Vaishakhi Lahoti


Panorama Galore
September 26, 2012

Back after a long hiatus. Its been a crazy couple of months and between shifting cities and adjusting to the new city, there has not been much of time left for blogging. For most of July I was not even able to take any pictures with the camera simply due to other priorities. We did make it to the Malibu Pier to take some shots of the fireworks. Since our stuff was still in transit, I didnt have my tripod and my shots were all hand held and thus not so spectacular. I may share that session sometime later.
For sheer convenience, my Galaxy S2 phone became my camera while looking for new houses . The camera’s focal length is just wide enough to get a good picture of an empty room and its 8Mpx resolution did capture most of the detail. In then end, when we did move in after 2 weeks of living out of a hotel I was well versed in the strengths and weaknesses of the phone camera.
Then there was the photo shoot of dear friends in San Francisco who were expecting their baby girl in a month. That was a whole lot of fun. It was after a while that I was playing around with the camera and I was trying to use ambient light which was getting worse. Will definitely share those some day
And finally the subject of this post : the trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. One of the most compelling reasons to move to the west coast for us to be able to visit so many new and beautiful places. This was the first trip on the list to go and see, just a three hour drive away, it was an easy ride.
I will probably leave it to hubby dear to log the details of the trip on his blog. What I will do instead is dwell upon my dilemma right before the trip – to go wide or not to.
Let me explain. Currently my collection only includes the ever versatile and extremely popular 24-105mm F4 L EF lens, and the 60mm F2.8 Macro. The widest I can go is 24mm which is really more like 38mm on the cropped sensor on the Canon 60D. I knew from the beginning that it was not even close to being wide for the kind of scenery on the hills.

Tech Bit

To learn more about angle of views and how much different 38mm is from a 16mm in a graphical format. See this graphic -

What I had definitely not thought about were the trees. They are so massive and tall that it’s like standing in front of a skyscraper. Taking the whole of the tree requires you to either be very far from the tree or have a fisheye lens. I had been contemplating to buy the 10-22mm lens from Canon which I had rented on our trip to Yellowstone and was too late to make a decision to buy or rent it when we started this trip. All I knew then is that I would just have make things work somehow with the existing gear.
As expected, the canyons were wide and the trees tall! And so I had to go old school about the horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Most point and shoot digital cameras built in the last 5 years have had an option of capturing panoramas quickly and painlessly. Even my Mom’s FujiFilm S2900 had a ridiculously easy panorama feature that gave super results. For a SLR though, the only way to do so was with a software provided by Canon. There are other software, but in time I learnt that the Canon version, although a bit jaded was the fastest  and certainly more intuitive than a few others in its category. In fact it is almost as useful to me as it was in 2005 when I bought my first Canon Point and shoot.
Coming back to my predicament at the national park. To ensure that I could make some nice panorama’s back home I was using my own judgement to pan and take consecutive photos. Ideally I should have held the shutter speed, ISO and aperture constant to get uniform results, but this time I was too lazy and took photos only in the Program mode.

Tech Bit

Holding exposures can also be done on a Canon SLR by clicking on the * or the AE lock button on the back. Of course I remember this now, while writing this blog and not when I really needed it.

This is usually fine for horizontal panoramas where there is not too much of change of exposure settings. But I realized after coming back home that it was a total disaster for vertical panoramas.
For example I have below a stitch of 2 photos horizontally across the Sierra Nevada range for a great look out point. After tweaking the white balance a little I was able to get a great panorama, although pixel pickers might notice the slight vignetting in the sky where the two photos were merged. This was probably due to the alignment of the polarizing filter. So lesson number for capturing panoramas on the go, skip the polarizer

Wider panorama, the little lake in the center is Hume lake, that we visit later in the evening

Something to keep in mind while working with large files on a panorama, any change in the set up of the photo requires all the parts of the panorama to be edited all over again. Example shown below where I had to go through two iterations to get the right colours and effects. The problem was that this was a SIX part panorama which meant any change had to be replicated across all the six photos.

Lets move on to a vertical panorama. The one below was created with two photos to capture the entire length of the tree. See the problem? The two photos show distinctly different exposures. Individually, both shots look great. Together the difference in exposure destroys this panorama.

And here is where I always comforted with the fact that I shoot everything in RAW. To have the RAW version is always a life saver in such situations. If I had only kept the JPG files I might have as well given up on getting a good picture. The RAW version is so great because it gives you almost a 2 Stop cushion on the exposure. If you have an underexposed picture, no problem. Use a decent editing software like Lightroom and you can increase your exposure by 2 stops without losing detail. Same goes the other way around for over exposed pictures . Most new digital cameras capture more detail that can be printed in a JPG file.

Tech Bit

Shooting in RAW has more advantages that can be written in one day. It is literally the negative of digital photography. Within the details are options to fix the white balance, exposure, clarity, sharpness, saturation etc. to limits that JPGs wouldnt even come close. Regarding the 2 stop exposure cushion (as I call it) it works better on underexposed photos than on over exposed. This has been discussed in photography forums to be an inherent issue with current set of digital sensors. They just “blow” away details in the highlights but do exceptionally well in capturing details in the dark shadows. Film on the other hand was the other way around. More examples here

Lightroom 4 has this amazing feature to equalize the exposures on multiple photos.First I had to set one photo to an ideal exposure amount where there was enough detail in both the bright and dark parts of the photo. Then I had to apply this exposure rating to all the other photos in the same panorama.This took some trial and error but in the end, the result was so much more better. See below for an example of before and after the exposure fixing.

The image on the right has three photos fixed for an equal exposure level.

One last thing to fix, and this will always be up to personal preference – Fixing the Barrel Distortion on the stitched photos. Really good wide angle lenses have their optics set to reduce this to as much as possible. But while stitching photos together, you can clearly see the barrel effects.  Again, Lightroom makes it easy to fix the basic distortion effects using the lens profile used for the photo. But since a Panorama stitched with multiple photos has no lens value, I had to do this manually on some photos in PaintShop Pro 14. See below for another example of before and after. Maybe it’s just me, but I like my trees to be straight 🙂

Notice the trees on the edges on the photo in the left. Now compare them to the picture to right.

All said and done, after weeks of post processing, here are the final panoramas from that trip. Warning – the original files are HUGE. But if you can, do download a few to just enjoy the scenery at a very different angle.

Passing through the woods, I found a giant Sequoia fallen. Its fall almost emphasizing how tall it was when it stood along with all the others.

Driving through the Giant Forest, makes you feel as if you’ve entered an alien land, or you’ve just been shrunk


Similar to the photo above, but from an another angle


Hubby and Baby at the bottom.


Six Part – Horizontal Panorama of the Kings Canyon NP


Giant National Forest – Panorama created with 3 x 2 photos