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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wildlife Panoramas

Try composite panoramas to get a wider view of wildlife while keeping the animals prominent in the frame

This Article Features Photo Zoom
In Tanzania, a curious giraffe stands still just long enough for Lepp to take seven horizontal captures to be combined into an image file that can be printed life-sized.
EOS-1N, 100-400mm at 100mm, ISO 100
Horizontal Vs. Vertical?
Capturing a line of animals as horizontal images is faster because the horizontal format covers more length per shot. But if you have plenty of time, try a series of vertical captures, which will give you more pixels from top to bottom and more images, giving you a bigger composited file and better quality. Keep in mind that for some subjects a vertical panorama could be appropriate. Think "giraffe" or "ostrich." In these cases, a number of horizontal shots from head to toe add up to a very large file and, possibly, a life-sized print.

Stitching A Wildlife Panorama
A variety of software programs can be used to assemble panoramas. If you've photographed a relatively motionless group with consistently placed overlapping areas, you might find that the Merge functions of Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS will accomplish the composition. But because wildlife subjects are usually in motion, you'll probably need to assemble the panorama manually in Photoshop so you can choose where the edges of the images are joined within the overlap. Automatic software will select the most obvious merge point, and that's not always the most effective or logical. We don't want two-headed giraffes.

You can see more of George D. Lepp's photography, find out about workshops and seminars, and purchase books and prints by visiting his website at www.georgelepp.com.

Assembling Your Panorama Step-By-Step

Constructing a panorama manually in Photoshop is a basic skill that involves working with Layer masks. Here are the steps.

1 Start in Bridge by selecting the images that will comprise your panorama, and open all of them on the Photoshop desktop.

2 Select Window > Arrange > Float All in Windows, and all the elements to be assembled will be displayed. Calculate the approximate combined space the images will occupy when they're assembled side-by-side, and create a new white background file of that size on the desktop. Make sure that all the images and the new background have the same bit depth and resolution.

3 Move all the images in order from left to right onto the new background; each one forms a new layer. Then close the individual images still in view to remove them from the desktop, leaving only the new white background with the dropped-in segments that will be composited to create the panorama.

4 Add Layer masks to all but the first and the base layer in the Layers palette.

5 Work from left to right. Reduce the Opacity of the second image to 50%. Position the second image overlapping the first image, matching features in the overlapped area. Once done, bring the Opacity of the second image back to 100% and click on the Layer mask to be sure it's selected. Select the Brush tool (0 Hardness) and black as your foreground color, then paint away the top image on the Layer mask to make a good transition between the two images. If you don't like the result, switch the background color to white (click the X key) and paint back the area; then try again by switching back to black. Repeat this process with each layer to the right until all the layers are matched and blended. If there's some variance in exposure, color or contrast on one of the layers, you can use a Smart layer to modify that layer to match those around it.

6 Finish by cropping the assembled composite and then Flatten the composite to make it a single image. Any additional optimization, such as improving detail in highlights and shadows, can now be done to the entire image at once in Photoshop.

Seven African White Pelicans paddle toward the photographer in a pond in Tanzania. Three quick images captured the action in panorama format.
Canon EOS-1Ds, EF 500mm ƒ/4, 200 ISO


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