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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Action-Sequence Panoramas

How to capture time and space in a single frame

This Article Features Photo Zoom

1. Seven images are displayed and selected in the Raw Converter. The highlighted image is active on the screen for optimization, and any adjustments made to it will be applied automatically to the remaining images.
The optimal firing interval depends on how fast the subject is moving and the maximum capture rate (frames per second) of the camera you're using. This can vary greatly. You may need 10 frames per second to capture a running cheetah. If that cheetah is in the wild, you're unlikely to get a second chance to recalculate your capture rate, so let it rip. If on the fast pass, the capture rate renders overlapping images of the animal, you'll later choose every other, or even every third, frame to correctly space your subject against the background.

A hot-air balloon moves slowly as it approaches, passes and then drifts away, requiring a number of seconds between captures. But even with slow-moving subjects, the images have to be precisely timed, so I incorporate an intervalometer that will automatically fire the camera at preset intervals. For the hot-air balloon sequence, the time between captures was fairly long; I set the camera to fire every eight seconds and ended up using every third image. It's better to have too many images than not enough because more images give you a variety of spacing options for your composition.

As with all kinds of composite panoramas, it's important to set your camera for a manual white balance, usually daylight, and manual exposure, or all the images may not match from frame to frame.

2. A close-up of the Photoshop work area showing the nearly completed composite's multiple layers, layer masks and cropping.
The photographer needs to leave enough space around the subject in each image so the backgrounds will overlap from 25% to 40%. This is the seamless panorama part of the equation; that is, the images will be stitched in the background areas showing between the sequential representations of the subject. It's easier to stitch a background that's blurred from the panning movement or out of focus from a large aperture with a resulting shallow depth of field; this effect also helps to separate the subject from the setting. But if you want a sharp background, choose both an extremely fast shutter speed and a smaller lens opening.

Post-Capture Digital Darkroom
While I use several panorama-stitching programs, they won't help you here. Basic Photoshop Layer Mask skills will be necessary to assemble your Action-Sequence Panorama. Just a few years ago, before the Photoshop Merge function and other stitching programs became available, Photoshop Layer Masks were the only way to composite panoramas! If you didn't learn it then, I'll show you how I do it now, and bear in mind that there are lots of different ways to accomplish the same thing in Photoshop.

First, make sure that your version of Photoshop supports Layer Masks. Then, bring all the images being considered for inclusion in the Action-Sequence Panorama into the Photoshop Raw Converter. Select them all. Choose a representative image and optimize it with basic sharpening, color and contrast correction. If all of the images are selected, they will be optimized in the same way due to the sync process. You'll optimize the composited image again later in Photoshop, but this gives you a good start.


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