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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Capture The Gigascape

The GigaPan EPIC Pro creates the ultimate combination of camera technique and computer power for incredibly large, high-res images

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Free with purchase of the EPIC Pro, the GigaPan Stitch software works automatically to align photos by using pixel information to match overlapping images into a grid of rows and columns. It then stitches the individual captures together by stretching and rotating images to blend them into a large seamless panorama.
Why would anyone do this? Right now, there's no other way to achieve the technical and creative versatility of the GigaPan system. Call me crazy, but I always want more from my photography: more resolution, more tonal value, more depth of field. And I want it in the studio and in the field. And I want to make prints so big that people can walk right up to them and get hit between the eyes with the tiniest details, rendered sharp as a tack and bright as a penny. Here's where the GigaPan EPIC Pro has changed how I work on a daily basis.

The HDR GigaPan
Most digital photographers have at least a passing understanding of high dynamic range (HDR), that method of blending multiple dark-to-light exposures to achieve extraordinary tonal detail for realism or creative effect. I love HDR for the power it brings to landscape photography, allowing the bright sky and dark foreground to be appropriately rendered in realistic fine detail, with a precision never possible by using filters. With my complicated manual system, I could linger at each position in the grid I was creating to capture three to five exposures at one-stop intervals, later compositing each set of frames with Photomatix Pro HDR batch-processing software before assembling the entire "gigarama" in the original Stitch software from GigaPan or the highly capable, but extremely complex Autopano Giga 2.5.

The GigaPan EPIC Pro automates this process by allowing you to program up to 20 shots at each position. Using this capability, my standard procedure in most landscape situations is to program the GigaPan system and the camera's auto-bracketing system to capture three exposures in two-stop increments—one over, one "on the money" and one under—to preserve my options for later treatment of the final composition. If HDR processing will yield the effect I want, I'll batch-process the individual frames in Photomatix Pro and then assemble them in the latest, much improved and faster version of GigaPan Stitch. If I decide not to use HDR processing, I use the "on the money" exposures to make the GigaPan.

Panoramas aren't the only type of photography the GigaPan EPIC Pro is capable of. Here, Lepp used the system for an incredibly detailed shot of a flower with unlimited depth of field. Lepp's methodology with the GigaPan includes image correction and conversion through Adobe Lightroom that he then applies homogenously across the other images before ingesting into the GigaPan Stitch software.

The Expanded Depth Of Field GigaPan
One of the most revolutionary tools of digital photography is the ability to achieve unlimited depth of field by shooting several versions of the same image, captured at different focus points, and composite them in software such as Helicon Focus (www.heliconfocus.com) or, more recently, Photoshop CS5 Blend modes. The software retains the sharp areas and discards what's out of focus to render a final image that's sharply focused from front to back. I've been applying this technique to my landscape and macro photography with great success. In landscapes, I can render a foreground flower as sharp as a mountain range at the horizon. And in macro, I can capture all the depth and every facet of a snowflake or butterfly wing at 9x.


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