Rotatable Type Specimen Photographs

I was sent a link today for a Brownewell Photography which specialises in 360° photography, including taking photos of type specimens. The previews on the site are composed of 20-30 photographs to give the illusion of 360°, which works well enough. You are given rotational control of the photos through Flash, as opposed to some other 360° images which use GIFs that you cannot control.

A quick search for 360 degree photography came up with a site (Red Door VR) which sells photographic turntables that had “click stop” intervals. They also recommended the program Object2VR to produce panoramas with Flash-based controls.

I think we will start to see more of these panoramic specimen images, although the major constraint will be the time it takes to produce them.

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5 Responses to “Rotatable Type Specimen Photographs”

  1. I currently can handle the photography aspect relatively quickly, around 5 minutes per specimen. This time is easily decreased with updated equipment. The real issue is the depth of field for the smaller insects.

    I would have to say that the nicest thing about this technique is that, in the end, you are left with high-res still photos that can be used for the scientific on-line catalogs that do not as of yet allow flash movies.

    Pat Brownewell
    Brownewell Photography

  2. Laurence says:

    Hi Pat, thanks for replying. I’ve been looking at ways to speed up depth stacking when taking photos of small insects using a camera rather than an automontage microscope. I know that Helicon Focus can control Nikon/Canon with remote control support, taking photos of a range of depths with one click. Do you manually rotate the insect? How automated is your system?

  3. Pat says:

    I use actual camera techniques to solve the depth of field issue. Currently, with a frame width of 7mm I can achieve a depth of field of 2mm. I haven’t tried some of my more extreme tricks yet, but I am expecting to be able to have a frame width of 2mm with a .2mm depth of field (math has never been my strong point, so I won’t make any promises). As you can see from the animations, the side views of these treehoppers look great thanks to the increased depth of field.

    I am simply not happy with my current results so I have been looking into the Helicon system along with another lens system in order to produce even better results. I am waiting for a large enough contract to make it worth my while.

    As long as you are not looking to do extremely small subjects, one can do these animations with any ordinary lens (I used a 28-70mm at f/11 for my multi-axis examples). The cicada was shot with a 60mm macro lens (it can be viewed at

    As far as automation goes, my rig is almost completely manual. I know some Photoshop techniques which speeds up the computer processing time. There are systems out there to make the process completely automated (such as Ortery’s The down side is that they are so expensive and won’t work for smaller subjects due to their inaccuracy in turning. When you switch to a multi-axis system accuracy is even more important and harder to achieve.

    I have plans to rebuild my multi-axis system this year to allow for this small of photography. My current system can handle objects that are roughly 5cm without any real problems. Getting it accurate down to 2mm is proving to be quite a challenge.

    As a general rule, this type of photography is made for small objects, typically between 10cm and 30cm). These tables have too much “float,” or unwanted lateral and vertical movement. I can tell that I have a bearing that is out of round on my table because it moves up and down roughly .1mm.

  4. Laurence says:

    Thanks for elaborating on your setup. I was particularly impressed with your treehopper photographs which must have been fairly small compared to the cicada and other insect photos.

    I suspected that there would be few (if any) automated systems that would be suitable for taking photos of small insects. When fractions of millimeters are crucial that makes things more expensive!

    What software are you using to make the composite 360° image? Is it tricky to centre the subject or is the software tolerant of images between slightly off-centre?

    I’m currently working with coreids, which are generally between 1-2cm long. I had not considered using panoramic photography but it may be something that would add value to an online catalogue, even if it were a few (50/2,500) species to illustrate variety.

  5. Pat says:

    The tree hoppers ranged between 3mm and 10mm.

    For software I am currently using Photoshop to clean the images and Object2vr to compile the images. From what I can tell, having explored other software possibilities, the compilers simply put the photos in the order which you place them. I once loaded a wedding that I had shot into Object2vr just to see what would happen and essentially what I got was an interesting way to look through a wedding album. This means that centering an object is critical.

    That said, I have come up with numerous ways of doing it. The easiest seems to be marking the rotation point of your turn table and putting the object on the center. I have more elaborate ways of doing it to get things as close as possible, but really, the idea is just finding a centering system that works for you. Having shot a coreid type insect (, the third one down) I can tell you that once you have your insect centered and your camera centered, don’t move anything. It is a real pain to have to try and line everything up later if you move something mid-shoot.

    I have been trying to get this form of cataloging off the ground here in the US for almost 6 months with very limited success. The work I did for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was done pro-bono but seems to be resulting in a small contract this fall. Most institutions shy away from the Flash software and the hefty price of the equipment involved. Some places have bought the equipment and left it sit unused for years.

    What I have found is that too many scientists (no offense) are manning the imaging stations when it really should be a photographer. While I was at the USDA’s office, I saw equipment which cost thousands of dollars which nobody knew how to fully use. There were beautiful lenses that were not to be adjusted because people there did not have a full comprehension of photography and thus left every setting the same (which actually slows down their digitization efforts).

    From what I can tell, this lack of understanding of the process has led many to write off the whole technology. As I said before, it takes me literally 5 minutes to shoot 24 frames, name the file folder, and set the next bug, needed to do one of these animations. The only reason it takes that long is because my flash units are from the 1970′s and have a 10 second wait time between flashes. New units have a 3 second wait which would cut my shooting time down to 72 seconds plus setup and naming (probably 3 minutes total). Computer time various depending on your lens and what all you want on your animation (such as length scales, names, watermarks, etc.) but usually run 5 or 10 minutes in length.

    If you compare the time that it takes an intern to photograph three sides to the time that it takes to compile an animation, you will find that they are comparable.

    The key to doing this type of work is optimizing your camera so that the computer works less. It is far easier for me to make sure everything is correct when the image hits the camera sensor than have to sit down and fix each individual image before compiling the animation.

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