Methods paper: focus stacking and photogrammetry Santella & Milner, 2017

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    Lisa Lundgren


    The last few open access papers have focused on specific organisms in the fossil record. This paper is about techniques for photographing and digitizing fossil specimens. The specific techniques are photogrammetry and focus stacking. Click here for a link to it.

    The main point of the journal article:  Fossilized teeth from Utah, which are about the size of a fingernail, have interesting features that are often hard to see without the aid of magnification. The authors present photography techniques that make studying the fossils possible without magnification. So, this is a methods paper about how to create good images with tiny teeth.

    Paleontologists applying techniques used to photograph modern insects to fossilized teeth. This paper presents best practices for two techniques, focus stacking and photogrammetry. When you try to photograph objects that need magnification, you can run into problems with the depth of field. More magnification equals less depth of field. If you have flat objects, this isn’t a problem. With three-dimensional objects, like teeth, magnification and depth of field is a problem!

    Key terms:

    Focus stacking: Using the same subject for a photo (such as a tooth), taking a number of images at different focal points to create an image with a greater depth of field.

    Photogrammetry: Producing reliable information, such as exact measurements, through the use of photography. To collect this information, a camera is placed in a number of different places around the object to capture images and essentially create a 3D image. For this paper, the authors used 94 different positions to capture all the data.

    We have incredible folks on myFOSSIL who deal closely with photogrammetry, focus stacking, and photographing specimens in general. Can the specimen photography experts on the site jump in and summarize this paper for the community? @matthew-croxton @jkallmeyer @rleder @gsantos @jbauer



    Santella, M. and Milner, A.R.C. (2017). Coupling focus stacking with photogrammetry to illustrate small fossil teeth. Journal of Paleontological Techniques, 18:1-17.





    Jeanette Pirlo

    Hey @cgrant and @michael-ziegler what is your take on this paper and the techniques used?  You have both been doing a lot of photogrammic work recently!

    Sadie Mills

    From @jkallmeyer:

    @llundgren @matthew-croxton @rleder @gsantos @jbauer  I haven’t seen any other comments on this article yet but I did a quick look-over.  This is top notch methodology for certain.  I think it has very little application for we rank amateurs because the equipment and software involved is well over $3,000.00 not counting the pc.  I’d love to have this set-up myself.  I know Mathew has done a description of doing focus stacking here on MyFossil that I believe was on a lower budget that what these guys have used.

    When we attended NAPC in 2014, a company called Macroscopic Solutions was demoing their equipment that does focus stacking.  For $20,000 they could put you into a complete system.  They also do contract imaging for people if you send them the specimen. This was only 2D focus stacking and did not do any 3D.

    So, if you have one of those whopping big academic budgets (or a grant), go for it. 🙂


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