Motion Blur in Photography

Photographs by their very nature capture an instant in time. To give the impression of movement or speed it’s sometimes necessary to move outside the standard camera settings or techniques. One option is to pan the camera as the photo is taken so that the background is blurred but the object being photographed is sharp to give the impression of speed. This method is often used to great effect with action sports.

An alternative is to use a much slower shutter speed than normal so that the background stays sharp but the object being photographed is blurred which also gives the impression of movement.

Here are a few that I’ve taken using the second method together with some additional information that may be helpful. Note that all these photos were taken with the camera on a tripod and I used a remote shutter release cable.

Car lights blur

car_lightsThis is a classic “car lights at night” photo. I found that these shots work best when there are other sources of light as well as the cars so as to add some detail to the scene – just a picture of car lights up a dark road is not very interesting. An alternative is to shoot at twilight or dawn when there’s just enough light to see some surrounding detail but the car lights are still visible.

This is a junction of the M40 motorway, there’s a convenient footbridge just south of the junction which is where I took the photo. It’s a 25s exposure to make sure that I got plenty of lights on the motorway, including some dashed orange lights from car indicators and also some lights up and down the slip roads.

Railway at night

This is a slight variation on the “car lights” theme with a long exposure photo of trains passing through a station at night. The idea was to get a “ghost train” type effect by starting the exposure before the train entered the frame so that the platform opposite was partly exposed then stopping the exposure once enough of the train had passed through. The exposure time was dependent on how long it took the train to pass through the station and it took a few attempts to get it just right. The exposure times were 6s and 2s respectively for the two photos and the aperture / ISO set accordingly. I experimented with the exposure with an empty station beforehand to get it right with no train passing through.

Night train #3In this photo the station train information displays were a bit of a problem because they were quite over exposed. I tried a few things to get round it but in the end I decided that they weren’t too bad and just left them as they were. The exception was one display just in the top left hand corner which was too bright and distracting so I edited the image to blank that display. The dashed orange lights were caused by the dot matrix information panels on the side of the train.

Railway during the day

Motion blur like this doesn’t always have to happen at night. These are two photos that I took during the day with the help of an 8 stop neutral density ( ND ) filter. The first one is of a locomotive hauled train and for some reason the loco is in a different livery from the rest of the train which makes for an interesting contrast. In the second one a public footpath ran right next to the line before going over it on the footbridge behind. At this range even a 1/8th of second exposure was sufficient to get quite a lot of motion blur.

General comments

1. Every Train Operating Company ( TOC ) in the UK will have a set of rules or guidelines about taking photographs on station platforms. Usually these can be found on the company website and most of them are along the lines of “Feel free to take photos but don’t be an idiot and don’t get in the way”. There may also be restrictions on commercial use of these photographs.

2. For locations other than stations then a map can be useful to find out where public footpaths run close to or across railway lines. There are a few options here:

  • Bing maps has an OS map option and you can zoom in to a 1:25000 scale.
  • Google or Bing map satellite views are great for getting more detailed information about a prospective site and Google Street Map is useful for identifying parking spots down remote country roads.
  • New OS paper maps have a code that can be used to download an electronic version of the map to your tablet or phone or you can buy just the electronic versions.
  • OpenStreetMap is a free alternative, I use the OsmAnd app on my phone which allows maps to be downloaded for offline use. ( There’s a free version with limited map download capability or a paid for version with unlimited downloads )

The location for the two daylight ones above was found from examining an OS map.

3. The best source of train time information for the UK that I’ve found is the Realtime Trains website. You can pick any station in the UK and the site will give you a list of all trains passing through that station, including ones that don’t stop and including goods trains. The data is updated in real time and there are now iPhone and Android apps as well but I haven’t used these.

4. My experience is that it’s virtually impossible to predict how a photo like this is going to turn out so experimentation and perseverance are essential. For the night time photos I found that the evening weekday peak periods during the winter months were the best times to get most trains per hour. I used to print out a listing from Realtime Trains and take it with me but an app would be much better, assuming that there’s a suitable mobile signal.

