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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting Vertical

Vertically Challenged • Maximum Quality Formula? • A Little Night Action • Filtering The Sky • Park Photo Permits

This Article Features Photo Zoom
tech tips vertical

A Really Right Stuff Ultimate Omni-Pivot was used to keep the vertical images in line for this panorama of a rainbow eucalyptus tree and ginger flower taken in Maui, Hawaii. A Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 180mm macro lens were used for the five horizontal images.

Vertically Challenged
I understand how to properly expose horizontal panoramas using a leveled tripod and leveled camera, but how do I get precise vertical panoramas when working from a tripod?

The basic method I’ve used over the years—which isn’t precise—is to loosen the ballhead, identify a vertical reference point within the scene and capture each image horizontally—square both to the horizon and the vertical reference point. You may need a bubble level in the flash shoe to help you keep your captures properly oriented. When the series of images is brought into a processing program (such as Panorama Maker 4.0 Pro or Photomerge in Photoshop), they probably won’t line up exactly and some of the scene may be lost because of cropping.

If you want to be more precise, there’s a tripod head made by Manfrotto that I use—the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head 3275. It has a geared vertical drive that will keep all of the vertical images in perfect alignment. As good as this head is for panoramas and landscapes, it’s slow for general photography, and I wouldn’t use it for other types of imaging.

Another answer is a set of panorama accessories from Really Right Stuff. This is among the most workable answer (though not the least expensive), and it assumes that you're using one of the pro quick-release systems from Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff or Kirk Enterprises. The Really Right Stuff Ultimate Omni-Pivot Package consists of three parts: a base rail, a vertical rail with a clamp at one end and, to attach to the vertical rail, a panning clamp. The combination will set you back about $435, but there’s no better way to accomplish vertical panoramas.

Maximum Quality Formula?

How do you calculate the maximum "quality" print size possible based on the megapixels produced by a given D-SLR? I read that the new 21-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III can produce a file size of 5632 x 3750 pixels that will open at about 60 MB in Photoshop. How large can I print that file and still have gallery-quality sharpness and contrast when viewed from two to three feet or further back? To put it another way, what film format (using Velvia 50) would be comparable to a 21-megapixel file in terms of comparative print size possible?
J. McGrew
Carmel, California

Quality is a subjective term, and I’m not aware of any formula that relates maximum acceptable print size to the number of receptors, or pixels, on a particular sensor. Other variables affecting enlarged prints include the quality of the file (how good are you at Photoshop?), the nature of the subject (sharply detailed or soft), the absorbency of the paper (hard gloss or watercolor) and the distance from which it will be viewed. A billboard has a resolution of two to 20 dots per inch and is generally 14 feet high by 48 feet wide, and is usually viewed at a range of more than 500 feet. It looks great! But in a gallery, we want to walk up to the print and look for fine detail. If you expect to make large prints that stand up to this close scrutiny, a high-megapixel camera used at optimum levels and a professional large-format printer are necessary.

The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III you mention has the highest number of pixels in any 35mm-type D-SLR available today. In my opinion, it yields an image equivalent to 6x7 or 6x9 medium-format film. The bottom line is that, depending upon the subject and how it’s presented, a high-quality print of 60x90 inches is well within the realm of possibility from this camera. This said, I’ve produced 60x90-inch prints of a single California poppy from a Canon EOS-1Ds (11.7 megapixels) that I'd consider gallery worthy. The particular image doesn’t have a lot of fine detail, but has brilliant colors and is printed on watercolor media.

A Little Night Action

I recently tried to photograph the Queen Mary II traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge at night. The photo came out great, except the ship was blurred. I had set my Nikon D70 camera to ISO 1000 and also used the automatic night setting on the camera, but it didn’t help. How can I stop action at night?
via the Internet

Even with the use of a quality tripod in low-light (and possibly windy) conditions, you’re facing the problem of the subject moving through a long exposure. The very best you can do is to raise the ISO to a point where a shutter speed can be obtained sufficient to stop the movement within the frame. Some of today's professional D-SLRs allow an ISO up to 6400, and the new Nikon D3 even has a boosted ISO of 25,600! Another approach, which probably wasn’t possible in the San Francisco Bay, is to photograph the moving subject head on because the movement coming toward you will be less evident than movement across the frame.

As a note about your particular camera, when you used the automatic night setting, it extended the exposure length and opened the lens to its maximum aperture based upon the ISO setting you chose. The result wasn’t enough for the subject and conditions you faced. You might have tried going to the full ISO 1600 offered by the camera. But keep in mind that higher ISOs on any camera produce a lot of noise (little colored spots) in the darker portions of the image. It’s similar to the grain we experience in higher-ISO films. The digital age still hasn’t solved every photographic problem.

Visit www.geolepp.com.


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