Archive for the ‘Panorama’ Category

Looking back a little bit…

A couple of days ago I put together something nice from a trip to Utah last September. My earlier post was from our all-too-brief Narrows hike, but this was from a side trip to Snow Canyon State Park. It’s not often that clouds are actually the subject of pictures I take — usually they’re just up there to compliment the landscape — but this time it was the other way around.

All that to say, that’s not the image in this post. Since Tucker is still working up images from his Arizona trip and I’m sitting on Hawaii, Utah, and as it happens, still more New Zealand, I’m going with something that ought to play a little differently next to the red rocks of the American West. I was recently asked for a higher resolution copy of this post from 2011 and when I went to find it, I discovered that many of my older work files are corrupted!

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

And it gets worse: a lot of my originals from 2011 are simply missing from my Aperture library, leaving many HDR brackets incomplete! In the spirit of trying to provide a print file for this scene anyway, I scoured the bowels of Aperture and wrangled up 9  of the original 15 shots that comprise the final image. Upon closer inspection I found no bracket to be completely gone so I fired up the magic wand that is Adobe Camera Raw and recreated the remaining frames from the original nine. Ill-advised, but this is exactly the situation where that was the only course of action. What started as a simple request became a curious challenge as I realized that a full reprocessing of the scene would yield differing results from the original attempt in 2011, results that would undoubtedly reflect changes in, well, me. I am very pleased with the change in style over two and a half years’ time and look forward to occasionally looking back on old images to see more of how my tastes have changed.

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can't even tell they're there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can’t even tell they’re there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

The Quarry at Halibut Point

Ever since I saw the way this shot came out, I’ve decided I want to get into panoramas more and more. This past summer when I visited the Northeast with Tucker and Andrew, I had a few opportunities to put my tripod down and do some work, and so far I’m liking what I’ve been able to put together. This one comes from Halibut Point, a really nice little state park I visited with a friend in Rockport, Mass. I started the shot with what I thought was plenty of time but it turns out that the sun was just on the cusp of setting as I started. However, I was pleased with the result, as the changing light ended up creating a slow changing gradient from orange to blue. Anyways, enough with the words. Take a look for yourself:

I started shooting just as the sun began to set, on the left side of the image, so by the time I got all the way over to the right side (probably only 5 minutes later) everything was blue. Also I’m still conflicted about the two people who made it into the image near the bunker. My friend insists they may in fact be the ‘punctum’ of the image, and therefore absolutely completely critical.

Milford (Sight and) Sound

Last weekend, Karl and I took a quick jaunt out to the Fiordlands to see what we could find. I’d been maybe 5 or 6 weeks earlier but the weather then was on the unremarkable side so I was hoping for a little bit of sun. What we found was rather stunning.

It’s a pretty amazing place in and of itself and it’s very easy to lose your scope of how huge it actually is. Simply walking around near the car park, you’re thinking, “wow I’m surrounded by these big mountain things jutting up out of nowhere.” So you walk over closer to the smallish harbor where they have 3- or 4-story cruise boats designed for touristy day trips. But, it’s only when those boats head out onto the sound and draw up even with the cliffs that you realize that the large boat from earlier was now a minuscule little dinghy in comparison to the mountains. It’s helped along by the fact that on each of the two times I’ve been, the mountains rise up and disappear in thick cloud cover, giving the very believable impression that they extend upwards into infinity. All in all, it’s one of the most surreal places I’ve ever seen and I’m happy to say I was able to return with a couple images that I’m very pleased with. Though it would be physically impossible to fully communicate how awesome this place is, I certainly had a decent attempt.

Though not as readily apparent as many of the other panoramas, this was made using our panorama technique but the final crop didn't take on a super widescreen ratio. Someday when I have an unhealthily large amount of money, I want to upscale and blow this up for a monstrous print for my home: Milford Sound, NZ

In light of a recent birthday around here, I’ve been thinking about where I’ve come from in terms of ability. I shall now wax philosophical for a little bit. How would the above have looked if I had processed it last May when I thought Photomatix’s “grunge” preset was a really cool place to start at with my brackets? If I recall, the first thing I ever posted on T.A.G. was a cramped shot of a staircase outside the Disney Concert Hall in LA — how would that have turned out if I had worked on it last week? Recently I’ve noticed that, whether I’m meaning to or not, I’m taking a great deal of time during processing to try and steer the final “look” of an image in a more and more subtle direction. Sometimes it’s fun to do something crazy every once in a while, sure, but making the software fingerprint more and more invisible can be a very rewarding challenge. It’s no secret that HDR doesn’t exactly have a good track record in terms of respectability and I would be the first to admit that most of the first shots I was happy with came out looking like the exact same stuff I find today when I Google search “flagrant misuse of HDR.” A lot of people unfortunately came to associate the worst of HDR as the best that HDR had to offer. I think it’s taken me a year to figure this out, but I definitely think that it has its place in the toolbox of techniques. And, like any technique, it can either be used to improve or overused to detract from the image.