5. It gets very cold standing around a station for a couple of hours in the dark in the dead of winter. The first two night time train shots above took about 2 hours and several trains to get the timing right. I soon found out that a warm coat, thermal underwear and insulated gloves and boots were much more useful than a fancy camera. Conversely, in the Summer some footpaths may be overgrown and may need a bit of pruning to make access easier. A pair of secateurs would be a useful addition to the camera bag.

Posted in Photography | 2 Comments

Vosges Mountains

Mountain ranges of France map-frThe Vosges mountains lie between the two French regions of Alsace and Lorraine in north eastern France. They’re not as spectacular or as well known as the Alps or the Pyrenees with the highest peak being the Grand Ballon at 1424m ( 4670’ ) Nevertheless the scenery is spectacular with significant forest cover and only the tops of the highest peaks are completely bare. The Vosges act as a barrier to the wet westerly winds and most of the rain ( and snow in the winter ) falls on the Lorraine side. Because of this Alsace is one of the driest regions in France and has a micro-climate which is ideal for growing vines.

vosges7

Getting there, accommodation and getting about

The two closest airports are Strasbourg to the north or Basel to the south. There’s a good train service up the Rhine valley on the Alsace side and the TGV Est runs from Paris to Strasbourg. However, other than that, the public transport can be a bit patchy and a car is recommended. It’s a long day’s drive from the channel ports especially if you need to arrive at the accommodation by late afternoon. When we travelled by car from the UK we usually stopped off overnight in Reims.

There are a number of options for accommodation in the Vosges. There are plenty of hotels to suit all pockets and the area is well served by self catering accommodation all the year round – check the Gîtes de France site for a good selection that can ( mostly ) be booked online. For the summer months there are plenty of campsites in all price brackets.

We’ve mainly stayed in the area around Gerardmer which is convenient for most of the Vosges and the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park in particular.

Activities

Summer or winter the Vosges are ideal for outdoor activities of all types. In the summer there are numerous walking or mountain biking routes to suit all skills and abilities. The road from Gerardmer to Munster on the Alsace side goes over the Col de la Schlucht which has been used as a category 2 climb in the Tour de France on several occasions, most recently in 2014. In the summer there are plenty of amateur cyclists pitting themselves against the climb.

In winter of course it’s snow sports that feature the most with facilities for both alpine and cross country skiing. Snow conditions are generally less reliable than the Alps and, for the poorer years, the downhill runs at La Bresse and Gerardmer are equipped with snow cannon.

Cross country ski tracks along the Route des Crêtes

Cross country ski tracks along the Route des Crêtes

At the summit of the Col de la Schlucht the road crosses the Route des Cretes which was built by the French Army as a supply route during World War 1. It runs north/south for over 80km, mostly at an elevation of around 1000m. Parts of the Route des Cretes are closed by snow during the winter and these are used as cross country ski tracks. One of the most picturesque runs for 10km between the Col de la Schlucht and Lac Blanc.

vosges2As well as skiing there’s a diverse range of snowshoeing tracks. Our favourite routes are between the Hohneck ( one of the highest points of the Vosges, near the Col de la Schlucht ) and the Kastelberg to the south along the open peaks or through the trees from the Col de la Schlucht.

There are endless hire shops for mountain bikes, alpine or cross country skis, snowshoes etc.

History

Alsace-Lorraine is no stranger to conflict. In Roman times the Rhine formed a heavily fortified border to the empire. After the Romans the region was invaded first by the Alamanni then the Franks and subsequently became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Alsace first became part of France during the Thirty Years War to prevent its capture by the Spanish Hapsburgs. Shortly after that the famous military engineer Vauban built the fortress city of Neuf-Brisach which even today retains the defensive fortifications largely intact.

Cimetière des Chasseurs at the Col du Wettstein near Munster

First World War Cimetière des Chasseurs at the Col du Wettstein near Munster

In more recent times control of the area has switched between France and Germany. Following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 control of the region passed to Germany and stayed that way until 1918. During the First World War the front lines passed through Alsace-Lorraine and the Voseges mountains which formed the border saw fighting throughout the war.

