Photo of the Condor Nazca Figure at a Nazca Park. Photo by Eduardo Libby.

High Pass Over the Nazca Lines

One of the highlights of a trip to Peru is a flight over the Nazca Lines: Take a double dose of motion sickness pills, jump on a tiny airplane and enjoy the view… or camera in hand shoot as much as possible during the 40 minutes flight.

Nope, no chance of taking down the airplane’s door so I could avoid shooting through glass…the pilot told me: there are other people on the plane, you know? …Maybe if I charter the flight? However, I had done aerials on assignment before and I knew that as long as I got my camera close to the window to avoid reflections and did not let it touch the vibrating glass I should get sharp enough pictures after some post processing.

The photos as they came out from my camera had of course a strong greenish-blue cast due both to the color of the window and to the disappointingly cloudy day I got. I didn’t try to white balance my camera before shooting because I knew this could change during the flight. Luckily it didn’t and I was able to use the auto white balance of a view of the Nazca River Valley to color-correct the aerials with no horizon.

Aerial Photo of the Nazca River Valley. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
The Nazca River Valley from the airplane. Color balanced in Camera Raw.
Photo of an ad of the Nazca Lines. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
An ad at the airport with the figures traced over… the best way to show them really.
Photo of the whale at the Nazca Lines. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
The whale at the Nazca Lines. Clear enough thanks to altitude and the direction of light. Click to enlarge

Some of the figures like the whale came out nicely detailed, but the photo of the monkey really did not stand out. A contrast enhancement looked really ugly, and regular sharpening didn’t help. Then I remembered that regular sharpening only enhances edges but High Pass sharpening can either enhance edges or features if the radius of the filter is high enough. I used it in Nikon’s Capture NX-2 but I know it is available in many other programs. You just have to play around with the settings. Thanks to this, I can show you clear enough photos of the Nazca lines and figures.

Photo of the Monkey at the Nazca Lines. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
The Monkey after white balance and regular sharpening. The lines are not well defined. Click to enlarge
Photo of the Monkey at the Nazca Lines. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
The Monkey after High Pass sharpening with an 8 pixel radius applied in overlay mode. The lines are clearer now. Click to enlarge
Photo of the Monkey at the Nazca Lines. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
Applying High Pass sharpening with an 30 pixel radius in overlay mode starts to enhance larger features of the terrain. Click to enlarge
Photo of the Condor Nazca Figure at a Nazca Park. Photo by Eduardo Libby.
The Condor at a park in Nazca. Far easier to see!

You might wonder if the motion sickness pills worked… yes, they did, but only for the first ten Nazca Figures : (

Do you know of any other techniques that can help in a situation like this? I would love to hear!

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