One giant leap...

One giant leap, many small steps

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — author unknown

The thing about creating books is that they take a long time to make. So why make one except for the sheer love of it?

When the idea for my newest book, Horizon, came to me in May 2015, I knew it would take 3-5 years. Normally it would cost me nine months maximum to create a book from start to finish, but this one is in a whole other league. I’ve had to first organize and sort through a selection of 472,000+ photos taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to be able to get to the starting line. And hey, that’s a lot of photos, many of which are not catalogued by NASA. That means also researching what I’m looking at.

So is Horizon done yet? Nope, but it’s getting there.

I hadn’t planned to build a database, but that’s what I had to do to be able to manage this mountain of data. It was overwhelming to go through so many photos not knowing where on earth they were taken.

I began in earnest in August 2017 right before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and the NASA website I was using went offline for many days. Once the site came back online, I spent a few days downloading the data for those 472,000 images. It involved millions of cells spread across ten spreadsheets, each with 50,000 rows. Also, reverse-geocoding all the uncatalogued images with latitude and longitude, followed by getting all the spreadsheet data into each respective image’s metadata. That’s the synopsis.

It took many months just getting those steps done, and I am indebted to both my husband and a programmer friend for helping me, otherwise creating the database would not have been possible. Now I can sort through the images, filtering on what I want to see, and mark selected images as favorites. What a world of difference that makes!

Of the 50,000 images taken of the earth by day, I managed to get about 25,000 to stitch together to give me an additional 5,400+ panoramas. This process took about three months, but the panos allow me to run a single image across two pages of the large book, which is the crux of my design concept.

Shown above are some mock-ups of potential book pages. (The yellow vertical line shows the crease between pages; the text is dummy text.)

Just in case you’re wondering what a panorama is, it’s like putting together a puzzle. Software figures out which images are part of the same scene and merges them for you into a new “panorama” image. From there you can create a new composition by cropping it. There are multiple crop options for each pano, and below is an example.

I’m systematically working my way through the 5,400+ panos in order by country and continent. This way I can find the best ones to use in my large-size coffee table book. Once that’s done — and this will take a few months — I can get to the fun part: image selection for the book.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” — Michelangelo