Memorial to the French Second Armoured Division in Badonviller

Memorial to the French Second Armoured Division in Badonviller

 

 

The Vosges saw fierce fighting again in 1945 when Operation North Wind, the last major German offensive in the West, attempted to recapture Alsace. It was eventually repulsed and culminated in the Battle of the Colmar Pocket which finally drove the German Army out of France. It was the fourth time in 75 years that Alsace had changed hands between France and Germany.

Old houses in Kayserberg, Alsace

Old houses in Kayserberg, Alsace

Because of this turbulent history there is a very different feel to the villages, towns and cities on opposite sides of the Vosges. The Lorraine side is very French whereas the Alsace side feels more like the Black Forest area of Germany. This is especially true of villages like Kayserberg that have seen little development in recent years and still have many old timber framed buildings that gives them a medieval atmosphere. Even a city like Colmar which has modern developments on the outskirts has an old centre which is more like Freiburg in Germany rather than Metz or Nancy in Lorraine.

General notes

A couple of points for motoring enthusiasts:

Restored pit complex on the Reims-Geaux circuit.

Restored pit complex on the Reims-Geaux circuit.

Between 1926 and 1972 the Reims-Geaux racing circuit hosted Formula 1 grand prix and sports car races. It was a classic road circuit and the old pit complex which lies on the D27 is being restored by a local group If you do stop overnight at Reims then a quick visit to the start-finish straight is well worthwhile.

The famous Collection Schlumpf automotive museum can be found in Mulhouse. This is the biggest museum of its type in the world and well worth a visit for any petrol head.

Quite often the tops of the mountains are clear while the Rhine valley to the east is completely shrouded in mist with only the highest peaks of the Black Forest in Germany visible in the distance. When the atmospheric conditions are really clear then, 100 miles to the south east, the peaks of the Alps are easily visible.

View of the Alps from the summit of the Hohneck

View of the Alps from the summit of the Hohneck

We found the IGN TOP 25 / Carte de Randonee maps to be excellent. They are the French equivalent of the OS Explorer 1:25000 series. In addition all the towns and most villages will have a tourist office which supply local information and maps for walking, mountain biking, cross country skiing etc. In most cases these are free.

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Book Review – Football Clichés

51ai3glzb1l-_sx320_bo1204203200_It’s a funny old game, usually of two halves unless extra time is looming and then maybe followed by the lottery of the penalty shoot out.

We’re all familiar with the clichés spouted weekly by football pundits either on TV, radio or the internet. Adam Hurrey has gone a step further and painstakingly documented them together with handy flowcharts for scenarios like player transfers. Personally I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible to fill 200 pages on the subject but every page brought at least one smile.

So if you want to know what defenders really fear¹, what slams shut twice a year² or what a manager must never lose³ then this is the book for you.

¹Pace ( or maybe real pace )
²The transfer window
³The dressing room

 

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Shell Script Pomodoro Timer

If I have difficulty concentrating on a task I find the Pomodoro Technique very useful. When I was a manager or developer on software projects then it was too easy to get distracted by things like email or other discussions. With the Pomodoro Technique I could cleanly partition my work, for example, do three Pomodoros working on a project followed by one for email, one for phone calls etc.

On a Windows PC I found Tomighty to be quite effective but unfortunately there isn’t a Linux version. There are plenty of web based ones available but all the native Linux versions I found seemed to need either Java or libraries that I didn’t have installed. So I did what any self respecting engineer would do and I wrote my own 🙂

I did think of making it purely command line shell based but I find it more useful to have a small window on screen showing the time remaining etc. rather than having to use a terminal window. After some deliberation I implemented the basic control in a shell script and used Zenity to provide the user interaction. To use the script you may need to install Zentity, depending on your distro.

