The Digital Deluge

Make technological advancements work for you

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Buckeye
Buckeye; Canon EOS-1D Mark III with a 70-200mm lens handheld, three exposures merged in Photoshop using Photomerge.

A few days ago, I started using the new Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, a 21-megapixel camera. From the first few images I’ve made, the quality is excellent, but in accessing its digital impact on my operations here, I have a headache! Do I need faster and larger memory cards, additional hard drive storage or should I upgrade my older lenses to adequately maximize the camera’s digital potential? Yes, yes and yes! I know, such a tough problem to have.

I’m not very interested in all these technical details, but I also don’t want to miss out on making use of new technology that could have creative potential. And so I muddle my way through my options, tap the expertise of my friends, check resources online and generally waver toward some decisions. Sooner or later, I’ll break through the technical blocks and make this camera a creative and intuitive tool.

Of course, this happens to all of us in the beginning when we use new gear or software, and so patience, practice and a little research is required. The critical point here is to focus on incorporating advancements in technology into our creative process and not be distracted by having to have the latest and greatest whatever!

Given my general aversion to the technical minutiae of photography, I’ve sometimes been slow to try out new digital options, including software tools. I’ve managed to avoid two of Photoshop’s key features until recently—Photomerge and HDR. I’ve enjoyed seeing photographs using these tools by others for several years, but I’m finally seeing some creative possibilities for my own work.

Photomerging

It wasn’t until Marc Muench discussed the stitching of multiple frames with the use of tilt-shift lenses in a recent OP article that I started using Photomerge in Photoshop CS3. Since I own Canon 24mm and 90mm TS lenses, I gave it a try at a local pumpkin sale last fall and was pleased with how easy it was. I made three exposures with my camera; each exposure was made as I raised the lens-shift motion upward to include more of the pumpkins. I planned for an overlap of around 20 percent between each frame. Photoshop stitched together the three files easily. The result was a 300 MB file (unflattened) that gave me resolution that would rival scanned 4x5 at all but mural-sized enlargements.


Click Images To EnlargeThis Article Features Photo Zoom
I see this as a great way to emulate the quality of a 4x5, but with the many advantages of wider lens choice, ease of use and convenience of a D-SLR. For many amateur photographers who don’t require a high-megapixel camera, the use of Photomerge or other photo stitching software can be even more beneficial. From any digital camera, you can create images from multiple frames for composite files that could be printed at a much higher quality than a single frame.The most accurate way to expose frames for merging is to use a specialized “pano” tripod head, which helps you keep the camera level, or by using TS lenses. A helpful tutorial on the subject can be found at www.reallyrightstuff.com/pano/index.html.

Pebbles Panoramic
Pebbles; Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a 90mm tilt-shift lens on a tripod, four exposures merged in Photoshop using Photomerge.

One day, I spotted this wonderful buckeye tree and experimented with a regular (not TS) lens and no tripod, and I found I could be less accurate, even handholding the camera for a successful composite. The resulting composite had mismatched edges where the three frames overlapped, so cropping was necessary. I prefer to be more precise, but if one plans for a little leeway around the edges, the framing can be refined in Photoshop.

An extended version of capturing panoramic images side by side is to photograph in a grid pattern. I tried this out on some pebbles by making four images with the 1Ds Mark III, two rows of two. I used a 90mm tilt-shift lens, using the shift to overlap the four frames. I also used Live View to compose and check focus for each frame via the large LCD. This feature greatly aided both the ease of framing and focusing, as well as the accuracy. It reminded me of standing behind my 4x5, minus the focusing cloth. The file is nearly 300 MB in size, when assembled, and is equal in image quality to a scanned sheet of 4x5 film.

High Dynamic Range

As for using HDR, I’ve been playing around with the tool in Photoshop as well as with Photomatix Pro software (www.hdrsoft.com). Simply put, you take a range of exposures and blend them so your final image contains a far wider range of detail in shadows and highlights than a single frame. I’ve seen some interesting images created, some being very realistic in terms of recording landscapes closer to what the human eye sees. Other HDR work can be surrealistic. Looking at HDR images can be jarring since we’re so used to “seeing” photos limited by film’s dynamic range. These websites are good sources on HDR: Lewis Kemper (www.lewiskemper.com) and Dan Burkholder (www.danburkholder.com). I haven’t created HDR images that really work yet, but I’ll post some on my blog if I do!

It’s so much fun to have a new camera, but soon it will become more of a tool than a toy. The same goes for photomerging and HDR. We all go through periods of intensive “techno upgrade.” Just be sure to make these phases temporary so that you can get back to creating artful photographs.

To visit his Photo Blog or sign up for newsletter updates on his Landscape Essentials course with BetterPhoto.com, visit William Neill’s web site at www.williamneill.com.

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