Microsoft announced the availability of Photosynth about a week ago, but with travel and "work" getting in the way, I hadn't had time to play... er, I mean research it until yesterday.  

So what is Photosynth?  It comes out of Microsoft's Live Labs in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, and uses pattern matching technology to transform a series of 2-dimensional photographs into a 3-dimensional visual experience.  From the perspective of the "synther" you tell a small client-side program (XP or Vista) what photos to use, and it does its magic to generate a collage of your images based on matching characteristics in your photos.  Anyone can then view the result via a downloadable browser plug-in that allows you to explore (zoom, pan, etc.) the result with Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 and 3.

In this case, a picture (or should I say a 'synth') is worth a thousand words, so start by checking out the Photosynth site.  Showcased there is an awesome collage of Venice consisting of 243 still photographs, and I have to admit I was intimidated, thinking there's no way I can do something that cool.   Self-doubt in check, I decided to give it a try yesterday after a Cub Scout hike with my youngest son.  We stopped off at Acton town center to experiment with a panoramic view of the Town Hall and monuments (in blatent disregard of the first Quick Tip in the Photosynth Photography Guide: start small).  So after about two dozen shots, I returned home and got synthy...the lackluster results of that outing are available here and here.  Well, the pictures are nice, but I failed synthiness with scores of 41% and 44%.

Not one to settle for anything but a perfect score, I planned my attack - ok, I read the Photography Guide.  It was another beautiful day today, and I decided to pack a quick lunch and head to Minuteman National Park - site of the opening battles of the Revolutionary War.  The park in Concord features the Old North Bridge and the Minuteman statue commemorating the 'shot heard 'round the world.'  It's about five miles from my house, but in 15 years of living in New England, I hadn't yet ventured there!  Despite the fact that the weather couldn't have been better, it was nearly deserted, so I got some great people-free shots with little effort.

 

Old North Bridge

IMG_0633I started by positioning myself on the Old North Bridge and taking a series of shots from the same location in hopes of getting a full 360 degree view.  Using what I learned from the handy-dandy Photosynth guide, I aimed for sufficient overlap in shots (50% recommended) and ended up with about two dozen photos.  Pulling them into the synth program is a piece of cake, but be warned it's a bandwidth intensive process so took about an hour on my DSL line.   I was amply rewarded though and achieved 'synth nirvana' with a 100% rating and a pretty cool experience if I say so myself.

 

 

Minuteman Statue

IMG_0666 Just beyond the obelisk at the end of the Old North Bridge stands the Minuteman statue crafted by Daniel Chester French for the 100th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.   The monument sits in the middle of the path so getting shots from all angles around it was a piece of cake.  I took about two dozen shots from about 20 feet away, circling the monument.  Then I halved the distance and took another 20 or so, roughly half covering the top of the statue and the other half the pediment (since at this point I was too close to get the entire statue in the frame).  Then I took a few more specific shots - notably the inscription and the sculptor's mark (see if you can find that!).  This one came in at 98% synthy, which just goes to show that more shots doesn't necessarily mean better.  Of course, the perfectionist in me wants to know where I missed!

 

As you can see just by the length of this post, I'm pretty jazzed up about this.  As many of you know, I have a strong love of the classics and can only imagine what types of visual experiences you can put together with photographs of ancient monuments and temples.   What an awesome teaching tool, and get this... there's no rule that all of the pictures have to be made on the same day or from the same camera!   Taking a trip with friends? classmates? pool your images and see what you come up with.  Dig out your old slides, scan them in, and see if you can recreate experiences from your past.  The site is public so you're immediately sharing with everyone, which just makes it all that much cooler.

Sign up for your account now and join the fun.   Warning: it is addictive, so if you find yourself synthing empty beer cans or a mounting pile of dirty laundry, it's probably time to seek help!