend and the photographer for The Woodlands Corporation to see if he might be able to point me in the right direction. Ted said “I have all the equipment you need to do panoramic photography”. He had purchased the equipment years ago to do some panoramic prints for real estate ads. I had no idea at the time that Ted's contributions would soon become so invaluable.
I told him about the advances I had found in panoramic photography, and this peaked his interest. I asked him if I could rent the equipment. He said “we will worry about that later, let’s just make sure we have everything you need to do the job”. Ted came to the epic studio, and we did some tests. They were successful, and he said he would be happy to come along on the day we were scheduled to scout the boat to do some field tests with me. He did that, and a great deal more.
Ted is a consummate pro. His technical background coupled with his knowledge of lighting, composition and shooting technique made the scouting trip a joy. Having someone to bounce ideas off of took a great deal of pressure off this high stress shoot. While I was doing the panorama tests, Ted brought his camera along and shot stills. He offered to give me over 100 photos from the day for the client as a bonus from the shoot. These photos included a number of shots that are truly artistic.
Ted is a “people person” and his interaction with the crew and the client was wonderful. Earlier this year Ted was honored as a “Hometown Hero” for his work in the greater Woodlands area over the past 20 years. People have enjoyed his photography on everything from billboards to brochures and his photos are woven into the fabric of the community. This award (in my humble opinion) was long overdue.
On the day of the shoot the client asked us to arrive at dawn. Of course, Murphy showed up on time as well, and I had a technical problem with the equipment at the start of the shoot. I called to Ted and he said – “don’t worry, I’ll come down to help”. Since the boat was docked at Brady’s Landing on the Ship Channel, and Ted was in The Woodlands, this was no simple offer. Before driving down, he called and suggested I try one other fix. I did, and it worked. Even so, his offer to help in a time of need is what makes Ted, Ted. He saved the day, and we went onto have a very successful shoot.
Earlier this week, Ted came by to see the results. He was pleased, but I know it would not have been possible without him. Ted is a Photographer’s Photographer, embodying not only great imagery, but a great personality in a guy who knows how to get the job done. We are now offering what we are calling Interactive Immersive Photography. You can see samples of it on our web site here. You can also be sure when we have a chance to work with Ted in the future we will.
Thanks again TED – You do honor to our profession and I am proud to call you a friend!
i was so happy to read this article! i've been looking for articles on The Woodlands, and Ted was one of my dearest friends while i worked there ('86 - '91) I lost touch after moving from Texas, but it's great to see these pics - and you're right - he's the BEST!