I was working on another picture a few days ago when one of my friends who was in the shot dropped by and saw the work-in-progress HDR right next to the 7D’s original image. After looking at it for a few seconds, he concluded that even though the original image had a “truer” feel to it (in terms of the camera’s capabilities, complete with blown out skies and murky foregrounds), the HDR was much closer to how he actually remembered the scene. With the Milford Sound shot, my intention was to recreate the scenario as I saw it, how I remember it.

Wellington Sunset – Mt. Victoria

Well, this past week on the North Island was nothing short of awesome. The sun sure did a lot of shining despite rain being forecast for the entire island for an entire week… just goes to show how completely unpredictable New Zealand’s island climate can be when it comes to weather. Our road trip ended in Wellington, right at the southern end of the North Island. By far my favorite city in NZ so far, Wellington has an awesome vibe that strikes a really nice balance between hardcore city life (it’s the nation’s capital after all) and natural beauty. I was particularly impressed by the Botanical Gardens, accessible from the immediate downtown area by a 5 minute ride on a vintage cable car. In fact, I straight up fell asleep for the better part of an hour when we sat down to relax in a grassy clearing on our walk through the garden back down to the city. And, there’s no way I could write this travel blurb on Wellington without mentioning the amazing “Zealandia” habitat only 15 minutes out of downtown. It’s an incredibly ambitious attempt to restore a large section of land (an entire valley actually) back to the original tropical rainforest environment it was before humans first came to the area, involving the placement of dozens of endangered species back into the valley and a careful attention to guiding the flora back to prime condition. I only had an hour and a half there but could have easily spent the whole day.

At any rate, after Zealandia closed at 5 o’clock I went across town up to the top of Mt. Victoria to catch the sunset…

Very windy up here. I think I read something about Wellington being the windiest city in the southern hemisphere: Wellington, New Zealand

Sunrise Panorama

Well it’s about time I shared this one. It’s been in the works since we got back from Mt. Cook and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. In fact, it’s definitely my favorite panorama I’ve ever put together. From Mueller Hut we went about 20 minutes further up Mt. Ollivier’s ridge to get to a suitable vantage spot to see the sunrise at about 7am. One of the most utterly jaw-dropping experiences of my life. This panorama represents 11 bracketed sets, processed and stitched together to form a single 86 megapixel image.

Next week is our mid-semester break and I am spending it on the North Island. Can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store up there…

Couldn't have asked for a finer way to start the day: Mt. Cook, New Zealand

More HDR Panorama – Honolulu At Night

I’ve been pretty busy lately doing video/photo shoots as well as continuing work for the High Museum, and when you combine that with the epically long time it took to edit this, you end up with the reason that I haven’t posted in a while. It’s worth it though! This pan is one of the largest photography-related projects I’ve undertaken, and that’s the main reason I put off editing it when I got back from Hawaii. The original photographs were taken around 10pm from the balcony of a cousin’s house in Honolulu. As you can see, the balcony had an absolutely unmatched view of the entire city of Honolulu, and the only reason I didn’t extend this further left was that it would have caught the house and deck in the frame and I wanted the focus to be on the city, houses, mountain, and clouds. Always clouds! The setup wasn’t hard, the only annoying thing was that the long exposure shot of each bracket was hitting the 30 second ceiling, so the overall process took about half an hour to get all of the brackets I wanted. I’ll go ahead and post the final shot for those of you who just want to see pretty pictures and don’t care about the text (I myself am guilty of this!)

The final product, after a week in Photomatix and Photoshop. It came out OK for what it is; I can't wait to do even more experimentation with HDR panoramas!

