Warping Space with a Digital Camera and PhotoShop and PTlens

stitch_1.jpgA new acquaintance inspired me to follow through on an idea I’ve had for a long time. The idea is appealing to me because it fulfills a real need, but also because it gives me an excuse to combine some of my more obscure toys and skills to produce something unique.

The idea was to find a better way to create rack elevations, or maps for server rooms. A map like this has many uses but, its usefulness is directly linked to its timeliness. Most server room drawings are created in Visio or some other complex application, and take days or even weeks to complete, so they normally get built once – or not at all, and then never get updated. I made this map in an hour using simple tools – a fisheye lens and the PTLens plugin for PhotoShop. The results – what appears to be a shot of 5 server racks taken from 15-20 feet away is in fact completely impossible. There are just three feet between rows in our server room.

DSC_0153_orig.jpgTo create this illusion, first I shot 5 images with my fisheye lens in portrait orientation. This allowed me to capture our eight foot racks from floor-to-ceiling from a distance of two feet! Here’s the simple rig I used to shoot these. The unretouched results look like this.

DSC_0153.jpgTime now for the fabulous PTLens. I have raved about this indispensable plugin (or standalone app) before. It allows me to take those wildly distorted images and flatten them out like this. Magic!

See where this is going now? A little perspective correction and some crude stitching in PhotoShop produces the results you see in the finished image. It’s not perfect, but I’d say it’s way more than good enough! Way cool.

In the office, I created an image map in ImageReady and associated it with this image. Viewed in a browser at work, many of the servers are actaully links. The links activate something associated with the particular machine – a managemant page, Remote Desktop connection – some links even make an ssh connection and pop up a terminal windows. Fabulous!

Upon close inspection of the full resolution images, I can see that there are one or two things I’ll do differently next time. I will focus manually and use a string to position the lens the exact same distance from the gear in each shot. These things will make for a sharper panorama and will make stitching easier.

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