The code is available on GitHub ( https://github.com/john-davies/shellpomo ) and is largely self explanatory but the following may be useful to note:

1. There are a number of default values at the start of the script. The time intervals for the Pomodoros are those defined by the Pomodoro Technique website but feel free to modify as necessary. The whole script is a bit Ubuntu-centric where the notification sound is concerned but it’s a simple matter to change the appropriate line if necessary.

2. The script simply asks the user for the number of Pomodoros then steps through each one displaying the various countdowns as necessary. The user can abort the whole process at any time but there’s currently no way of handling any interruptions to a particular Pomodoro.

3. The Zenity commands are all explained in the manual. The only one that’s slightly convoluted is the display of the progress bar:

progressbarThe key here are the following lines from the “Process Dialog” manual page:

“Zenity reads data from standard input line by line. If a line is prefixed with #, the text is updated with the text on that line. If a line contains only a number, the percentage is updated with that number.”

The countdown is done in the countdown() function and the dialog is updated using the following lines:

printf "# Time remaining: %d:%02d\n" $(( t/60 )) $(( t % 60 ));
echo "$(( ( ( TIME - t ) * 100 ) / TIME ))";
( Note the # in the printf line )

launcherThe GitHub repository contains a “.desktop” file which can be dragged onto the Ubuntu Launcher to create a shortcut complete with a suitable icon. For Ubuntu Mate then right click on the desktop and select “Create Launcher …” then add the various details and a launcher complete with icon will appear on the desktop.

I’ve used this off and on for over a year now and it works fine for me. I’ve never needed the “interruptions” handling but it should be fairly easy to add a feature to log any Pomodoros that have been interrupted and report these at the end.

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Photogrammetry with Free & Open Source Software ( FOSS )

Wikipedia defines photogrammetry as

“… the science of making measurements from photographs, especially for recovering the exact positions of surface points.” If you can recover enough of the surface points then it’s perfectly possible to recreate a complete 3D model of an object from 2D photographs.

( I first got interested in 3D scanning some years ago when I managed a project to develop some software to map and record human body shapes using a ( then quite expensive ) scanner made by a company called TC2.

The project was health related – http://www.bodyvolume.com/home. It’s an interesting idea with lots of health benefits which unfortunately still hasn’t really got into widespread use. I think that’s mainly due to the problem of scanning a human body – you can have any two of quick, cheap and accurate 🙂 )

Today there’s a slightly overwhelming variety of photogrammetry software options available and this post is a summary of the analysis that I went through when trying to select a suitable FOSS toolset to experiment with. I started with the following criteria to assess each option:

Must haves:

  1. Sensible build / install process. Ideally I should be able to fork a GitHub repository and build the software on any recent Linux distribution with any other dependencies able to be installed via standard packages. Life is too short for messing around with complex build processes and arcane library requirements.
  2. Good results / easy setup. It needs to work reasonably well with images taken with my point & shoot camera and without having to fiddle with parameters for every scan.
  3. FOSS. It needs to be FOSS and have no restrictions on the program’s use or on the use of the 3D models generated by the software.

Nice to have:

  1. GUI. A GUI sometimes makes getting started a bit easier but I’m also quite happy with command line tools especially if they can be wrapped in a shell script.
  2. Programming language. It would good to contribute something back to the project so ideally it would be written in a language that I’m familiar with. I don’t mind learning a new programming language but it’s time that could be better spent on other things.

I looked at the following options:

Python Photogrammetry Toolbox & PPT-GUI

The scope of the Python Photogrammetry Toolbox and associated tools seems to have evolved over the years and so is not the easiest thing to define. The simplest way that I found to try it was using the Archeos distribution. This installed fine on an old laptop that I had lying around and also on VirtualBox.

( I did briefly try installing the software on my normal Ubuntu based machine and it mostly worked. There were some problems with paths which would probably been fixable had I spent more time on it )

It runs fine and the GUI is easy to use. The only minor but annoying quirk is that it writes the output files to the /tmp/… directory which gets cleared on a reboot. You have to remember to copy the files to somewhere more sensible before exiting. As the name suggests it’s written in Python, it’s fully FOSS and there are no restrictions on the use of the models.

