Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating Panoramas

A couple of people have asked me about creating panoramas, which I've been doing a lot just recently, so I thought I would post about the three methods that I use.
  1. Cropping - dead easy this one, simply take a single exposure as normal, and then crop it down to your desired format. Positives are that you can visualise how the final image will look, and your camera may even have guidelines in the viewfinder or on the LCD to help compose the picture. Also, this method works for moving subjects, can be used handheld and requires no additional equipment. Downside: you are throwing away perhaps half the resolution of your camera. Tip: to help with composition, stick a bit of semi-transparent gift tape across your LCD to show your preferred aspect ratio, but still allows you to compose using the full frame when you want to.
  2. Stitching - the basic principle is to create a row or rows of overlapping images that can then be 'stitched' together on a computer. Quite tricky to do without a specialist panoramic tripod head, which helps to eliminate parallax error so that the images captured will stitch accurately in your software (I use PTGui). Positives are you can achieve very high resolution images: typically when I create a 3:1 panorama using this method, the final image will be 40 to 80 megapixels, and that makes a high quality panoramic tripod head very economic compared to the cost of a higher-resolution camera. Of course, this method doesn't work with moving subjects, and can be quite slow and cumbersome to set up. It's also more tricky to visualise what the final image will look like. Oh, and that super-duper wide angle lens you just bought? Sorry, but you are more likely to be using a short telephoto with this method :-)
  3. Shift lens - both Canon and Nikon produce shift lenses that allow you to create 2:1 panos on full 35mm frame digital SLRs, and 3:1 on cropped-sensor cameras. You simply take 3 images, one shifted left, one with no shift, and one shifted right. These are then stitched in software as method 2. There is no problem with parallax as you are shifting the lens and not the camera, and it's slightly easier to visualise the results, especially using Liveview. However, shift lenses tend to be expensive and quite heavy.
For me, option 1 is really a stop-gap when an unexpected opportunity presents itself and there isn't time for the one of the other methods (or you don't have the right equipment with you!). My preference is for method 2, with 3 as an option when travelling light.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The Grand Pier at Weston Super Mare, taken at dusk, aperture priority with minus one-stop compensation. A tricky exposure, given the huge dynamic range from the shadows on the left and under the pier, to the highlights of the illuminations. I wanted to keep some 'texture' in the sky and sea so I chose to let the Ferris wheel in the centre blow-out a little.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Top 10 Sunrise, Sunset Tips

  1. Never, ever, look directly at the sun, especially through your camera.
  2. Know where the sun rises/sets and keep an eye out during the day for locations that will have some foreground interest, like a tree or boat, or reflections on water etc.
  3. Plan ahead so you are in place in plenty of time before the sun comes up or sets.
  4. A little underexposure is generally good as it will help to give warm, saturated colours. Switch to manual and bracket exposures (take several shots with different exposures, not just what the camera recommends). For sunrise I find 1.5 to 2 stops below the meter reading works well. Sunsets are a bit more unpredictable, as the sun is already in the sky, so try metering from a patch of sky without the sun in it. Use the histogram to judge exposure after every shot, as the light levels will usually be constantly changing.
  5. Set your cameras' white balance to cloudy and/or use a subtle warm-up filter (Lee Filter's red enhancer is expensive but works brilliantly) to keep colours warm. Yes, you can fix this in Photoshop, but much better to get it right in the camera in my opinion.
  6. Dress well for the climate and season, as you could be standing around for a while. It can be unexpectedly chilly at sunrise, and the temperature can drop swiftly after sunset, so keep yourself comfortable, safe and free from distractions.
  7. Consider how easy/difficult/safe getting to or from your location will be in the dark, and adjust your plans accordingly.
  8. A head torch fitted with a green or red lens is a good idea, so you can see where you are going and operate your camera without messing up your night-vision.
  9. When photographing a sunset, have a good look round with your torch before you leave to avoid leaving anything behind.
  10. When you think you've got the best shot, don't look back, as you can guarantee that the moment you pack up your gear and head back to the car the light will get even better :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nik 64 Bit!

