Hi, I’m Martin and I’m responsible for the team of photogrammetrists working for Blom UK.
The photogrammetry department that greets me each morning is a very different place to the one I remember from when I first started out as a junior photogrammetrist.
Gone are the sights of people sat upright before huge mechanical machines, frantically winding handles and spinning foot-wheels, or bending over glass topped drawing tables with pencils and rulers in hand.
Gone, too, are the sounds of mechanical gears driving pencils backwards and forwards across the plotting tables.
Today, the old mechanical instruments have long since been replaced by the ubiquitous desktop PC.
The modern photogrammetry office will be familiar to anyone working in an office today – with one small exception – the photogrammetris wears 3D glasses, similar to those worn by anyone who has seen the latest 3D films at the cinema.
First, my history
So, how did I end up as photogrammetry manager of one of the leading providers of aerial imagery and digital mapping solutions in the UK?
Like most people in the mid ‘70s I had much more hair. I had also just started working for Hunting Surveys Ltd, based in Borehamwood straight from leaving school as a junior photogrammetrist.
My first maps were produced on mechanical, analogue stereo plotting machines such as the Wild A8 produced by Wild Heerbrugg.
In these instruments, 9 inch diapositives were held between glass plates and physically manipulated to recreate the conditions at the moment the frames were exposed.
Back in those day’s maps were plotted and carefully drawn by hand on a plotting table next to the stereo instrument – this could take the map maker many hours just to create one feature:- a different world from the automated digitisation tools which are now available to today’s cartographers.
Towards the end of the ‘80s, my hair was in a pony-tail, and I was working for Survey International using the latest analytical photogrammetric instruments.
Wild Heerbrugg had become part of Leica Holding B.V and the machines they produced used the same 9-inch diapositives, but now the exterior orientations are recreated mathematically.
Maps were no longer drawn by hand on large plotting tables, but were captured digitally with modern CAD software.
Finally, in the mid ‘90s, and with ever-thinning hair, I joined what was Simmons Surveys and saw the introduction of digital imagery:- first from scanned films and latterly from digital camera as I entered the world of digital photogrammetry.
Now, digital imagery has replaced film, and desktop monitors have replaced the old stereo plotting machines. These days we even get such a thing as a flat-screen monitor!
New products and new techniques are currently evolving: digital orthophotography, automatic aerotriangulations, and automatically-generated digital ground models have replaced the hand-drawn maps.
I became a department manager, moving from the daily plotting to tasks such as developing flow lines, creating work programs and evaluating our software requirements, and so bringing with it a whole new set of challenges for me.
And this is where you find me today, managing the photogrammetry department for Blom UK.
A typical day
Firstly, there isn’t really a typical day, as apart from the constant cups of coffee.
Like most people, my first task is to read through my emails and get the first idea of what the day might bring.
Then I try to sit down with Kerstin, my photogrammetry supervisor. It’s a nice chance for us to close the door and talk through the issues of the past days, and to plan what should happen next.
We have a number of varied and interesting projects in progress right now. There is mapping from such diverse countries as Ireland, Belgium and Dagestan, and orthophoto projects here in the UK.
Each brings its own unique challenges, and the variety of scales and countries covered means that no two problems are ever the same. But it is these different challenges that make the job of photogrammetry manager an ever changing, and ever more interesting one.
One fairly recent change to my routine has been my ever-increasing reliance on technology to be able to stay in contact with our Romanian office. Using Skype™ has enabled me to interact with my Romanian colleagues in the same way that I can in my own office. I can talk to project managers and photogrammetric operators about the work they are producing, and they can come to me with questions as easily as if they were working in the room next door.
I see this as one of the important roles I have within the company, to act as mentor and be able to pass on much of my experience to anyone who asks.
My experience is also available to our sales team, and if there are tenders to be produced, a lot of my day can be spent in providing not only project estimates, but valuable knowledge to help in the tender preparation.
It is a totally different side to the job that I never encountered when I was a plotter and, although time-consuming, when we get awarded large tenders it is great to know that I have played a part in that success.
I never pass up the chance to put on a pair of stereo glasses and look at the stereo imagery that first fascinated so many years ago. That happens all too rarely now. But when I do, I am reminded of why I still like this industry so much.
Of course, when I meet people who have just been to the cinema and I hear them marvel at the latest 3D block-buster, and how real it all looks. I smile to myself because it’s something I’ve been looking at every day for the past 35 years or so.
Martin Grant – Photogrammetry Manager, Blom UK