Archeos is based on Debian and also comes with many other related applications already installed. The team behind Archeos also have an interesting blog

openMVG & MVE

OpenMVG is

“ … a library for computer-vision scientists and especially targeted to the Multiple View Geometry community. It is designed to provide an easy access to the classical problem solvers in Multiple View Geometry and solve them accurately.”

openMVG doesn’t contain a module for generating dense reconstructions directly but the documentation suggests a few possibilities. I started to experiment with MVE and found it to be easy to use1

Both of these are written in C/C++ and are FOSS. I was able to clone and build from GitHub with no dramas other than installing a few extra packages.

There’s no GUI2,3 but it’s easy to put the commands into a shell script and run them that way. The outputs looked fine and I got good results fairly quickly from the models that I tried.

1It’s possible that MVE may do the whole job itself but I haven’t fully explored this yet

2There is a build of openMVG available with a GUI – https://github.com/open-anatomy/SfM_gui_for_openMVG/ However this seems to be a fork of openMVG and currently some way behind the original source. There’s a video tutorial using this GUI and it seems that it’s a way of selecting the command line options for the various tools, running them and displaying the output. For me that’s no real advantage over a shell script.

3MVE does contain a GUI for parts of the process but I haven’t investigated in any detail. See MVE build instructions for details.

Regard3D

Regard3D is essentially a GUI wrapper around several third party photogrammetry tools including openMVG and MVE. There are Windows, Linux and OSX versions but only the Windows and OSX versions have installers.

I tried the Windows version and it installed and ran fine. The GUI was easy to use and a useful guide to the options available to the various tools.

However I failed to get the Linux version to build despite spending a reasonable time trying. The main problems were with library versions, especially openCV.

The other drawback is that Regard3D uses a modified version of openMVG which means that there’s inevitably a delay in getting the latest version filtered through and it makes contributing changes back to openMVG more difficult.

OpenDroneMap

I didn’t do any detailed tests on this one because it seems to be more aimed at aerial photography but I included it for completeness.

The GitHub pahttp://opencv.org/ge describes it as:

OpenDroneMap is a tool to postprocess drone, balloon, kite, and street view data to geographic data including orthophotos, point clouds, & textured mesh. In the tradition of the Ship of Theseus, it was originally forked from qwesda/BundlerTools https://github.com/qwesda/BundlerTools.

I think that it’s command line based and written in Python.

Other Options

I also looked at a couple of other possibilities which didn’t quite meet the criteria above:

VisualFSM

VisualFSM has Windows, Linux and OSX versions and is “free for personal, non-profit or academic use”. The Windows version installs and runs OK although my results were not as good as those with openMVG/MVE

Unfortunately the Linux install instructions were lengthy, possibly out of date now and I failed to get them to work.

Online services

There are a number of online photogrammetry services, some are free as in beer, some are paid for, the Wikipedia page referenced below lists a few of these.

I have previously tried Autodesk’s free offering – 123D Catch. It worked reasonably well but gave no control over how the images were interpreted. However I notice that there are now mobile device apps as well – it was web only when I tried. These may offer more control.

Another drawback with these services is the licencing of the scans. For 123D Catch the scans remain your property but you give Autodesk:

“ … a world-wide, royalty-free, fully paid-up, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, and fully sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right and license (but not the obligation) to reproduce, distribute, redistribute, modify, translate, adapt, prepare derivative works of, display, perform (each publicly or otherwise) and otherwise use all or part of Your Content, by any and all means and through any media and formats now known or hereafter discovered”

I suspect the other services have similar terms. Of course there is also the possibility that any free services may be discontinued or may have to be paid for at some point in the future.

Conclusion

For me the obvious solution was openMVG/MVE. They’re completely open source, build easily and provide good outputs with minimum configuration changes. There’s no GUI but, to be honest, it was trivial to write some shell scripts to manage the whole process.
In a future post I’ll document how I built these tools and how I set up the directories and shell scripts to manage the model creation process.

