Dimensions, Decisions And Drones

The High And Wide Of Pano Captures • Changing Your Mind • The “Perfect” Aperture Every Time • Launching And Landing Your Drone
Panorama © George Lepp
To capture this high-resolution panorama of Namibia’s Namib Desert on the African continent, Lepp positioned the camera vertically to increase the vertical dimension and pixel count. While vertical capture requires more images to cover the width of the composition, it pays off in a higher-quality file. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 170mm. Exposure: 1/45 sec., ƒ/10, ISO 400.

The High And Wide Of Pano Captures

Question: I have been using my APS-C camera in a vertical mode (which is a pain!) to record the photos [for panoramas]. I now have a full-frame camera, which I believe will allow the same shots to be taken in a horizontal mode with even less shots. Is my thinking correct? –Riss H., Via the internet

Answer: Your thinking is correct, but even with your full-frame camera, the reason for taking multiple-image panoramas (as opposed to one wide-angle shot) is to capture as much data as possible for high resolution and large prints. The vertical orientation will maximize the data capture and give you more pixels in the image height, whether APS-C or full-frame sensor. You will have to take more images, but that shouldn’t be too much of a pain if you get an L-plate to quickly change and accurately align the horizontal/vertical positioning of the camera on the tripod. Really Right Stuff has an L-plate for just about every camera body out there.

That said, there are times when I do use my full-frame and APS-C cameras in the horizontal orientation for panoramas: when the panorama must be captured as quickly as possible due to changing light or fast-moving clouds; when I’m taking multiple-row panoramas; and when I’m following a moving subject for an action sequence panorama and want to be sure to keep the subject in the frame.

Changing Your Mind

Question: I cropped some photos using Photoshop CS6 and would like to know how I can undo them so that I can re-crop for different print sizes. Also, can that be done on images that may have been flattened? –J. Abuelo, Via the internet

Answer: Undoing crops is not an easy process unless you are working in Adobe Lightroom. In Lightroom you can always go back, open the image again in the Develop Module, and click on the crop icon to see the original image before the crop. However, in Photoshop the only way to undo a crop is to go back to an earlier version of the image, in a stage before the crop was done. If you cropped the image at the beginning of your post-processing, then you will lose all the modifications you made to the file after the crop took place. Undoing a crop after the image has been saved or flattened is not possible.

Keep in mind that when you bring a saved PSD file back into Photoshop, you will have the layers intact but not the history. You will always have the original file from the camera. (You did save the original RAW file, didn’t you?) So this means you have to start over again from the original file if you want to increase the image dimensions, but you can crop the file to a smaller size, of course. As a rule of thumb, if you know you will want to have several crops of an image for different uses, optimize the whole file first, save that file, and then perform the crops and save the resized files separately.

The “Perfect” Aperture Every Time

Question: When taking still photos in a variety of conditions, how do you pick an aperture setting if you are using aperture priority or manual mode? Is this a guess, or is there a way to pick a perfect aperture the first time? –J. Bovee, Via the internet

Answer: Today’s DSLRs are complex machines, and they offer the savvy photographer a lot of options that can maximize quality and creativity while eliminating many traditional obstacles. But this means that you have many choices to make, and the photographer who makes them wisely gets the better photograph. You can always let the camera make the choices for you by selecting “P” for “Program Mode” (or “P” for “Perfect,” as Kathy says), but that’s not really why you bought a DSLR, is it? No, by golly, you bought a complicated DSLR because you wanted the very best tool possible to achieve your photographic vision!

And that’s why you need to learn the basic physics of the photographic enterprise (the inter-relationships of lens, aperture, shutter speed and ISO). In the old days, some photographers said the key to a great photograph was “ƒ/8 and be there,”—a phrase attributed to Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, and others—meaning you should do whatever is needed to keep the aperture at ƒ/8 by adding light, changing position, changing shutter speed. But today, the photographer must ask a couple of questions at the beginning of the photographic process. “How much depth of field (DOF) will I need to get the image I’m wanting?” If you need a lot of DOF, then you’ll choose a small aperture up to ƒ/16. But then the question comes up, “How fast a shutter speed do I need at ƒ/16 because of my movement or the subject’s movement?” If you’re handholding the setup or the subject is moving, you need a fast shutter speed. “OK, is there enough light for the aperture and shutter speed I just chose?” Now you choose the ISO that will give you the DOF and shutter speed you need. But wait! “Will this ISO offer the image quality that I’m striving for?”

Each photograph is a series of questions that need to be answered. You can use your super-duper camera meter on auto, but does it know what questions you need to answer? No. Spend some time experimenting on a stable subject so that you can see and understand the differences among the various combinations. Practice makes “perfect,” and as our cameras have better dynamic range and the ability to capture images at higher ISOs with improved quality, we can more easily come away with a desired result.

Quickly second-guess your choices in the field by checking the exposure on the camera’s rear LCD screen, as it will give you a pretty good representation of what was just captured. The histogram display will tell you if the image is over-exposed beyond redemption or so dark that all you will have is noise when you try to open the shadows. Make adjustments and keep shooting until you’ve achieved your optimal capture. Just ask the right questions at the beginning and solve them within the capabilities of the camera and you’ll be right…every time. Oh, and don’t forget content and composition. And be there.

Launching And Landing Your Drone

Question: I’m doing lots of drone photography with my DJI Quadcopter, but my takeoffs and landings are a problem due to grass or dirt getting on my lens and into the drone’s body parts. Any quick fixes other than carrying around a sheet of heavy plywood? –R. Agli, Via the internet

Answer: The props on the drones do kick up plenty of debris. The easiest solution I have seen is a launch pad from Hoodman (hoodmanusa.com) that comes in 3-, 5- or 8-foot diameters and folds up into a lightweight disk easy to carry in a bag or store. It’s made of a strong material and has a spring-loaded outer edge. It’s similar to the photo reflectors we use, but a lot more durable. An 8-pound zinc perimeter cable keeps it in place without stakes. One of my colleagues had this exact difficulty with his drones, and the Drone Launch Pad solved the problem far better than the large piece of cardboard he had been using.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.

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