PAINTED HILLS PANORAMA #1 , 5 SHOTS, STANDARD 2:3 CROP BUT SIGNIFICANTLY WIDER THAN STANDARD IMAGE, YET WITH MORE BACKGROUND AND ESPECIALLY MORE FOREGROUND
I took off last week to be with my son's family as they visited Fran and I in Portland. The other reason was that this week's blog post took an inordinate time to put together, as it depended on my stitching together panoramas from our visit to the Painted Hills at the end of May. Stitching together panoramas has opened an entirely new facet of my landscape photography, but there is no doubt that there is a learning curve, and that the process will tax even the most powerful computers out there. It will even increase your coffee consumption as you wait out your computer's efforts to put together such large files, which can sometimes exceed 1 Megabyte for a single image.
THE STANDARD "MONEY SHOT", ONE 3:2 STANDARD IMAGE
We will look at several examples of panoramas from this trip, discuss their creation, and seek to come to some consensus on their value versus a standard one shot image. The first thing to say is that the process is not that hard, since the computer is doing most of the work. In the field the photographer is following some simple rules. As you pick a viewpoint, take a series of images revolving around that fixed position, overlapping about a third as you pivot your camera across the desired field of view. You do not need a tripod, although it couldn't hurt, and you will have less of the natural overall angle that even a conscientious natural pivot will create. But hand held is more than OK, as you will probably be creating a wider panorama than you will actually want to view or print. I've come to believe that somewhere between 4 and 7 images are more than enough. Two important points require you to turn off your automatic functions. First determine your desired focus point, which will probably be near infinity anyway. You do not want your camera changing your focus point as you pivot around the view. The same goes for auto exposure. As you scan the anticipated field of view, pick an exposure that will not blow out the highlights on the brightest part of the panorama and then turn off auto exposure so that your dumb camera doesn't try to change the exposure across the scene. Remove your polarizing filter, since your pivot might be wide enough that your filter will disconcertingly change the sky's appearance as you change your relationship with the sun.
PAINTED HILLS PANORAMA #2 - 2:1 PANORAMA GETS WIDER, LOSES BACKGROUND, KEEPS FOREGROUND
This is not as hard as I make it sound even when I am telling you it is easy. Which doesn't mean it is foolproof, and I would encourage two things. Always take what you would consider your best single shot of the subject in case nothing works at all. And do not hesitate to try several attempts to guard against a simple mistake. In this digital age it is somewhat disconcerting and delightful that you do not know if you have succeeded until you get home and play with the computer.
STANDARD 3:2 CROP ONE SHOT VERTICAL IMAGE CONCENTRATES ON THE FOREGROUND INTEREST
PANO # 3 - 2 SHOT HORIZONTAL PANORAMA IS STILL ONLY STANDARD 3:2 RATIO, BUT SEEMS TO HAVE COMPLETELY SHIFTED AROUND FOREGROUND ROCK
This technique will allow a wider view than almost any wide angle lens will achieve, and probably keep your subject larger in the frame, since you are actually building up standard or even telephoto views into the panorama. You can also build up very large levels of detail since your new built-up image will contain many more pixels than one shot. As I have done more of these panoramas I have come to believe that less is more. Few subjects require such a wide view as the Painted Hills, and the wider you get the more distortion you must begin to deal with, including the realization that your horizon, which "should " be straight, is now so wide that you are beginning to see the curvature of the earth in one photograph. A subject like the spectacular cliff side of the Painted Hills is easier to deal with than a city skyline or even a woodland scene whose perimeter trees are exhibiting a noticeable "lean."
PAINTED HILLS PANO # 4 - 3:1 PANORAMA SHIFTS TO RIGHT AND CAPTURES END OF THE CLIFF
Once your computer has presented you with the stitch, it is now time to decide how much you want to use. I have found that 3:1 is about as wide as almost any scene will justify. Most compositions do not have enough interest across such a wide frame to warrant such a wide view. I find that 2:1 is usually even better, since it certainly is "wide" without being weird. It is just wide enough to get a few more crucial elements in the frame than a standard 1 1/2 : 1 view. Sometimes a stitch can even be presented as a standard crop - the viewer will just assume you had a wider lens in your bag than you own. You will then do your own standard post-processing workflow on the created panorama, treating it as a whole.
PAINTED HILLS PANO #5 : RETURNING AT SUNSET FOR 3:1 PANORAMA OF LEFT SIDE OF CLIFF FACE. SHADOWS OPENED UP IN FOREGROUND.
I feel that the biggest problem with these panorama creations is how to exhibit them. That is why I feel 2:1 is the best ratio to shoot for. Any wider than that will require a very large image that is actually large in only one direction. A 24" x 36" print is a quite impressive way to fill a wall, but a 12" x 36" panorama seems smaller. A 24" tall 3:1 panorama will be 6 feet wide, and face the same exhibition problems as a too large television in most domestic spaces. Not to mention that you probably will quake at the cost to print and frame such a monster.
PAINTED HILLS PANO #6 : ANOTHER OUTCROPPING "SHORTENED" TO A 4:1 CROP ALMOST GETS THE ENTIRE EXTENT OF THE HILL
As you have look at some of the panoramas that I created at this very panoramic subject, your are entitled to your opinion on what this technique actually achieves over a well-composed standard view. I myself like Panoramas #1 and #3 the best, which seem to capture the spirit of the place in a different way than their single image cousins.Sometimes the panorama change is dramatic, sometimes it's just a little different, and sometimes it seems more trouble than it is worth. But at least it seems worth a try, since most software now includes the capacity to create these compilations. The Painted Hills, like Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, a mountain range, or a whole city skyline, would seem to be the ultimate test of this software. I encourage you to give it a try.
PANO #7 : 2 1/2 : 1 CROP SHOWS A DETAIL OF ANOTHER OUTCROPPING WITH VEGETATION IN FOREGROUND; 2 SHOTS AND A LOT OF CROPPING