For now here are two sceenshots of a stone figure on my neighbour’s wall ( original photographs taken with my Canon IXUS 70 point & shoot camera )

Other Notes

Wikipedia also has a long list of photogrammetry software but this includes some very expensive commercial offerings. There’s an older ( 2015 ) summary of the cheap / free options here – https://ryanfb.github.io/etc/2015/01/23/photogrammetry_software_roundup.html

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Timelapse Video with Free & Open Source Software ( FOSS )

For a while now I’ve been processing the digital images from my camera using Free & Open Source Software ( FOSS ), mainly using the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). It’s easy to use and there’s a wealth of online documentation and tutorials.

Having started to create some time lapse videos I was again interested in a FOSS toolchain. This wasn’t quite as simple but I think that I’ve come up with some workable options1. Note that the description below doesn’t cover the mechanics of capturing the photos in the first place, there are many tutorials and explanations available online.2 My starting point is a camera full of images that need to be converted to a time lapse video. This is a sample video created using the toolchain described below, it was taken in our garden and shows a sunset over Carmarthen Bay in South Wales.

( 490 images taken at 2s intervals. There’s a window of about two months from mid-December to mid-February when the sunset is visible from this spot in the garden. )

1For an alternative view with some different options see:

2The best tutorial / explanation that I found online is “Getting Started with Timelapse Photography” by Richard Harrington  It’s a long video but worth watching all the way through.

Note that my solution should apply to any Linux distribution. Some of the programs may have Windows or Mac versions.

Basic Process

Once the images have been captured then the process is roughly:

  1. Get the images off the camera and into the computer. For time lapse it’s advisable to shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG which is what this process assumes.
  2. Review the images to make sure that there are no problems. For example camera movement or unwanted birds flying across the frame can cause odd flickers in the final video
  3. Process the images, for example to correct exposure or sharpen the image etc. Essentially this is the same as you would do for a single still image
  4. Crop and rescale the image. A DSLR can capture at a much higher resolution than even HD video so the images will need to be reduced in size at least. The format of a DSLR image will also be different from a video, for example:
    • My DSLR ( Nikon D3100 ) takes images of 4608 x 3072 pixels ( 3:2 image format )
    • An HD video is 1920 x 1080 pixels ( 16:9 image format )
  5. Deflicker the images. The general advice when shooting images for timelapse is to use manual camera settings throughout. However it’s still possible to end up with some flickering in the final images because, even in fully manual, the camera may not expose exactly the same from one image to the next.
  6. Convert the images to a video. The parameters for the video ( size, aspect ratio, frame rate etc. ) will depend on the final market for the video. I usually aim for HD ( 1920 x 1080 ) and 25 frames per second.

Looking at each of these in turn:

Get the images off the camera

I’ve never bothered with any camera maker’s software to transfer images and I just use a USB card reader, available cheaply from Amazon. When plugged in to a PC it looks like a USB drive and allows access to all the photos. More modern PCs may have dedicated card readers.

Review the images

I use gnome-raw-thumbnailer as a plugin to add RAW thumbnails to the standard file viewer ( Caja in my case ). I found that applications like Shotwell work fine but seem to want to add in extra features like photo management which I just don’t need and mainly get in the way.

Process the images

Processing RAW images on Linux has been a bit hit-or-miss in the past. However things have improved over the past few years and there are now a number of potential options. I eventually settled on darktable, but this was mainly based on reviews I read online rather than carrying out any detailed analysis of my own. There are others out there and it may be worth experimenting a bit. The key feature needed for processing timelapse is the ability to batch edit images.

Darktable takes a bit of getting used to. To me its UI is not inherently intuitive in any way but it’s not too bad once you’ve got used to it. The only aspect that really annoys me still is the lack of an “undo” command. Yes you can step back through the History stack and continue editing but it’s not quite the same thing. ( And I’m not the only one complaining – https://redmine.darktable.org/issues/8498 ! )

One limitation of darktable is that it is not fully scriptable. There are some scripting commands but, as far as I can see, none of the image manipulation features are controllable. The main requirement for this feature is for processing timelapses where the light level changes considerably, e.g. a sunset. For these conditions I shoot with a fixed aperture and shutter speed and use the wide range of exposure compensation available with RAW images to correct the exposure later. As each image may need a different level of exposure compensation then it’s just too time consuming to do it manually and a script is the easiest way.

