Information for designers and interactive developers - Issue 3 - September 2008
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A pictures worth a 1000 words
Imagine being able to share the places and things you love using the cinematic quality of a movie, the control of a video game, and the mind-blowing detail of the real world. With nothing more than a bunch of photos, Photosynth creates an amazing new experience that fills in all of these promises.

Whether it's a quiet creek in the woods of Pennsylvania, or the grandeur of the interior of St Paul's cathedral, Photosynth puts you there like nothing else can. Check out an example synths I made from the Stitch event in Amsterdam, where a few miles of the Keizersgracht (the main canal) have been captured by a bunch of really enthusiastic photographers. Notice how the software is smart enough to realize that the boat made a smooth curve to follow the canal border, and how all the matched points line out the contours of the pictures to come.


(click image for larger view)

So, how does all of this work? Well, it's pretty simple. Getting started with Photosynth is easy:

  • To begin, just take a few dozen digital photos - 20 to 300 photos are required, depending on the size of the place or object - with overlap between each shot, from a number of locations and angles.
  • Next, download a small, free software application to your computer from http://photosynth.com. This software works in concert with the Photosynth Web site, which is also a free service.
  • Build your synth in just two easy steps: First, from the Photosynth Web site, click on Create and select the pictures you want to use. Then, give your creation a name and click on Synth, and Photosynth automatically creates and uploads your synth. In about the same amount of time it would take to upload the pictures to a photo-sharing site, you can enjoy your pictures in dramatic and detailed 3-D.
  • The finished synth can be accessed from any Windows XP- or Windows Vista-powered computer with a broadband connection. If you want to comment on other people's synths or create your own, you'll also need a free Windows Live ID.
  • Once created, synths can also be embedded on Web sites, blogs and social networking sites such as MySpace, Windows Live Spaces or virtually any Web site where HTML can be edited.
The best thing to do to create a really good synth is to put yourself in the center of the space you want to capture and to take as many pictures as you can whilst moving in a circular motion, gradually shifting the camera to the left or right, making sure you have more than enough overlap so the software can recognize the common items and link them to each other. If you want close ups of objects, make sure you zoom and click gradually, so the link with the surrounding environment is not broken and the software can connect everything.

Other cool features lined up:
  • Obviously you can tag your synth with as many accurate tags as you wish, so they can be searched and linked to other collections that might correspond.
  • You can rename a synth after it has been uploaded and add a description to it that tells the story of what you captured.
  • The little globe in the menu on the Photosynth site allows you to pinpoint the location of the synth on a map.
  • You can embed the synth on a web page or in a blog, and share it by sending the generated URL to your friends.
  • You can lift the synth out of the site and open it full screen, maximizing your exploring adventure.
  • You can comment on synths of yourself or those of others.
Following this release, the Photosynth team will join MSN - an important step in continuing to improve Photosynth and share the experience with an even wider audience. In addition to letting users create and share synths at www.photosynth.com, over the next year Photosynth will begin to become a key part of the experience for MSN's 550 million monthly visitors worldwide. Synths will be prominently featured on MSN.com. To create a more absorbing experience for its visitors, MSN will use synths of popular destinations and notable events in many of the places where static images are used on the site today.

In a nutshell:
  • Share experiences. Think about the times you have been in the midst of a beautiful location or having a once-in-a-lifetime experience and wished you could share it with more immediacy and sense of place than still photos or video can capture. Photosynth puts viewers in the center of the moment and in control of how they experience it.
  • Tell a story. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a synth composed of 20 or 50 photos makes visual storytelling as rich and compelling as a short story. Synths capture the totality of important moments in time, such as the anticipation and joy of an entire wedding party and guests at the moment vows are exchanged, or the elation of a child scoring a winning soccer goal as the fans cheer.
  • Form a community. Synths can bring the best of your digital photos together with the best of everybody else's. Imagine if you took a trip to Rome with your friends and each of you took photos of the Trevi Fountain. Later, you can tag and upload all of the photos from each person's camera to create a synth of it. In addition, you can share that experience and your favorite places with others by embedding the synth in your profile on a social networking site.
  • Educate or archive. If you want to re-create how you decorated your home for the holidays or how you planted your garden last season, the ability of Photosynth to provide intricate detail allows documentation impossible to achieve with conventional photos.
Check out the action at www.photosynth.net

Here are some direct links to synths of the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam discussed in this article:
http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=136120cc-1a6a-42d3-a6c2-899eb291c3fb
http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=83794749-be14-446f-83d1-24c08162841b
http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=2f45858b-26a9-4b93-87a7-6a3abeb1cc82 http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=50dbaa87-ff6c-449d-8dc1-5ec27ac1cc7f
http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=33769869-61cb-4978-b151-ed51f29a0fd7
http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=4a9c2071-c051-4a3f-990f-44762d459989
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Microsoft