Monday, October 2, 2017

Learning Scientific Photogrammetry

Figure 1. Getting started with some overview lectures on day 1 of training.

Here at the Florida Public Archaeology Network, we are always interested in new technologies and methods that we can use to bring information about archaeology to the public. One of those new technologies is photogrammetry. We've blogged about photogrammetry before: we covered some basics here, told you about a free-to-use photogrammetry software program here, and shared some of the research we've done using this computer visualization technique here. You can read more in-depth via the links, but essentially photogrammetry (in this sense) is the creation of 3D digital models from a series of 2D images. You can get a broader overview of photogrammetry here and read up on a pioneer of the process, Albrecht Meydenbauer here.

Figure 2. Setting up a photogrammetry project in one of the MCI digital imaging labs.

Photogrammetry has a wide range of potential applications in archaeology and public archaeology. In many ways I think we're just scratching the surface; as software/hardware improve and costs come down, this will likely be something every archaeologist learns how to do. So I was pretty excited when I was accepted to attend a 4 day scientific training with the folks from Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI). The course was funded as part of a National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) training grant which meant that the class cost was covered, I just had to get myself to the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) in Washington D.C. to attend. 

The CHI team come from a long background of software development, photography, and cultural heritage preservation. The focus of the training workshop was to develop scientific photogrammetry skills, which means that participants would walk away with a firm understanding of each and every stage of data collection, processing, and deliverable output. Pretty important if you're trying to convince someone that the 3D model you just made of an artifact, building, or archaeological test unit is a precise and accurate. 

After the first day of training I had a realization that everything I thought I knew about photogrammetry was just...not right (see above). I learned photogrammetry by myself, usually picking up bits and pieces here and there from YouTube and online forums. That can certainly get you pretty far these days, but for all the good info out there, there is at least an equal measure of bad info. The CHI team helped wipe the slate and provided a solid foundation for understanding how to properly complete a project. The four days were spent listening to lectures from the team and working through actual data collection practices. We had no dearth of items to use for practice. We were after all at the MCI, a place of legend for museum nerds and fictitious legend for readers of Dan Brown's crap books.

Figure 3. MCI digital photography expert pulls out all the stops on data collection.

I came away with a much better understanding of the photogrammetric process, how to set up a project, and how to convey the validity of my final 3D model. It was a fantastic experience led by top-notch instructors. In addition to their on-site training, the CHI team also keeps a solid website chock full of useful information about photogrammetry and another of their imaging techniques, RTI. If you'd like to jump into a forum moderated by folks who know their stuff, check out the CHI forum as well. While I can't suggest the CHI training enough, not all of us will get to jump into one of their training events. You can get a taste of their knowledge from other outlets like their Vimeo page here, or their Youtube page here.

Figure 4. Learning streamlined processing techniques.

Keep an eye out for these folks in the conference world or if they're coming to an area near you. They are some sincerely helpful, knowledgeable individuals who are working to create better ways for cultural resource professionals to protect, preserve, and share the world's irreplaceable heritage. 

Text and Pics: Kevin Gidusko
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