Getting Vertical

Vertically Challenged • Maximum Quality Formula? • A Little Night Action • Filtering The Sky • Park Photo Permits
This Article Features Photo Zoom
tech tips vertical

A Really Right Stuff Ultimate Omni-Pivot was used to keep the vertical images in line for this panorama of a rainbow eucalyptus tree and ginger flower taken in Maui, Hawaii. A Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 180mm macro lens were used for the five horizontal images.

Vertically Challenged
I understand how to properly expose horizontal panoramas using a leveled tripod and leveled camera, but how do I get precise vertical panoramas when working from a tripod?

The basic method I’ve used over the years—which isn’t precise—is to loosen the ballhead, identify a vertical reference point within the scene and capture each image horizontally—square both to the horizon and the vertical reference point. You may need a bubble level in the flash shoe to help you keep your captures properly oriented. When the series of images is brought into a processing program (such as Panorama Maker 4.0 Pro or Photomerge in Photoshop), they probably won’t line up exactly and some of the scene may be lost because of cropping.

If you want to be more precise, there’s a tripod head made by Manfrotto that I use—the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head 3275. It has a geared vertical drive that will keep all of the vertical images in perfect alignment. As good as this head is for panoramas and landscapes, it’s slow for general photography, and I wouldn’t use it for other types of imaging.

Another answer is a set of panorama accessories from Really Right Stuff. This is among the most workable answer (though not the least expensive), and it assumes that you’re using one of the pro quick-release systems from Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff or Kirk Enterprises. The Really Right Stuff Ultimate Omni-Pivot Package consists of three parts: a base rail, a vertical rail with a clamp at one end and, to attach to the vertical rail, a panning clamp. The combination will set you back about $435, but there’s no better way to accomplish vertical panoramas.

Maximum Quality Formula?
How do you calculate the maximum “quality” print size possible based on the megapixels produced by a given D-SLR? I read that the new 21-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III can produce a file size of 5632 x 3750 pixels that will open at about 60 MB in Photoshop. How large can I print that file and still have gallery-quality sharpness and contrast when viewed from two to three feet or further back? To put it another way, what film format (using Velvia 50) would be comparable to a 21-megapixel file in terms of comparative print size possible?
J. McGrew
Carmel, California

Quality is a subjective term, and I’m not aware of any formula that relates maximum acceptable print size to the number of receptors, or pixels, on a particular sensor. Other variables affecting enlarged prints include the quality of the file (how good are you at Photoshop?), the nature of the subject (sharply detailed or soft), the absorbency of the paper (hard gloss or watercolor) and the distance from which it will be viewed. A billboard has a resolution of two to 20 dots per inch and is generally 14 feet high by 48 feet wide, and is usually viewed at a range of more than 500 feet. It looks great! But in a gallery, we want to walk up to the print and look for fine detail. If you expect to make large prints that stand up to this close scrutiny, a high-megapixel camera used at optimum levels and a professional large-format printer are necessary.

The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III you mention has the highest number of pixels in any 35mm-type D-SLR available today. In my opinion, it yields an image equivalent to 6×7 or 6×9 medium-format film. The bottom line is that, depending upon the subject and how it’s presented, a high-quality print of 60×90 inches is well within the realm of possibility from this camera. This said, I’ve produced 60×90-inch prints of a single California poppy from a Canon EOS-1Ds (11.7 megapixels) that I’d consider gallery worthy. The particular image doesn’t have a lot of fine detail, but has brilliant colors and is printed on watercolor media.

A Little Night Action
I recently tried to photograph the Queen Mary II traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge at night. The photo came out great, except the ship was blurred. I had set my Nikon D70 camera to ISO 1000 and also used the automatic night setting on the camera, but it didn’t help. How can I stop action at night?
via the Internet

Even with the use of a quality tripod in low-light (and possibly windy) conditions, you’re facing the problem of the subject moving through a long exposure. The very best you can do is to raise the ISO to a point where a shutter speed can be obtained sufficient to stop the movement within the frame. Some of today’s professional D-SLRs allow an ISO up to 6400, and the new Nikon D3 even has a boosted ISO of 25,600! Another approach, which probably wasn’t possible in the San Francisco Bay, is to photograph the moving subject head on because the movement coming toward you will be less evident than movement across the frame.

As a note about your particular camera, when you used the automatic night setting, it extended the exposure length and opened the lens to its maximum aperture based upon the ISO setting you chose. The result wasn’t enough for the subject and conditions you faced. You might have tried going to the full ISO 1600 offered by the camera. But keep in mind that higher ISOs on any camera produce a lot of noise (little colored spots) in the darker portions of the image. It’s similar to the grain we experience in higher-ISO films. The digital age still hasn’t solved every photographic problem.


Filtering The Sky

I’m having trouble with color variances across the sky portion of my photos when using a circular polarizer. I shoot with a Canon EOS 30D and Canon 17-85mm lens. Most of the time, when I adjust the filter for deep blue sky, one side or the other, a corner or even the center of the frame is darkened. I usually don’t notice the problem until the images are downloaded onto my computer. It’s rare that I get a photo where the whole sky is the same hue, side to side, top to bottom, regardless of the position of the sun. Could it be that I need to use a slim filter or a larger diameter filter with this Canon lens?
Scott T.
Via the Internet

What you’re experiencing isn’t vignetting, where you might need a thinner polarizer or a larger-diameter polarizer. In that case, you’d see a dark shadow in the four corners of the image, no matter what the subject.

One of the problems with polarizing an open sky using a wide-angle lens is that the angle to the sun varies so much within the image that there almost always will be a variance in the amount of polarization across the sky. I find that it’s better to photograph without the filter and simulate the polarization in the computer.

There are times when a polarizer is still a good idea on a wide-angle. When photographing foliage, water or other shiny surfaces, the polarizer saturates the color by eliminating reflections. Another use of the polarizer is when you need to extend exposure, such as for rendering water with a silky texture. The polarizer works as a neutral-density filter, cutting exposure by about two stops of light.

Park Photo Permits
I’m an amateur freelance photographer, especially interested in wildlife. I’m planning a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I was told that I couldn’t take pictures of wildlife, etc. and sell them unless I had paid for a permit. My understanding was that if you pay admission, such as a park fee, then you could take pictures and sell them. Do I need a permit or not?
D. Hernandez
Alamogordo, New Mexico

As long as you’re using the national park in the same way as any other visitor, you don’t need any permits to photograph, whether or not you plan to market the images. If you come into the park with a crew to take commercial still or motion-picture images, you definitely need a permit. This critical difference is usually the source of misinformation such as you received.

A directive from the Office of the Secretary of the Interior titled “Commercial Still Photography” states, “It is the policy of the National Park Service to permit and encourage photography within the National Park System to the fullest extent possible consistent with the protection of resources and the enjoyment of visitors.” The directive continues, “Permits can be required when the photography involves product or service advertisement or the use of models, sets, props, or when such photography could result in damage to the resources or significant disruption of normal visitor uses.”

Policies for other public lands, such as those held by counties and states or controlled by different federal agencies, often vary, reflecting the philosophies or priorities of the administering agency. Some photographers operate under the assumption that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission, an attitude that typically results in restricted access for those who follow. It’s always best to research the requirements for access to any public land before you arrive.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

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.