At last, all Nik Software's excellent Photoshop plugins are 64 bit compatible. No more switching between 32 and 64 bit versions of Photoshop*, hurrah!

Details here.

*Until I find the next 32 bit plugin that I can't live without :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shuttleworth Panoramic

Taken this afternoon, using a Nikon D300, Nikon 85mm PC-E lens and Nodal Ninja 5 panoramic tripod head. Original stitched image was 80 megapixels, but this crop brought it down to a mere 42......

Friday, November 12, 2010

Same Tree, Different Sunrise...

...and a different vantage point, technique and orientation.

This time I decided to get much closer to the tree and use a wide angle lens (a 30 year old, battered 20mm f/2.8 Ai-S). Unfortunately the lovely mottled pre-dawn sky cleared before the sun hit it, due to the strong wind, so I switched to 'Plan B'. On went the much younger 24mm tilt/shift lens, cue panoramic format using the shift function.

Lessons learned from recent morning trips: I ditched the wellies, favouring Fox Arctic boots instead... toasty toes means one less distraction from photos! Single gloves were replaced by a pair of thin grippy gloves (shame Lowepro have discontinued their 'Photographers Gloves'), with an oversized pair of Buffalo mitts over the top. I can forgive the giant comedy Kenny Everett hands for the warmth!

Overall, very pleased with the results from this shoot. Again though, may be should have gone for a lower view point to emphasis the tree. Wonder if my current enthusiasm for sunrises will continue as the temperature drops...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That Tree Again

I was looking for a better vantage point for a sunrise picture of this tree, when I noticed a large stone in the field, which just happened to mark the exact spot I was looking for.

This set me thinking about an entirely different picture: a vertical panoramic with the stone as foreground interest. I knew that I would need a telephoto lens to compress the perspective (i.e. bring the stone and tree apparently closer together). This would cause me another issue in that I would not have sufficient depth of field to render both the stone and the tree sharply. Also the foreground was in virtual darkness, so I would need to light it some how. Flash seemed the obvious answer, and I liked the idea of the surreal effect this might give.

In the end, my simple pre-visualisation had become a technically complex image to execute. I decided to use a focus-stacking technique, using two captures: one focused on the stone and lit by flash; the other focused on the tree and exposed to keep the intense colours in the sky. Add in the fact that all of this had to be executed by torch light and in the freezing cold! The two images were merged in Photoshop and then cropped to the 3:1 (or is that 1:3?) format you see.

Does it work? I must admit that I am not 100% convinced, but it is faithful to my original visualisation, and I think, quite striking. Let me know what you think.

You can buy a print of this image here.

Photographic Notes

This image was taken with a Nikon D3 and 70-200mm lens (set to 125mm) and a SB-800 flashgun attached by a SC-17 cord and held above the camera, which was set at knee height on a tripod.

If I were to try a similar shot, then I would consider using a 85mm tilt/shift lens on a DX sensor camera, which would possibly deliver the front to back depth of field needed in one single exposure (the stone and the tree are in focus in this image, the bits in front and between are not, but I do not think this detracts from this image too much).

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Volunteers Needed!

I am looking for volunteers to help me with a new photographic project please. I need to produce a professional set of informal portraits of you and/or friends or family primarily for use in an academic project. All you'll need to do is give up about half to one hour of your time for free.

In return you'll get an online gallery of images that you can share with friends and relatives, from which you or they can order prints or gifts, plus one FREE 12"x8" print for you. The gallery will be provided by Photobox, and prices will be their standard retail prices as published on their website here.

Although the FREE print is unframed, I can provide larger prints, frames or canvas prints and many other finished products at additional cost.

If you are interested, please drop me a line by clicking here. It's a limited offer, first come, first served.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Good Morning World

This mornings sunrise, taken with Nikon D3 & Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.

Could have done with getting a bit closer or higher to give a bit more separation between the tree and the horizon, unfortunately neither was practical. Still, not a bad start to the day!