Aerial Photography and Visualisation for Built Heritage - PhD Portfolio by Kieran Baxter
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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Kite aerial photography travels around Scotland

Things have been a little quite here on the aerial photography front while I was on leave from my PhD on a work placement (which was fantastic but ground-based), so time to get hyped again with some recent kite photographs!

Linlithgow Palace with Linlithgow Loch behind, kite aerial photograph.
Driving through West Lothian in soft evening light I made a detour to Linlithgow Palace, one of my favourite locations for KAP. The palace is bit of a labyrinth to explore and I like how this view takes in both the interior and the landscape behind.

Stanley Mills cotton mill and the river Tay, kite aerial photograph.
Despite being very close to home this one was a first time visit for me. Stanley Mills is an 18th century cotton mill that was powered by the river Tay. This turned out to be a great site for KAP with the river providing an opening for the wind amongst tall trees and steep topography. The heavy clouds visible in the background contained hail, which was tipping down about half an hour later!

The ruins of St Andrews cathedral, kite aerial photograph.
Very much an old favourite, this view of the ruins of St Andrews is an alternative angle taken in the very last light of the day. Again the challenge here is to include both the foreground detail and the fantastic setting of the coastline and pier.

Ruthven Barracks with Kingussie behind, kite aerial photograph.
This was another return visit made in passing, this time while driving through Strathspey. Ruthven Barracks is built on a glacial moraine above a flood plain of the Spey river, which follows the course of the once-massive glacier that gave the valley its shape during the last ice age. The barracks itself was built in response to the 1715 Jacobite uprising and remains among the best preserved of its type. The landmark is always a welcome site on the journey up the A9 road, which you can see here raised above the marshland.

Friday, 20 February 2015

North to South: Photographs in transit from a holiday with latitude

There's been very little activity on my blog over the last few months for two reasons. Firstly I am taking six months out of my PhD on a work placement as a research assistant. Secondly, I haven't been out kite flying over the Christmas holidays because I was away travelling with my parents to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. There are far too many photos of the trip to post here (I also shot this short video) but here are a few that I took with the camera pressed against the airplane window on our way from the UK to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.

I had to include this here as a heritage related image with a really distinct hillfort in the center of the frame. Spotted in passing somewhere in the south of England (in or nearby Sussex). If anyone can identify it please do! [Update - kindly identified by Rik Hammond as Old Winchester - more info linked here.]

Fantastic low light somewhere in the vicinity of Madrid, where we changed planes. The semi-desert environment of central Spain was an odd parody of our deserted destination.

A view on approach to the bustling Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and our overnight stop-over. Near the height of summer the temperatures reached around 35ºC. This view shows the Puerto Madero waterfront.

A freeway passes over the sprawling city and into the center where it joins the Plaza de la República, site of the iconic obelisk visible in the distance to the top left of frame.

After traveling another 1,500 miles south we reached Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, pictured above. As well as it's impressive setting surrounded by mountains in the beautiful Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is the busiest port for Antarctic expeditions. My brother Dan is a bosun on the Bark Europa, the tall ship which is just visible on the far right leaving for one of many trips to the Antarctic Peninsula that she will make during the season.

Here is my short video compilation of timelapse and live action footage from our Antarctic trip. The timelapses were shot with the aid of my trusty GentLED device. A fantastic trip amongst some mesmerising landscapes that will stick with me for a long time.

Monday, 20 October 2014

White Caterthun hillfort: Work in progress on a speculative reconstruction for my research film "The Caterthuns"

I've been sketching up some ideas of how to show a speculative reconstruction of the lost structures at White Caterthun hillfort. Here is a work in progress, where I have roughed in a series of palisaded enclosures and the large timber-laced wall. I've left the surrounding landscape as it looks in the current day.

