Saturday, November 16, 2013

I’ve got the Pano bug again!

Although I’ve experimented with pano capture in the past, I’ve decided to spend a little more time on getting the best out of the technique. Pano capture can really help with in-field work flow as it can reduce/eliminate the need to keep changing lenses: essential for dusty environments

For instance if I’m shooting with my 70-200mm F4L or 24-105mm, then, rather than switch to a wide angle lens, eg 16mm, what I would do is capture a pano of the equivalent image FOV.

At the moment I’m waiting for a tripod mounted 360 VR head to arrive from China, ie I can’t justify a US or UK made one at GBP400+. Until then I’ve experimented with hand held panos. The one below is a 24 image one I took of our home in New Mexico, to prove out my workflow, which was:

  • Put the camera in manual and be careful about filters, especially circular polarizers, ie best take them off;
  • Select an average exposure for the FOV I was interested in (I will talk about HDR panos in a future post); 
  • Lock in the exposure so it doesn’t vary across the sequence;; 
  • Take the pano sequence and select the ‘best’ directional strategy, ie with clouds moving left to right, take the panos up and down and to right, ie not left to right and down; 
  • Take the important areas first, eg people, and build up the pano sequence around this pivot image. Also if the subject is moving, eg a duck on water, take the duck in the first image and try and place the duck in the overlapping areas of subsequent images (the software will eliminate the duplicate ducks);
  • Ingest into Lightroom; 
  • Select a base image, eg the house area, and adjust image; 
  • Sync all other images to this image;
  •  Export images as 16-bit TIFFs to a folder, or export directly to your pano software if this is linked to LR;
  • Import into your favorite pano software and let it do its magic. In the case below this resulted in a 735Mb TIFF file; 
  • Make any tweaks to the image in PS CS-CC or LR; 
  • Convert to a JPEG, in the case below that resulted in a 30Mb file as I didn’t bother reducing the quality, ie I went for near-lossless.

Although I have PS CS-CC, I processed the image below in Microsoft ICE, which is a free and powerful tool: (

Bottom line: the next time you go out shooting try going with one lens but don’t limit yourself in terms of FOV, ie think panos!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More practice? Or more equipment?

Being a photographer and living in New Mexico has many benefits. The biggest as far as I’m concerned is being a short distance from Bosque del Apache, which was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl.

Most know the refuge for the thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and other waterfowl that winter here each year:

According to the Bosque del Apache web site: “Petroglyphs tell the story of an ancient people that lived and hunted in the area. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic paleoindian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.”

For photographers a visit to Bosque del Apache is an opportunity to try out your long lens and BIF (Birds In Flight) techniques. Although I have a Sigma 150-500mm, on today’s trip I wanted to experiment with my Canon 70-200 F4L and Canon x2 extender, on my 5DMkIII. The 5DMkIII has the latest firmware, so it is able to exploit the 5D’s auto focus at F8, which is the widest you can go with the extender attached using the F4L glass. Also, I decided to restrict myself to hand held on this trip.

So what did I find out?

First the 70-200’s IS is slow and rather clunky. In fact I switched it off in the end as I was losing BIF shots. I found the best strategy was to put the camera in Tv mode with a floating ISO, ie auto-ISO. This way I could address the shutter speed for the distance I was shooting at and the BIF needs. Typically, I had the shutter speed at 1/1000 or above.

Second, shooting BIF is hard! I hardly had any real tack sharp shoots: the best is below. I tried to perfect my panning skills and could see some increase in sharpness if I panned ‘correctly’.

Thirdly, I need longer lenses!!! It is clear to me, that if you are shooting in a natural environment, rather than in a captive one, your subjects will usually be too far away! Hence, you end up throwing away most of your sensor data through close cropping on your subject. At 400mm I was struggling and I don’t think my Sigma 500mm would have helped that much, as at 500mm it tends to a softer image.

Clearly I need a 600mm plus Canon L lens! Well I can only hope!