Esther Beaton


Photo Detective Challenge – How was this “shot” taken?

I only recently installed MacOS Catalina, even though it was released 7 months ago. Apple as usual, uses a stunning landscape photo of a California landmark for the wallpaper. That evening, I sat and admired it on my huge 27″ Retina screen, just revelling in the crisp, fine detail of the photo. Just endless eye candy. 

Then something funny happened. 

Did I imagine it? The image changed in front of my eyes. It went darker and a bit more purple. 

The next morning it was different again. Holy smokes! The wallpaper changes throughout the day! Each scene is a capture of that time of day – in my time zone!. In the first couple hours after dawn the scene changes several times. During the main part of the day, it stays the same: a sunny postcard scene. In the evening my wallpaper shifts quickly through dusk-type scenes. Throughout the night the island remains very dark under a star-studded sky. 

I am utterly mystified as to how this was done. Obviously a drone image to start, and one using at least a 35mm format. But it’s just not possible to get a drone to hover in the exact spot, to get the exact framing, to capture all these different scenes. 

Do you see where the photo was taken from? Obviously just off the western, pointy tip of Catalina. The drone would have been facing ESE. The sun rises from the Los Angeles side of the island and sets on the Pacific Ocean side. Which is just what the 8 frames above are showing.

So here’s the challenge. How was this “wallpaper” created? Obviously lots of post-production; but what about the capture? It’s just impossible I tell you.

NO CHEATING! Now it wouldn’t be a challenge if you Googled it. So try to figure it out yourself using your own photographic knowledge. 

6 thoughts on “Photo Detective Challenge – How was this “shot” taken?”

  1. Margaret Chung

    I think it has to be post-production, through Photoshop or Lightroom, some program with a function that calculates light at different times of day and night. Apple screensavers do this with a whole variety of images, not only Catalina Island.
    That’s my best guess.
    Cheers, Margaret

  2. If this was my task to perform, I would use Litchi – an application for Drones that allows you to pre-program a flight on your computer. It allows stills to be taken from a precise location (GPS) and Altitude, camera angles and other flight and camera settings are reproducible any number of times. It supports DJI drones and I highly recommend it!

  3. Esther Beaton

    Thanks Margaret, but tell me more – how do you get the exact same image taken at different times of day – from the sky?

  4. Esther Beaton

    Hi Geoff. That sounds intriguing. Can it be used at night? Can ALL those 360 degree coordinates be repeated exactly? I guess one thing that can be done is that if the capture frames don’t line up to within a pixel, they can be aligned with software, just like we do panorama merges in Photoshop. Right?

  5. Hi Esther, in reply – The drone is located using GPS flying the exact same program each time. GPS is accurate within 5M here in Australia. Plus or Minus 5M with a shot taken at that distance would not be visible in the resulting shots as there is no close objects to make parallax issues obvious. The gimbal angles on he camera are reproducible each flight. It might be fun to replicate the experiment down at Norah Head?

  6. Esther Beaton

    OK – 5 metres, hmmm. I gotta trust your drone experience on this one. I think the sure thing is the live test at Norah Head. Thanks for the input!

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