An alternative for processing RAW images that is fully scriptable is UFRaw It’s not a complete replacement for darktable unfortunately as it lacks any image sharpening features so for the moment at least I occasionally need to use both tools.

Crop and rescale the image

There are two situations to consider here:

  1. All the images are to be cropped and rescaled the same amount. This can easily be done as part of the darktable / UFRaw edits.
  2. Different crops and resizes are used on different images to simulate zoom and pan in the final movie. In this case a fully scripted batch editor is needed and I find that ImageMagick and a shell script does the job. At the moment I write custom scripts for each movie which is a bit time consuming. There’s definitely scope for some process improvement here.

Deflicker the images

The only FOSS deflickering utility that I know is this perl script that uses ImageMagick. It can be run with one or two passes through the images and works very well.

Convert the images to a video

The simplest and easiest option that I found was ffmpeg The ffmpeg options can be somewhat overwhelming but I found a good forum post that explains the basic usage. Based on that post I use variations on the following basic command which seems to work fine:

ffmpeg -framerate 25 -start_number 2544 -i DSC_%d.jpg -c:v libx264 
          -profile:v high -crf 20 -pix_fmt yuv420p output.mp4

One further point to note is that ffmpeg won’t easily allow you to add a sound track, add titles, fade between multiple video segments etc.  To do that you need a more fully featured video editor. There are lots of Linux video editor reviews online but most of these are a few years old are now largely irrelevant because they refer to older versions of the tools. A lot are also rather superficial but there’s a relatively recent Reddit thread which may help.

I’ve only some some brief tests but kdenlive ( https://kdenlive.org/ ) seems to work OK and certainly does what I need.

One point to note is that the versions of any of these tools that are supplied with a particular Linux distribution are often out of date and it’s always best to install from the tool’s Personal Package Archive ( PPA ) if possible to get the latest version.

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Flowers

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of flowers. They can be found in a huge range of shapes and colours, you can find them everywhere and they don’t talk back! Here are a few of my favourites:

These are Californian poppies in two different colours. The first was taken at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the second in my mother’s garden.  I like the simplicity of these flowers and the colours are very subtle.

sunflowerSunflowers make great subjects, either as whole fields of them or, like here, just a single flower. This one was grown in our garden by my wife. I wanted to crop out our rather scruffy shed that was in the background so I zoomed in very close to capture the detail of the centre of the flower. In the Autumn the dried seed heads of sunflowers also make a great photo subject.

dahliaThis dahlia was taken in the garden of the Musee des impressionnismes in Giverny in France. It was a bit of a dull, overcast day in late Autumn but the combination of a dark background and the purple tinges to the white petals made a vivid contrast.

pansyI loved the bold colours on this pansy that was growing in our garden. The droplets of rain added an interesting pattern to the white petals.

ccThis is a Christmas Cactus ( bought from Lidl I think ) and it’s normally covered in flowers from November onwards. I used a black background for this photo and lit it from both sides to create some interesting shadows.

cactusFinally something slightly different – a cactus flower. This cactus has been growing in my mother’s glasshouse for as long as I can remember and each year it produces a profusion of blooms like this. The flowers don’t last long and I caught this one just at its peak.

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Brussels

If you read the British papers in the current Brexit era then Brussels is probably second only to Mordor as a holiday destination. However this is unfair as it’s a fine city with centuries of history and well worth visiting. Brussels is not large in area and two or three days are enough to get a good feel of the place. Other historic cities such as Bruges and Ghent are not far away which could extend a visit to a week.

