A juniper tree stretches skyward in the wilderness of Arizona’s Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, its petrified sand dunes magnified through the use of tilt-shift lenses and stitched multiple images.
Why not create your own focal length? This concept rattled around in my head for some time after going digital. Then again, many things rattled around in my head after I went digital. But one concept that rattled louder than others was how to utilize a moving lens mounted on a camera body to achieve multiple formats and compositions. With this in mind, I started using a Canon tilt-shift lens and began combining two offset digital files of the same scene. I began creating new compositions and aspect ratios and also increased the file size of my images all without the use of panoramic equipment.
One of the most important parts of the creative process in landscape photography is finding the light, followed closely by subject and composition. The limitations of working with certain focal lengths also interrupt the creative process by confining the composition. When I mounted my digital camera and tilt-shift lens on a Really Right Stuff panoramic rig, however, the visual possibilities became endless.
As my digital skills advanced, I began to realize that there was no reason to be confined to one digital file taken with one focal length. I now could work with a system that helped me achieve what I aptly call "building a composition." By combining multiple images taken with just enough overlap to stitch together in Photoshop, I could include anything in my desired field of view, both vertically and horizontally.
|Wild spring flowers that bloom in Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, show the amazing depth of field capable by combining multiple exposures and tilt-shift lenses.|
The first and most efficient step in this process is to use a tilt-shift lens on just about any digital SLR body mounted on a tripod. Once a scene is located, my first decision is to mount the camera body in a vertical or horizontal position. I do this with the aid of a Really Right Stuff "L" bracket and ballhead on my tripod.
The "L" bracket is useful in that it allows me to switch between the horizontal and the vertical axis without changing the camera position. The camera position is also useful here, as it sets up either a horizontal stitch or a vertical stitch. From either the vertical or horizontal camera position, however, I can create a square composition. The real beauty of using this method is that it’s easy and efficient, creates several more aspect ratios for compositions and increases the resolution of the final image file.
Using this method, I’ve personally enjoyed composing with a square format again. I had worked with a Hasselblad back in college and had forgotten how magical the square format could be. The aspect ratio of the horizontal format also has become one of my favorites of late. I use the Canon 24mm tilt-shift for my work, but the other two Canon tilt-shift lenses could be very useful, depending on your style.
Flowing water in the Paria River in Paria Canyon, Utah, another example of the interesting perspectives possible by combining multiple images in Photoshop.
How It Works
Tilt-shift lenses are designed to shift on a rotating plane, allowing the lens element to slide left/right or up/down. There’s a metal clip that releases tension, so the lens can be rotated to alter its position by 90 degrees. The front element is also capable of tilting, allowing one to alter the plane of focus. This feature isn’t necessary, but I use it when I need to maintain focus from something very close to the lens all the way to infinity.
I had Canon modify my tilt-shift lens by rotating the front element so that it would tilt on the same axis as the shift, allowing me to tilt vertically when lowering the lens. This was the most used movement when I shot with a large-format field camera. The lens comes from Canon with the tilt opposed to the shift, a setting mainly used when shooting architecture.
My introduction to stitching occurred several years ago when George Lepp demonstrated his method of creating panoramic images. George manually combined multiples of either scanned film or digitally captured image files with no visible defects. Digital stitching is both efficient and easy to use in automatic mode. The beauty of stitching together two image files that are taken from one lens without moving the camera is that they stitch together perfectly.
Once I’ve found a composition that requires two exposures (both up and down or side to side), I expose the images in manual mode at one focus point. This can be a useful creative method to obtain either a square format or a slightly panoramic composition.
I prefer exposing RAW files to utilize every possible technical advantage there is with digital. The steps are simple in Photoshop, but I’m sure there are other software programs that would suffice.
In Adobe Bridge, I highlight the two files and open them in Camera Raw. I make sure the files have the same settings so they will stitch together perfectly. To do so, I choose Select All and then Synchronize. After clicking OK, I click Done. Back in Bridge, I click on the Tools option in the menu bar and scroll down to Photoshop and then to Photomerge.
|An autumn forest in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, diffuses light toward the camera.|
Photomerge opens a dialog box prompting me to choose a method for joining the image files. I’ve had great success with the automatic choice. This generates a canvas with the two files joined and two separate layers, including masks. When I confirm that the files are perfectly stitched (by viewing the joined area at 100 percent), I flatten the file and crop any white border.
For my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, the combined file size is between 60 and 65 MB. It’s even better using a Canon EOS 20D or 30D, as the combined file size is about 45 MB.
This method of "building a composition" also has simplified my equipment bag. In its simplest form, it contains one Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II body, four lenses, 16 gigs worth of CF cards, a Canon intervalometer, several ND filters for slower shutter speeds, an extra camera battery and some peripherals. My tripod is topped off with a Really Right Stuff ballhead and piano rig.
When using the 24mm tilt-shift lens, there are several must-dos. I must use a tripod and set the camera to manual meter, and the lens must be manually focused. Also, remember that if the images are taken within several seconds of each other, it’s rare that light changes enough to create a problem when stitching later.
To see more of Marc Muench’s photography, visit the Muench website at www.muenchphotography.com.