A speculative reconstruction of the enclosures at White Caterthun hillfort.
A kite aerial photograph of the current day monument.
The image represents my own reading of the excavation report and RCAHMS record (linked here), with a good deal of added conjecture! I'm really keen to hear any thoughts and suggestions on this, particularly from the archaeologically-minded. I'm working with Alice Watterson to realise this speculative reconstruction into a three-dimensional visualisation as part of my upcoming research film "The Caterthuns".

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Kite Aerial Photography on the Isle of Skye

During a weekend away on Skye I managed to fit some kite flying around the temperamental hebridean weather. Relatively remote and undeveloped, the island offers some fantastic built heritage from prehistoric to modern.

A brief moment of evening light illuminated this shot of Dun Beag broch near the village of Struan. The two layers of drystone wall would have helped to support a much greater height than stands today. The upper portion has collapsed and remains as a pile of rubble visible at the bottom of the frame while the Cuillin mountain range can be seen in the distance.

Neist Point lighthouse was another superb location fro KAP on an exposed peninsular sticking out into the Sea of the Hebrides. To get this position a little maneuvering around the sea cliffs as shown in this shot looking back down the kite line. I'd like to say that this was very much safer than it looks in the photograph!

We also visited a onc of the clearance villages of particular research interest to my PhD colleague Kiera Shackleton, who arranged the trip. Low angled sunlight revealed the traces of rig and furrow field systems around the ruins of a farmstead in the photo below, taken near Ramasaig.

With no wind for kite flying on this occasion this is a place that, along with similar highland clearances sites, I would like return to and work with in future.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Big Dig: Excavations and kite photography workshops at East Lomond hillfort

As part of the The Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership (website here) the Big Dig, a community excavation, has been investigating the south slopes of East Lomond hillfort in Fife. A series of hut-circle-like structures, which first showed up in geophysical survey, have been uncovered and appear to form an extensive settlement area annexed to the hillfort.

The two trenches with the distant West Lomond hill behind.
I was commissioned to demonstrate kite aerial photography (KAP) and to record some aerial views of the site by Dr Oliver O’Grady of OJT Heritage on behalf of the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership as part of the Discover the Ancient Lomonds Project (project blog here). The event was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and New Park Educational Trust.

A near vertical kite aerial photograph of the main trench.
Situated high above the relatively flat Fife, East Lomond offers fantastic views in all directions from the Bass Rock in East Lothian all the way to the Grampian Mountains to the north. The excavations themselves were just as captivating with some enigmatic structures and stone settings accompanied by many interesting finds. While I was on site one of the student diggers came across a well preserved spindle whorl, part of a device for producing yarn for fabric, within an Iron Age context.

An orthographic view of the east side of East Lomond hill.
I used a rotating KAP rig and structure from motion (SFM) photogrammetry to build this topographical model of the area around the dig and the summit of the hillfort. This is a composite of a colour orthophoto and orthographic rendering of the structure data with low-level lighting used to pick up the topography.

In high wind those marquees could have almost served as big extra kites!  
As well as site recording I spent the morning delivering talks and workshops to school groups who were keen to learn about how aerial photography is used by archaeologists, but a little more interested in having a go with the kite. This is one of the shots taken by the students as another group works on excavating the trench. Extra KAP kits were very kindly donated by John Wells of the fantastic Scottish National Aerial Photography Scheme (website here).

The Big Dig with East Lomond hillfort behind.
Many thanks go to the organisers and volunteers who made the Big Dig happen. Events like this are great for raising awareness of the fantastic landscapes which hold the stories of our past, and with any luck we have gone a small way in inspiring the next generation of archaeologists and aerial photographers!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Noltland to Newcastle: Visualising travel and arrival at Links of Noltland and the Further North conference

Links of Noltland is an archaeological site that is defined by its remote island location as much as by the intriguing material culture and stories that are emerging from the excavations. Following on from my previous post on the Links of Noltland collaborative project, one of the challenges is to move away from a representation of the site which is fixed like a map or site plan and instead give an impression of a place that is constantly in flux and has its own transient sense of place. While photogrammetric survey carried out over the last two years using kite aerial photography (see below) provided a useful and revealing spatial model of the site (viewable here on GigaPan), during fieldwork in 2014 our focus was on incorporating other visual elements from beyond the site boundaries.