 

I really, really wish I’d been there about 2 hours earlier for this. HDR and night photography do not mix well (there are exceptions, but they are rare) and generally result in less than awesome images. This is because at night, there is no sun (…….) to create scenes with ultra-high contrast. Usually when you’re shooting at night, the lighting is pretty even (non-existant) and bracketing doesn’t add anything. Still, I bracketed away for this and thought to myself “meh, I may not end up even processing these because they’ll just be orange.” Sure enough, when I processed them, they were all that awful sickly orange color of the sodium lights that are on every single street around the world at night. The first few times you do long-exposure night photography in a city the lights are cool, but very, very quickly they become ugly and unwanted. Still, you sometimes have to make do. That would have been another benefit of being there earlier; the streetlights would have been off, allowing for a real difference in contrast between the sunset (bright) and the houses and mountains in shadow. Oh well. To give you an idea of what I had to work with, here’s an example of a single RAW file (unprocessed) and the HDR version of the same shot (processed only in Photomatix):

This is the neutral (0ev) exposure from the first bracketed set in the panorama.

This is the same shot, with the 3 bracketed RAWS processed into an HDR image in Photomatix.

So, admittedly, the HDR does help here as it gives me much greater tone in the houses and trees, and adds a bit to the sky and clouds but not much. The overwhelming problem here was the ORANGE… something had to be done. I processed the rest of the shots in Photomatix and began piecing it together in Photoshop. The orange problem became even more apparent at this stage:

 

Orange! Yuck!

It was flat, not dynamic and contrasty and “wow-inducing” like HDR should be. I hate sodium streetlights. It can’t be said enough. It’s one of the best things about night photography in places like Maine, because you can get just the tones that are there naturally. Anyway… At this stage, it would seem as if the hard work is over, in that I’ve pieced the 5 shots together and blended them so it looks like a continuous shot. That is usually the hardest part of doing the whole pan process, but it was not the case here. I then embarked on a crusade of de-oranging the shot, a process that took me all week mostly because I’d work on it some, get fed up, and come back the next day. I used a combination of selective color, color balance, and layer masks to slowly remove the orange from the places I didn’t want it, which was 95% of the panorama. A few days later, I had something like this:

 

Less orange, but less color in general... still not dynamic... getting there, but not done.

With the orange having been banished (or at least somewhat tamed), I was able to claim the first major victory. It still wasn’t right though, because in the process of de-oranging the image the clouds became white which they normally are, except when there’s a sunset, and that was half of the point of this picture to begin with. I made the decision to attempt to recreate the sunset that night by whatever means necessary, and that ended up meaning using much more Photoshop than I usually employ. I usually post-process my HDRs in Photoshop in order to add a bit of selective contrast and saturation, but for this I ended up having to do a ton of coloring, shading, and just generally breathing some life back into the shot. You can see the final result above but I’m finally pleased with it. Man was it a process though! The final shot is just how I like it: a bit over the top, a bit over-saturated, and bit over-contrasty, and a lot “wow!”

I’ve been using the pan as a dual-monitor desktop wallpaper which is pretty fun as it’s the first one that I’ve ever made. I’m adding it to the Desktops section now. Enjoy!

NZ Pan #1: Botanical Gardens Terrace at the African Garden

Well, it’s about time I get some of these up… I’ve lately been working on panoramas of different places I’ve gotten to go to and it has been eye-opening. I’ve been sitting on the raw files for maybe four or five different pans now, trying to tease the best possible results out of the sets, one of which was composed of 11 shots to be combined, or a total of 33 raw images with the minimum 3-shot bracket for each of the 11. Yet, some scenes have been begging for a 5-shot bracket but the amount of work necessary for that is questionable… whereas normally if I’m 3-shotting a scene I will elect for a simple two stops in each direction, for the pans, if a 5-shot is needed I’ve just been skimping and increasing the bracket size to 2 2/3 or maybe 3 and going from there. Anyways, enough numbers — suffice to say that this is one of my favorite end results and quite possibly the image that does the best job of capturing a mood that I think I’ve ever managed. When I see this (and skirt around in its 15,612 x 4,834 pixels worth of real estate) I am very vividly drawn back to this exact moment in time, about 5 seconds before the only battery I had on me went completely dead in the middle of taking the would-be 7th bracket for this scene (on the far right). More so than other posts, I really encourage you to click through to the full 17MB file so you can really get a feel for the view from the Botanical Gardens Terrace. As the Kiwis say, cheers!

Few places in the world like this. Here's hoping I can find as many as I can while I'm here for such a sort period of time: Dunedin, NZ