Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Supersized Panorama Stitching
Brandon Riza’s panoramas are crafted in the spirit of an Ansel Adams landscape. In each one, the mountains are larger than life, and the overall image is richly detailed and built from a series of high-resolution frames.
Garbage in, garbage out. That pretty much sums up Brandon Riza’s theory about high-resolution landscape panorama photographs. His work, above all, is meticulous and precise. He consistently chooses quality over compromise—from the gear he buys to the way he shoots. Here’s how it all comes together, in his own words.
It’s especially important to choose gear wisely when mountaineering. Here’s what I carry: a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Sigma 15mm fisheye, Canon 14mm, 24mm, 50mm prime lenses and the 70-200mm ƒ/4 IS zoom. I take two extra batteries and a Brunton solar charger, an Induro carbon-fiber tripod with a ballhead (the ideal combination of light and sturdy), a Kata rain cover that will accommodate all the lenses, an OP/TECH chest harness and wrist strap, a remote timer, almost 200 gigabytes of SanDisk Extreme III CF cards, Pelican waterproof CF card holders and a Brunton trek pole that doubles as a monopod with a Joby ballhead. All of that adds up to about 16 pounds. That’s a lot to add to a mountaineering pack that already weighs 60 pounds, so I just train harder.
You’ll notice those are mostly prime lenses; I do that for sharpness. I’d rather lug the weight and know that I’m holding the best tools for the job than carry a slightly lighter load and always wonder if I could be getting cleaner originals.
I chose the 70-200mm ƒ/4 IS version over the ƒ/2.8 version for weight considerations. The ƒ/2.8 is a bit hefty, and the ƒ/4 with the four-stop IS is a very capable low-light, handheld landscape shooter. Also, for a zoom, that lens is amazingly sharp.
Set It And Forget It
There are a few schools of thought on whether you should set your exposure and focus and never change them throughout the multiple frames that will comprise the final pano. I’ve had the most success locking everything down in manual: shutter, aperture, focus, ISO—everything.
I shoot underexposed because it’s the best way to ensure you’re getting everything with one exposure; darks can be pulled up more efficiently than blown-out whites can be recovered. This method is tricky, though, especially if you’re shooting a really wide pano. The lighting can change drastically from 0° to 90°, so I sweep the camera around and meter the entire expanse before settling on a median exposure. Software can’t correct for a poorly metered frame.
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