A second KAP rig was used to get this view of camera, electronic rig and operator on site in 2013.
With this in mind, and drawing upon Aaron Watson's "Trans-scape" animations, we explored the use of time-lapse photography on and around the site as well as from the ferries on the way to and from Westray. We used the Gentles GentLED device as a intervalometer, neutral density filters to allow for longer exposures and handlebar camera mount to shoot securely from the ferry railings.

The ferry time-lapse set up and running. Time to sit back with a coffee and wait.
We wanted to use the analogies of travel and arrival to introduce the site in our animated visualisation. While we considered that the remoteness of the site has changed context between present day and prehistory, where long distances where perhaps more likely to be traveled along coastal routes making the site a potential "hub", it is still a place that for most lies at the end of a significant journey.

A slightly "bumpy" crossing on the Hamnavoe to Stromness.
With these ideas in mind and with a draft version of the animated film (which is still in the works) I set out on another journey to present a paper entitled "Approaching Links of Noltland" at the Further North conference at Northumbria University, the closing event of the Norther Peripheries research network. I found the sessions of a very high standard and it was great to be amongst a truly interdisciplinary debate around Northness, marginality and the identity of place. The session that I presented in was chaired by Orkney-based archaeologist Antonia Thomas who also presented her work alongside Dan Lee on their Archaeology Residency at the Papay Gyro Nights Arts Festival.

Speakers ranged in subject from walking as performance art to heavy metal music and Norse mythology.
Now back at the office with a lot of inspiration I am currently working on bringing together the visual material gathered at links of Noltland, with the help of Alice Aaron and John, to form a short film that introduces the site and begins to explore its archaeological interpretation. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Kite aerial photography of the excavations at Links of Noltland on Westray, Orkney

The Links of Noltland is a complex prehistoric settlement in the care of Historic Scotland and under rescue excavation carried out by EASE Archaeology since 2006 when erosion was identified as a significant risk to the site. I have been involved in a project, backed by Historic Scotland, to tackle the challenges of visualising the site for public outreach as part of a team of four practice-researchers: Dr John Was, Dr Aaron Watson, (the newly Doctored) Alice Watterson and myself.

This kite aerial photograph covers a large portion of the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement areas and shows the proximity to Grobust beach. Positioned on the north coast of the remote island of Westray, Orkney, Links of Noltland is exposed to a barrage of "high energy" weather that backfills unattended trenches, tears at anything not tied down (including caravans apparently) and is in danger of destroying archaeological remains as quickly as it reveals them.

One of the challenges of visualising a rescue excavation such as this is that the site is constantly changing. This vertical view into Neolithic Structure Seven was taken during excavation last year. On the right is Alice, sketching from the vantage point of the sand dune. Alice is working on a digital reconstruction to speculate on how Structure Seven might have looked in its complete form.

I used kite aerial photography to gather images for structure-from-motion photogrammetry in order to generate high resolution three-dimensional meshes of the site at different stages. Orthophotos are one of the outcomes of this process - high resolution plan views such as this Gigapan where you can zoom in and navigate around details in a way similar to google earth.

It has also been great to be able to photograph ongoing archaeological activity on the site and we have been combining low altitude aerial photography with time-lapse photography in an attempt to give an impression of a dynamic environment that is constantly in flux.

This large area of excavation is Area Five, a cluster of Neolithic dwellings where some of the most exciting finds have emerged. For a sense of scale the black circles are car tyres used to secure covers for parts of the trench not currently under excavation - a fact of life in such a wind-swept environment. The four of are are currently working towards an animated introduction to the site that incorporates some of the elements mentioned here so watch this space!