Photogrammetry: Digitize and Democratize

Posted October 25th, 2017 at 11:00 am.

Last week, the audience at our third Tech Talk of the semester heard from Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Caroline VanSickle and GSAS students Matt Jameson and Sarah Luckey, who presented about their experience with photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a photographic imaging technique that uses sets of photographs to create 3D models. Using techniques from computational photography, as well as meticulous attention to detail and good record-keeping practices, these 3D models can be used to take measurements of sites or objects that are accurate up to .1mm. Matt, Sarah, and Caroline discussed applications of photogrammetry in their fields of archaeology and anthropology, as well as ways that photogrammetry can improve access to data.

In June, ETS sponsored a week-long photogrammetry training with Cultural Heritage Imaging, a non-profit focused on cost-efficient and accurate imaging techniques for preserving cultural heritage. The techniques that Caroline, Sarah, Matt, and others learned in this workshop prepared them to follow a rigorous workflow – CHI’s detailed procedures create more accurate and comprehensive models as well as allowing for results to be easily reproduced. Reproducible results are an important element of any scientific research, and by carefully monitoring the quality of the initial photo set and keeping a detailed digital ‘lab notebook’ during the process, raw images can be reliably transformed into 3D models by just about anyone, even if they lack access to the original object or site that appears in the images.

Photogrammetry is an accessible method for documentation, preservation, and analysis. Taking the initial set of photographs is the most complicated and technical step; afterward, the data become portable and can be measured and analyzed from anywhere after the fact. Both the raw data and the finished 3D model are opportunities to increase access to the various fields that use photogrammetry; as a method, photogrammetry democratizes information by allowing the general public to engage more easily with objects they might not otherwise be able to see or experience. It also increases access to objects and sites for scientists without funding to travel, and preserves items or spaces that might otherwise be destroyed (by natural disasters, terrorism, or simply to get at other objects underneath).

Photogrammetry is a relatively low-cost, flexible method, making it a good fit for fieldwork or for use by students. Users need access to a high quality camera that can be used in manual mode, but this is a lower barrier to entry than more expensive equipment like biological anthropologists’ laser scanners. The 3D models generated by photogrammetry can be printed on a 3D printer, providing a useful teaching tool that is less expensive and sometimes more accurate than a traditional cast.

Interested in learning more about photogrammetry?

 

Filed under: Tech Spotlight,Trending Topics by Melanie Bahti

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