DH fun on the road: 3D models from your photos using photogrammetry

A How-to have fun with DH on the road by generating 3D models from photos using Structure From Motion Photogrammetry

by Sarah Lang

The Digital Humanities have such a huge inventory of digital methods that it is pretty hard to keep up with the learning of new methods while working with others just recently learned. Shifting academic work into free time can be annoying, but learning new things in a fun way – may keep the leisure factor. This is why I wanted to use this blog post to share a fun way making first steps in 3D while beeing on the road – be that a holiday or conference travel.

What you need

All you need in order to generate 3D models using SFM is a solid camera. For the first tries, your phone will suffice but of course, you’ll get better results with a decent SLR camera.

For the analysis, you will need a computer with the respective software installed, such as Agisoft for which you can get a free trial license (but make sure to log in with this trial license before creating your model or you won’t be able to save the result afterwards). As always, the more RAM, the better, which is true for making 3D models, too. However, for your just-for-fun models, the laptop you already own will be just fine. Now that we’ve cleared up the preliminaries, you need to take lots of pictures (and I mean lots) of your object of choice. Maybe use a middle sized object, like the size of a very large dictionary or a little bigger, if you don’t yet have experience and/or good equipment. Too small and detailed will be difficult for a bad camera to focus on and too big will be lots of hassle, require many pictures and lots of computing power to create an ok model.

This image shows an example of a point cloud generated using SFM. The blue markings represent the different camera perspectives from which photos were taken.
Copyright: Astrid Schmölzer / epigrammetry.hypotheses.org

How it works

I won’t explain exactly how to create the model in this post as it’s not a tutorial and I happen to know some really great resources to point you to instead 😉 You can learn about how to take the pictures correctly in this blog post:

https://epigrammetry.hypotheses.org/475

The next blog post explains how to make them into a 3D model using the Agisoft software:

https://epigrammetry.hypotheses.org/518

There are many more things to learn about 3D, from 3D file formats to the theoretical reflection on what a model really is. Which software to try out for further processing, how to share your results on platforms like SketchFab, and more you can learn in this blog post (which also contains an SFM tutorial):

https://latex-ninja.com/2019/12/15/an-easy-intro-to-3d-models-from-structure-from-motion-sfm-photogrammetry/

Ceramic shards found lined up at an archaeological site. For documenting such small objects, your phone camera will likely not suffice. A hand scanner works really well for such small objects and a non-high end one would suffice for such purposes. When taking pictures of such small objects, never move the object! Move around the object. This is necessary as the algorithm uses the background to determine where a 3D point belongs in 3D space. If you change the background, this is not possible.
Copyright: Sarah Lang

What do you do with 3D in model as a (Digital) Humanities scholar?

But there’s one last thing I wanted to address in this short post and that is: What are 3D models even good for? Because we know that Humanities scholars tend to be a very sceptical critical species and, apart from the fact that 3D (be it scanning or SFM) is a fancy technology without doubt, it’s not all that obvious what we can actually do with the model once we have it.

For once, a 3D model can be a useful tool for scholarly communication and presenting your objects in a way that users can interact with them and that’s engaging audiences. A really nice example is the Rosetta Stone 3D model by the British Museum.

But of course, 3D models can be used as tools for research too. For example, they can help identify common shapes in a series of archaeological objects or serve as documentation.

In the case of research-driven 3D modelling, however, it might be that SFM models will not furnish sufficient detail and accuracy. In this case, you might want to consider using a proper 3D scanner or Computer Tomography (CT).1

But that’s a subject for another blog post. With that, I hope you’re having fun on the road (as Covid-19 allows it or in case you’re reading this after the pandemic is over) and that I was able to suggest a way of continued DH education which won’t feel laborious.


Cite this article as: Sarah Lang, "DH fun on the road: 3D models from your photos using photogrammetry," in Digital Humanities Lab, 23/09/2020, https://dhlab.hypotheses.org/?p=1650.

Featured Image: my hand, my camera, photograph by Jürgen Lüttich, all right reserved.

  1. Advanced Documentation Methods in Studying Corinthian Black-figure Vase Painting, Link: https://www.chnt.at/wp-content/uploads/eBook_CHNT23_Karl.pdf []

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