One of the many great things that digital photography has added to our arsenal as photographers, is the ability to construct images in many new ways that open the doors for depth and detail never before possible.
Earlier this year I was reading an article about photographer Jack Dykinga taking multiple images with a tilt-shift lens and merging those images together to create a photo that was more akin to large format photography. The image that caught my attention was featured a few months back in National Geographic and was of a field with mountains in the distance that had this amazing look to it. It certainly caught my eye, and at first I couldn’t figure out exactly what was so different about it. The image had amazing depth to it and after reading the caption on how it was put together, it made sense.
As the quality and resolution continue to evolve with Digital SLRs, it’s allowed for new methods of creation and we are certainly approaching new frontiers with 35mm cameras. We have a ton of data.
I was inspired by Mr. Dykinga’s photograph and decided to try a little different approach to see if I could achieve similar results. I don’t own a tilt-shift lens and debated about picking one up, but I also had been toying with idea of messing around with panoramic images for a while and decided to try a different route and pick up a dedicated panoramic head that would not only let me do panoramic images, but also take muti-row shots with similar aspects to Mr. Dykinga’s method.
For those of you who are new to panoramic photography, it’s easy enough to snap a handful of images from left to right and stitch them together in many of the different editing programs out there and get a fairly decent image. If you want to get more precise, you get a tripod, level both the tripod and tripod head, use a longer focal length lens, shoot the photos vertically, and overlap them 20%-30%. That will get you some nice pano shots and can make for some great compositions.
If you want to up your panoramic game you can step it up and start doing some multi-row shots. This is where you take a series of shots from left to right on the top row and right to left on the bottom, and splice them together in Photoshop or like program. You end up with multiple rows stitched together seamlessly. Of course there are a lot of other factors you have to take into consideration when shooting not only single-row panoramas, but multi-row panoramas as well. Like shooting in manual mode only, not using a polarizing filter, no auto white balance, etc.
So I thought, why not try a multi-row panoramic approach similar in concept to what can be done with the tilt-shift lens. I figured using the Canon 5d mkII (21mp) that I am using, it certainly has the upper end of the resolution and with a 6-8 image multi-row shot, I could essentially create a really frickin big image!
But my whole goal was really to gain some depth and detail. So it took some experimenting. The first thing I needed was a panoramic head that would allow me to take multi-row shots with precision. Really Right Stuff had all the reviews going for them and after doing some research it looked they were the ones to go with. Now with anything Really Right Stuff makes, it ain’t exactly cheap, but it’s no doubt some of the highest quality equipment around. Their machined parts are matched with precision and durability and I have to say, I love their stuff.
The panoramic head I went with is the Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package. This gives you everything; you can do both single and multi-row panoramas with complete accuracy. The leveling base that attaches to your tripod head allows you to level the panoramic head within seconds compared to the frustrating and agonizing minutes that are usually experienced trying get the tripod legs and head where they should be with conventional levels. This makes things quick and simple. The rest is figuring out your nodal point of your lens, which the RRS tutorial on panoramas explains very well. Matter of fact for anyone interested in learning more about how to take panoramic images, the RRS tutorial is fantastic.
The rest is experimenting with your compositions and finding what works for you. I am still playing around with my new toy, but it’s now one piece of equipment I usually don’t leave home without. In addition it has also opened up new doors to the creativity of composition, resolution, and the overall “feel” of the image.
Oh also, file size-they’re huge! This one of St. Mary Lake was a 10 image multi-row. My PSD file is 1.65gb. Yikes! So if you’re running that old dog of a computer, you may opt to upgrade your ram and hard drive if you start processing a lot of these files. A couple months back I took a 24 image multi-row image and it took my Mac Pro Dual Quad Core machine over an hour to process and stitch the image!
So the Really Right Stuff Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package is worth every penny (approx. 80,000 of them) and I rarely leave home without it now. Hope that’s helpful to anyone deciding on which panoramic head to go with and for those looking to experiment with mimicking larger format photography.