Light from Heaven (Extending view with panoramic)

Light from Heaven (Extending view with panoramic)

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With the technology’s advantage, some techniques have been much easier to achieve, for example, panoramic (via stitching technique). There’s no big secret about it, just some understanding, preparation and setting on the shot and then a few awareness on post-processing follow by a few clicks.

What we get at the end will be a breathtaking landscape, cover the view which not possible by wide angle lens or panoramic camera.

In fact, once understand about stitching, it could apply not only to panoramic but to produce a big image by stitching multiple shots together (If you are interested, you could read more at Gigapixel Image, Max Lyons covered a very detail information about creating a ‘GigaPixel’ photos). But in this post, let focus only on panoramic shot.

What you will need is:

  • Tripod, if the ball head have degree mark would be even better
  • Cable (Remote) Release, to reduce any shake.

Take the Shot

I went to Shangri-La during late winter/early spring, it was freezing cold but the reward was beautiful skyline. Meili Snow Mountain is one of the most important spiritual mountains for Tibetan and she’s still forbidden from China government to climb after the tragedy that causes 17 international mountaineers death, and the rejection from the local that Meili is representing god. It’s also rare to see her full profile as most of the time she was cover by thick cloud or mist.

We were lucky to have a clear sky for 3 days in between snow stomp that hide the mountain again.

I woke up at 6:30 am, looking for the good spot to set up my tripod. I’m ready to take a full panoramic shot that captures her entire profile, camera body felt freeze at -15° and the wind blowing strong that I can feel my travel light tripod is shaking. Hang the camera bag at the hook below the tripod solve the problem by adding its weight.

Step for preparation & setting:

  1. Choosing the Lens
    It’s better to use telephoto lens then wide angle lens, to minimise any distortion and since we are going to take panoramic, we don’t have to use wide angle lens to cover more view. It depends on the scenery that we are taking, in Meili, I used 80mm as the mountain is quite near in front of me. Another reason for using telephoto lens is to minimise any possible vignette cause of wide angle lens.
  2. Place the Camera
    Place your camera vertically. By placing your camera vertically, you are increasing your photo’s length, that allowed you to have a larger image after stitching. Looking into the view and decide the range, overlap each shot at least 50%. In Meili, I shot 19 photos to stitch, for every 10° apart (my tripod ball head has degree marking and it’s very useful if you are taking the panoramic), that give me a coverage of 180°.
  3. Manual Focusing
    This will be necessary to cut short the time between each shot to avoid your camera auto-focus hunting.
  4. Manual Exposure
    It’s important to use manual exposure, you may use your camera metering to find out the exposure value and switch it to manual mode. When we do stitching, the fits exposure will let your photos look consistent and less problematic of irregular lighting. Shot at a smaller aperture (bigger f-number) to increase your depth-of-field. I used f8 due to the low light condition.
  5. Be Quick
    It depends on the situation, if you shot the indoor panoramic, you may have more time but not when you shot outdoor, especially if sunrise or sunset shot. The light is changing every single second, that’s why if your ball head has degree mark, you are not relying on viewing the scene for placing but moving your camera according to the degree mark from shot to shot.

Here is what I did, I place the camera, connect the release cable, manual focus on the main mountain (Kawagebo) and get the exposure value. Sunrise is particularly hard as I have to re-calculate the exposure value after every few sets of shots. I get the degree that I want, place the 1st shot to the number 0, and end at 180. I cover the viewfinder to minimise light leak, holding the release cable looking at the scene waiting for the light.

Once the light shines up, I start to snap via cable release and shoot fast between shot by only shifting the camera 5° for each shot, it takes me less than 5 sec to complete 19 shots to ensure I get the consistent light. Take time to observe the light, take a shot when I like the lighting that paints the mountain, re-calculate when necessary.

The result is I’ve got my shot and at the same time, I get to enjoy how wonderful is the light change the entire mountain, personally with an eye, without looking through the viewfinder.

Post Processing

Load the file (I shot with RAW to have larger latitude information range for editing the image) into your editing software, best with Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. Edit the main image, in my case, I used the main mountain image to adjust the colour and fine-tuning the exposure. Once done, duplicate the value to all images (in the same set).

Remember, consistent is the key to stitching thus we do not edit every single image with different value.

If you are using Adobe Lightroom, you could select all the images and there’s a shortcut to call up stitching function in Adobe Photoshop. Else, you may export the image to TIFF, prefer 16-bit and open the Adobe Photoshop, launch the stitching function and load in the TIFF files.

There’s many stitching software which does a wonderful job, professional would use PTAssembler which allowed you to import lens profile for absolute accuracy. But I find Adobe Photoshop has done quite well for CS4 for stitching.

Launch Adobe Photoshop, go File > Automate > Photomerge, choose Auto in the layout as I think it works just fine, you may try out another layout if you like. Browse your TIFF files (it will do automatically if you use Adobe Lightroom to launch), check the 3 option (Blend Images Together, Vignette Removal and Geometric Distortion Correction) and click OK.

It will take sometimes, depends on the number of files and the complex of the image. Once done, you may do a fine tune, cropping and done!

Enjoy your next photo trip.


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