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Virtual reality

Bernardston man creates 360-degree views of local sites that he posts online

  • William Delabarre photo<br/>Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.

    William Delabarre photo
    Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.

  • William Delabarre photo<br/>Poet Seat Tower, Greenfield.

    William Delabarre photo
    Poet Seat Tower, Greenfield.

  • William Delabarre photo<br/>View from Mount Sugarloaf, South Deerfield.

    William Delabarre photo
    View from Mount Sugarloaf, South Deerfield.

  • William Delabarre photo<br/>The Beehive, Hawley State Forest

    William Delabarre photo
    The Beehive, Hawley State Forest

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>William Delabarre of Bernardston with his panarama rig for his camaera

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    William Delabarre of Bernardston with his panarama rig for his camaera

  • William Delabarre’s panning tripod rotates, taking a series of images that he then stitches together using computer software to create a spherical photograph. Delabarre’s image at left of Chapel Falls, Ashfield, serves to illustrate how this works. Enterprising readers can cut it out and use it to form a cube-shaped image.

    William Delabarre’s panning tripod rotates, taking a series of images that he then stitches together using computer software to create a spherical photograph. Delabarre’s image at left of Chapel Falls, Ashfield, serves to illustrate how this works. Enterprising readers can cut it out and use it to form a cube-shaped image.

  • William Delabarre photo<br/>Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.
  • William Delabarre photo<br/>Poet Seat Tower, Greenfield.
  • William Delabarre photo<br/>View from Mount Sugarloaf, South Deerfield.
  • William Delabarre photo<br/>The Beehive, Hawley State Forest
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>William Delabarre of Bernardston with his panarama rig for his camaera
  • William Delabarre’s panning tripod rotates, taking a series of images that he then stitches together using computer software to create a spherical photograph. Delabarre’s image at left of Chapel Falls, Ashfield, serves to illustrate how this works. Enterprising readers can cut it out and use it to form a cube-shaped image.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, William Delabarre’s panoramic spherical photos have got to be worth at least 100,000.

Imagine looking out on all of the Quabbin Reservoir from the perch of the Belchertown observation tower, rotating to get a 360-degree view — all in a single photograph.

Or just picture standing on the Connecticut River bank at the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge, getting a sweeping look at the landscape in every direction, up and down included.

This is the “virtual-reality panorama” photography Delabarre has been taking for the past eight years. He posts his images on the “World Wide Panorama” web site, as do other amateurs and professionals from around the world.

It’s a mind-blowing hobby for Delabarre, who at 56 is an early retiree from University of Massachusetts Information Technology Services, where he worked for 22 years. Taking advantage off-the-shelf software and a panoramic tripod for his Nikon digital camera, the Conway native finds it’s the perfect pastime to combine his interest in computer technology and photography.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Delabarre, whose interest in photography itself grew out of a single magical discovery after he scanned his father’s wartime photo onto his computer and then examined closely what he was able to make appear with a little help from Photoshop.

“I lightened it up, and faces came out of the background,” said Delbarre, a man of few words. “I thought that was amazing that information was there no one could see. That’s what started me in photography.”

After taking courses with nature photographer Annie Tiberio at UMass, Delabarre was taking a web site development course at Greenfield Community College while getting a multimedia certificate when he “decided to do something different for one of the assignments. I saw virtual-reality photography, and thought I that would be the perfect thing.”

If you’d clicked on a “hotspot” on Delabarre’s resulting page, you’d have been able to get a Realtor’s-eye view of his Purple Meadow Road home. Maybe it wasn’t the most photogenic subject, but it was enough to get the techie in him interested in what he prefers to call “cylindrical and spherical panoramas.”

Delabarre’s panning tripod — one that he hastens to admit is something of an antique in a “VR pano” world that’s now dominated by a gadget called the Nano Ninja — clicks with each photo taken by the camera that sits on it, rotating the view by a set number of degrees. Then, once the photos are downloaded, a special “stitching software” on his computer brings the overlapping scenes together as one seamless panorama.

Another application, like Pano2VR, allows him — or any computer user with plug-in like Adobe Flash Player or QuickTime — to move their mouse over the photo to travel 360 degrees around the image, as though it were done with a spinning video camera. Depending on how he’s shot the 20-or-so photos for the entire panorama, the viewer can also look completely overhead or down below, going back up or down the other side, nose diving around in his virtual-reality worlds.

“I’m still not proficient,” said Delabarre, who is still working on mastering the spherical features so that a viewer could follow a virtual-reality chipmunk scurrying under a VR photographer’s feet in his panoramas of Ashfield’s Chapel Falls or the Canalside Bike Path bridge in Montague City.

Delabarre, who’s self-taught in shooting every which way including up, uses a 10.5mm fish-eye lens for spherical photography, overlapping the panorama photos by about 20 percent so that it captures what’s way above and way below the photo subject, and the photographer doesn’t bring on nosebleeds by doing it.

The popularity of VR photography has grown enough since Delabarre first got involved that there’s even an International Virtual Reality Photographers Association with a web site offering examples and resources. But the Bernardston photographer, who’s had more time to hone his skills since the UMass IT office moved to Shrewsbury, has find a home for 18 of his photos at “The World Wide Panorama” web site.

Since he first delved into cylindrical spherical panoramas, they’ve become more popular, even appearing as an iPhone app.

But that hardly makes them less special.

Delabarre’s panoramas look out in all directions from Poet Seat Tower and from Mount Sugarloaf, at the Tropical Storm Irene washout of the Green River at the Eunice Williams Covered Bridge, but also — for something completely different — all around the inside of the “Beehive” charcoal kiln at Hawley State Forest.

His photo of the UMass Fine Arts Center concert hall lets anyone who’s coming to perform there know just what to expect.

Delabarre, whose more conventional scenic photos, shot with a single-lens reflex Nikon, focus on such unlikely subjects as a rabbit standing on its back legs or a hawk resting at a UMass campus picnic table, says there are big differences between panoramic photography and its more familiar cousin.

For one thing, it’s best to shoot around noontime, since there are multiple photos that go into creating one panorama, and all of them need to be shot with the same, even light. Capturing the view from the Mount Greylock tower, for example, means first seeing what the exposure from each angle would be and then shooting the photos using the average of those exposures.

“You have to spin around and get the highest and lowest” exposures, he said, making sure all the shots conform to the average.

Lest anyone thinks this is a virtual cakewalk, Delabarre says he’s been frustrated at times working with stitching software that “doesn’t want to stitch where it’s got to” according to defined points he’s set on each image to make sure they all fit together perfectly.

“Sometimes you have to sit there and finagle it ’till the software decides where it’s supposed to stitch,” he said.

At those moments, it all harkens back to the old-fashioned approach of taking multiple photos of a spectacular landscape, then overlapping by hand the shots and literally taping them together so they appear to be a seamless panorama.

Here is a link to Delabarre’s images on the Worldwide Panorama Images Web site: http://bit.ly/UkP5Oc

The International VR Photography Association can be found at http://ivrpa.org

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder more than 30 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.

Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at pfranz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.

Here is the website: http://worldwidepanorama.org/worldwidepanorama/wwppeople/html/WilliamMDelabarre.html

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