A panoramic of home amidst the pandemic

The pandemic has slowed and shrunk my life in pretty significant ways. It’s been months since I’ve left the county which is a stark contrast to my prior routine. One of the most profound effects of slowing down is that you see less, more. The resolution of the life around me has increased significantly. I notice the small changes in plants in the yard. I hear noises in my house that I used to overlook. I watch nature sing again. I breathe fresh air deeply into my lungs.

Here in the Bay Area, we often talk about air quality as a negative thing. In our fire season, the three letter acronym of the day is AQI. AQI stands for air quality index. The air quality index measures various pollutants like particulate matter in the air, ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous dioxide. The air quality index dictates five bands for air quality:

The pandemic has changed many aspects of human life. The demand for oil and travel has dropped significantly and governments have slowed significant parts of industry. With shelter in place orders across the globe, the amount of travel-related emissions have dropped significantly. At the beginning of the pandemic, when most countries locked down their populations, the air quality improved significantly. One morning the air quality in the Bay Area – a megalopolis of 7.8 million people was 8. The air quality was amazingly fantastic. An AQI of 8 is wow. Just wow.

I’ve been hiking up to the top of the ridge several times a week. Every time I get to the top, I’m in awe of how much I can see and how clear the areas in our little valley. I can see so much detail and resolution with the naked eye. Cameras work a lot like the naked eye recording light and turning it into an image.

Manufacturers measure cameras by their resolution. Every picture is a grid made of a series of dots called pixels. For example, the iPhone X has 4032 pixels in the horizontal direction and 3024 pixels in the vertical direction. The resolution of that camera is 4032×3024 which equals 12,192,768 – a 12-megapixel camera. Every photo I camera takes has 12 million dots of various colors that compose that photograph.

Every time I went to the top of the ridge, nature blew me away with how much detail I could see. Twelve million pixels was just not enough. I could see the tower on top of Mount Diablo all the way to the bridge at the other side of the view. I wanted to capture this moment of beauty and I couldn’t do it in one shot from even a nice SLR camera.

Panoramic photography often combines multiple shots into one contiguous photograph. Software figures out the overlap between photos and uses that information to align the images and delete the overlap. When it’s right, it’s pretty cool stuff. Most of my panoramic photos are usually no more than ten photographs. I wanted to push the limits of the technology I had to create a truly outstanding image. Here is a simple example:

I climbed to the top of the ridge with a big camera and a long lens. I took 100 photographs at full zoom trying to capture each detail in the view across the valley I didn’t know if it would work but I had about 3 GB of data with which to play. Would the images lineup? Would the computer crash with the sheer amount of data? I had no idea but I was willing to give it a shot.

In short, it worked with a lot of CPU grinding, memory pumping, fan blowing work of my old laptop. Here is a picture of that image:

An iPhone could easily take that image using it’s panoramic feature. The difference here is only 3% of the available pixels are shown. The full image is 61436 × 8762 or 538,302,232 pixels, a 500 megapixel image. What kind of detail with amazing air quality can a camera deliver? This is a small piece zoomed into 100%;

That refinery is about 8 miles away! I could feel how much better the air quality was but I couldn’t quantify it. The image clarity, however, speaks for itself.

I do think part of the season for many of us is slowing down. It’s about focusing on the things that we have in the space that is around us. Every time I climb up that ridge I look across the valley and call this place home. This image is more special to me than many of the other ones I’ve taken because it captures so many of the details that make this place home for me.

500 megapixels – not bad for a Thursday afternoon climb, eh?

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