Thinking outside the box…

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… that is the camera viewfinder. So many iconic views are of broad, sweeping vistas, but when trying to capture this type of landscape within the frame of a camera viewfinder, much of the impact can be lost, especially if using a wide-angle lens. One solution to this problem is to shoot in panoramic format – either using a dedicated panoramic camera – or by using the magic of digital photography to get in a little tighter and then merge (stitch) several photographs together. Stitching multiple images allows you to go as wide as – if not wider – than your lens allows, yet still maintain the relevance of important elements within the composition. The result is a larger file with greater detail, and with that, an enhanced ability to print big. Most importantly, you also get to capture that expansive view in all of its entirety without being limited by the constraints of the camera viewfinder.

11-13-14 Zabriskie wide

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean… these are both from the Zabriskie Point overlook in Death Valley National Park, California, and were made on 7/30/07 at about 4pm local time in what were admittedly far from epic lighting conditions. The first photograph is a single shot – shot at f11, 1/160 sec, iso 100 using a 17-40mm lens at 17mm (generally considered pretty wide) – the resulting tiff file is 23.4 megapixels and at 200 ppi, I can squeeze a 17 inch x 11 inch print out of this one.

11-13-14 Zabriskie Panorama

In the panoramic image above, I used a total of 12 separate images – each shot in vertical orientation at f11, 1/160 sec, iso 100 using a 17-40mm lens, this time at a focal length of 40mm – the resulting tiff file is 88.1 megapixels and at 200 ppi, I could squeeze a 46 inch x 16 inch print out of this one. I used to have to manually and tediously “stitch” panoramics like this together by manipulating Photoshop layers and masks, but luckily many post-processing software options now automate that task quite easily. Like I said, there’s a significant difference in the quality of the larger file… the detail is sharper, the view is wider in scope, and the printed file is literally much bigger in size!

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Dumpster Diving

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Tioga Lake pano

Well, not really dumpster diving… more like combing through the archives. It’s always fun to take a walk down memory lane, and when you carry a camera around with you, well… there are lots of memories created to return to later. Just recently, as I was wandering through an old hard drive where RAW images from a trip to Yosemite in 2010 are stored, I came across a series of photographs that I hadn’t yet processed. Every now and then I’ll encounter a broad and grand vista, one that is hard to capture in one shot, even with a wide angle lens. In this type of situation, I’ll sometimes turn the camera on its side to portrait orientation, and then pan across the landscape making several tighter shots, with the intention of merging the images together into one panoramic photograph later when back at the computer.

Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular, majestic and remarkable places I have ever seen. Truly breathtaking landscapes are around every corner, and on this particular morning Sam and I were in the high country, making our way up, over, and through the Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne Meadow. The reflection of the Eastern Sierra in Tioga Lake was a jaw-dropping scene, one that not only reminds me of what was a great trip with Sam, but also of some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever experienced. The pano above is made up of about 10 separate images, and is actually quite large… I could probably print it 50 inches wide if I wanted to (and if I had a wall to hang it on), and the wider, single-image view below shows you how challenging it is to include everything you want to from a scene like this in one shot.

Tioga Lake

It’s been a while…

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…since I dabbled with panoramic style photographs, but a few weeks ago I saw this scene of Little Long Pond in Acadia National Park and decided to give it a try. These aren’t simple crops from one traditionally sized image, but rather a series of several frames compiled into one.

To make this type of image, I turned the camera dial to manual and determined what a good exposure for the scene would be – using “manual” helped make sure there was a consistency of exposure between the multiple shots ultimately merged to make the pano. I also made sure to choose a specific white balance setting other than auto, and I checked that the polarizer wasn’t dialed in – that way there wasn’t any vignetting in the corners of each frame, and there also weren’t any extra-deep blue blotches in the sky where the circular polarizer would normally do its thing.

Manually focused, I then literally wound my body up tight before uncoiling slowly as I panned across the scene making multiple photographs – all the while trying to rotate the camera as tightly as possible around itself. Rotating the camera around its nodal point – the actual sensor – reduced the potential for distortion from a wide angle lens, and with each frame overlapping the next by about 30-40%, the stitching software had a relatively easy job making everything jive when back at the computer. Above is a screenshot of how the nine individual frames that contributed to the final pano looked on the computer before I merged them together to form one panoramic photograph (below).

Like I said, it has been a while since I tried one of these, and I had forgotten how much I like the field of view one gets. The first pano in this post is only 50+MB, but the second is a decent sized 156 MB. In the first I held the camera in landscape orientation and only needed maybe 4-6 images to cover the scene, whereas in the second I turned the camera on its side to portrait orientation, and although I needed a few more frames (9) to make it work, I was able to capture considerably more pixels. I’ve seen other photographers create panoramic images much larger than these, therefore making it possible to print at incredibly large sizes… all you then need is the wall space 🙂