Gigapans of sand

Gigapanning is very useful technology in geology because it allows us to first get a general overview and then zoom in to see smaller structures. It is already used extensively by some members of the geoblogosphere. Thanks to their work we have seen many outcrops in such a detail that was unimaginable before.

I was interested to see how useful are gigapans in sand photography. Callan Bentley kindly offered to gigapan some of my sand samples. Here are two of them. I much prefer to watch gigapans in full screen. Unfortunately I can’t find a way to add such a feature to my website. To do that you probably just have to go directly to the gigapans website. Here are the links to these gigapans: and

The first one is from the La Paree Beach, Bretignolles-sur-Mer, France. The second one is from the Calvert Cliffs State Park, Soloman Islands, Maryland, USA. I am very pleased with the first one. The sand is interesting and beautiful and it shows its beauty and versatility quite well. I was afraid that these sands are perhaps too fine-grained but it doesn’t seem to be the case. The gigapans are sharp enough, almost comparable to the microscope view. The second gigapan is not as good. Probably because it is a mixture of transparent quartz and black ilmenite which need different exposure time. There are enough light for quartz but not enough for dark ilmenite. This is a common problem in macro photography if you have to take photos of light and dark objects at the same time.

There are several things that I like about these gigapans. It is good that I can first see the sand as I would see it with the naked eye and then smoothly zoom in to acquire microscope view. I’ve been thinking about that before when I show sand photos taken with macro lenses. These pictures may be pretty but they are somewhat detached from the reality. People who look them do not understand how this sand looks to them if they see it in a beach. This problem is eliminated here.

Taking macrophotos of sand is usually lots of work. I study sand under the stereomicroscope but I do take photos with camera and macro lens. Thus, I can not take a photo as soon as I spot something interesting. Sand grains are very small which means that the grains I was interested in are usually very hard or impossible to find with the camera. So, I just take a photo and hope that it has something interesting there. Usually it is not as good as I had hoped because one photo covers very small area. It is different with gigapans because they are composed of many photos. I can search large area and choose between many grains and take a snapshots of the best to illustrate my blog posts for example.

The results are very promising and I am sure that gigapanning will be much more widely used by geologists in the future although currently it is rather expensive and unfortunately affordable to research institutions only.

3 comments to Gigapans of sand

  • kate

    These are impressive! The Le Paree sand is pretty with all the garnets. One can see remarkable details in the grains. I’d love to know the magnification as I zoom in and out. There’s a bottle-glass green grain at about 10:30, a quarter in from the edge. Is this glass, jade, epidote? Actually, looking further, I see more of this color. Maybe some zircons too. Fun to see what this technology can show with sand. Thanks for sharing!

  • There are many interesting minerals. I do not want to name them before I am sure. I should use microprobe or something similar for this but it is not possible during the next month or two.

  • Veronica

    Very very beautiful……it’s amazing how many colors and shapes.