The Palace of Fine Arts - Pushing the Limits of a Matterport Space

The Palace of Fine Arts

My most challenging scan has been The Palace of Fine Arts.

Last year, I scanned The Palace of Fine Arts as it was the 100th anniversary from the 1915 World’s Fair. In addition to it being very symmetrical and very large, being outdoors adds another level of difficulty and generally requires scan positions be placed closer to each other than for interior spaces. To minimize uninvited human models and interference to the infra-red lens by the sun, many sunrises were spent over a three-week period capturing the area to create a Matterport Space that covers more than a quarter mile of walking distance.

Sunrise at The Palace was always beautiful and interesting each morning. It’s used by groups of joggers, families, tourists, the homeless, models, artists, photographers, brides, and an unpaid, unrecognized volunteer. Every morning an elderly woman walked the entire grounds of the park picking up trash and bits of litter. The second day we talked and we spoke each sunrise thereafter I was there. She took ‘ownership’ of ‘her’ park and wanted to keep it clean and tidy for all visitors.

As you walk along the lake you’ll experience changing levels of light due to different sun conditions each morning. Some may prefer consistent lighting, but for me I think it actually enhances the experience by seeing how the it affects the scenery.

The size and symmetry of the columns and the rotunda were particularly challenging. With the lack of ‘walls’ and a ‘ceiling’, the software sometimes could not recognize the exact scan position. Or it may ‘think’ it was at a different ‘mirror image’ that looked the same’. Paying careful attention to the placement of each scan on the iPad mini-map was critical. If it landed in an incorrect spot, it was important to delete and rescan right away. Usually placing the camera nearer to the previous positon would fix it. Occasionally I would have to re-start inside a previously scanned area to establish a ‘start’ position.

When scanning outdoors it’s important to know where your previous scan position is located in case of a non-alignment. With the Palace, I used small twigs and pebbles that blended in with the area to mark scan spots. While it isn’t noticeable in the Space, they were critical to re-scanning. And taking careful note of where you leave for the day makes starting back up the next day much easier.

The Bay Area is also very windy and in some areas the vigorous movement of branches and leaves hindered alignment. In these cases, timing a scan when the wind was low and there was little to no movement helped the stitching process.

As scanning this area pushed the technology, I was able to learn a lot about its limits, symmetry, lighting and more. I encourage experimenting with challenging spaces to shorten the learning curve and gain confidence in taking on more specialized projects.

Take a walk along the lake or under the rotunda:


  • Nice work Bill. This is good example of the patience and challenges a photographer is confronted with when shooting outdoors. Also as you may note some scans may seem jump through a wormhole of sorts sending viewer into a different area. It's a Matterport limitation as the IR sensors are finding difficulty in creating a proper mesh. We've learned when shooting outdoors to always ensure the scan is being laid down exactly where they are taken.

    Comment actions Permalink
  • As you saw the disappointing part of this project is the 'wormhole' effect. I scanned over 500 positions to get to the final 275 that stitched together, and still ended up with some wormholes. It is fun to push the limits though.

    Comment actions Permalink
  • This is amazing! I can completely appreciate how hard it was to do this.


    1) did you wish you had gotten there earlier in the morning?

    2) Could you have started shooting 30 minutes earlier and had longer with the light?

    3) What was the maximum length of time you were able to shoot at dawn, was it about 45 minutes?

    4) Did you find that the area next to the benches was the hardest, because it was a wide open space next to a circle, or was the dome the hardest, or shooting next to the water? Curious about the trickiest spots...

    Very nice sunrises though, I agree the lighting really adds to the emotion of the showcase.


    Comment actions Permalink

Please sign in to leave a comment.