Working as a GIS Specialist at the Center for GIS at Towson University (CGIS) involves processing data, performing analysis, and creating cartographic products for an ever-evolving set of projects. While the work is varied and interesting, it’s typically done indoors at a workstation. However, our team recently had the opportunity to head outside for some fieldwork to collect data at the Port of Baltimore. The project involved using a robotic camera mount to create 360° panoramic photos.

Incorporating 360° Panoramic Photos

From a facilities management perspective, there’s real value in having 360° site photos. They serve as a readily-available resource for discussions and planning and can often serve as an acceptable alternative to a site visit. When embedded into an existing GIS or Web-map, the photos offer decision makers an alternative perspective to aerial imagery, provide an accurate depiction of assets in an interactive environment, and can portray change over time.

gis fieldwork tips

Me and my co-worker setting up our camera while doing fieldwork at the Port of Baltimore.

For this fieldwork we used a Gigapan Epic 100 camera mount to collect the photos that would subsequently be stitched into panoramas. The Gigapan determines the number of photos that need to be taken, while maintaining a 1/3 vertical and side by side photo overlap, based on user-defined extents of the panorama. Once the top and bottom extents were set along with a few additional setting prompts on the Gigapan interface, we stepped out of the way while the camera mount collected each column of photos before rotating to take the next set.

To stitch the individual photos into a panorama we used the Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE). This panorama creator features an intuitive tabbed interface where users specify what photos make up each panorama, the direction they were taken in, and the output projection. It allows you to crop the photos if necessary, and then generate the panorama. Having used a different software package in the past to create panoramas for another project, it is my opinion that Microsoft’s ICE has streamlined and simplified the process. If you are interested in using Microsoft ICE to stitch your own panoramas or have technical questions, you can download the software or access the forums here.

GIS Fieldwork Tips

  • Set yourself up for success. Conduct a dry run of equipment set-up and the collection process before you set out for the field. Create a checklist for things that need to be done before you go out, and items to take along with you. Check the weather forecast!
  • Ensure you’ve obtained required site-access authorization, and are prepared to comply with all safety requirements, including ID, vehicle authorization, safety vests, approved footwear, etc.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. When you are collecting photos or other data, people become curious. Bring business cards, appropriate forms of identification, and a letter of authorization from the client to validate your credibility, helping to avoid disruptions and delays.
  • Check your data while you are still in the field. It can be easier to detect and resolve an issue on site, rather than discover it in the office and have to schedule another site visit.
  • Take your time, deliberately follow procedures, and enjoy the time in the field. It can be distracting to be in the field at times, especially in new and interesting places. Stay focused on your work, but also take a minute to enjoy the sights and sounds.
  • Finally, and above all, be safe! Remain aware of your surroundings and the activities of others. Watch yourself and watch out for your co-workers.