Getting there, accommodation and getting about

We travelled by train on the Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels Midi station, the journey taking about 2 hours. You realise how compact Brussels is when the train is still travelling through fields and countryside just 10 minutes before its scheduled arrival time. From our very limited experience the Brussels Eurostars are much less busy that those to Paris but the best advice on fares, and Eurostar travel in general, can be found on the “The Man in Seat Sixty-One” website. I strongly recommend a browse round this site before booking anything. Alternatively it’s an easy drive from the channel ports but parking in Brussels is likely to be as problematic as any other large city.

We booked a hotel package along with our train tickets on the Eurostar website. We picked a middle of the range, centrally located hotel based on its ratings on the usual travel review sites. The Hotel Queen Anne was fine, the rooms were clean and comfortable and the included buffet breakfast was both plentiful and tasty.

Most of the sights are within walking distance of each other. However there is a small metro system and also a city wide tram system, both of which are useful when personal energy levels are running low. We bought a 3 day ticket which covered the metro, trams and buses, current price is €18 for a 72 hour ticket which is good value I think.

Sights that we enjoyed

Musical Instruments Museum

As its name suggests the Musical Instruments Museum is dedicated to the history of musical instrument development. We’re both fairly keen amateur musicians so a visit here was top priority and we weren’t disappointed. The museum is housed in an old art nouveau department store which is well worth seeing in itself.

The museum has different galleries, each of which gives a different viewpoint on musical instrument development. The admission fee includes a headset and when you stand in front of the different displays the sounds of those instruments are played in the headset. This was an excellent feature which very much added to the experience. We spent most of one day in here and we’d be more than happy to go back again.

There are also various musical events during the year, their website has details.

Grand Place

The Grand Place is considered the heart of Brussels. It’s a fairly small square really but packed full of 17th Century architecture. It’s also quite spectacular at night with all the buildings lit up.

Other sights worth seeing close to the Grand Place are the Église St-Nicholas and, if you fancy some shopping, the very upmarket Galeries St-Hubert. However your credit card will suffer after an extended session at the latter!

Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur

img_1296The Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur is a large art deco style church in the suburb of Koekelberg. It’s a bit out of the centre but well served by tram lines.

It was commissioned by King Leopold II in the early 20th Century and its dome is visible from many places across the city. Although building started in 1904 it wasn’t completed until 1970 and it’s the fifth largest church in the world. Inside it’s quite lavishly decorated, it’s almost as if the architects visited several Italian marble quarries and took a couple of tons of everything that was on offer.

In front is the Parc Elisabeth with its long promenade of trees and is a fine way of approaching the Basilica. We had lunch in the park and were entertained by a flock of brightly coloured parakeets which have escaped from somewhere and are now thriving.

This is a view across the city from in front of the Église St-Jaques-sur-Coudenberg in the Place Royal. In the foreground is a statue of Godefroi of Bouillon with the spire of the Hotel de Ville in the Grand Place and the dome of the Basilique Nationale in the distance.

 

 

 

 

Manneken Pis

img_1295Any visit to Brussels would obviously be incomplete without seeing the famous Manneken Pis statue. For all its fame it’s rather tucked away on a street corner and we got the distinct “is this it?” feeling when we got there. Disappointingly we never saw it dressed in costume.

 

 

 

 

General notes

img_1278As might be expected Brussels has a large variety of restaurants catering to every taste and pocket. The de-facto national dish appears to be moules-frites ( or mussels and chips ) and some streets appear to be full of restaurants selling nothing else with enthusiastic waiters outside encouraging you to come in. A bit of haggling before you start will ensure at least one free drink with your meal.

Although Brussels is within the Dutch speaking Flanders region of Belgium everybody we met spoke fluent French. Be aware that Belgian French is slightly different, especially in the numbers – seventy is septante rather than soixante-dix and ninety is nonante rather than quatre-vingt-dix but it’s not really a problem.

There are many travel guidebooks available – a quick search on Amazon for “brussels guide book” gives 909 results! We quite like the “DK Eyewitness Travel Guide” series and they do one that covers Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp but I’m sure that there are others just as good.

img_1279And yes, there are a lot of chocolate shops.

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