Drakensberg Mountains

Extra wide panorama, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Another shot from my time in the Drakensberg Mountains,  South Africa.    This extra wide panorama is the result of an 11 frame,  yes that’s right 11 frame,  stitching.   Good grief,  that’s more stitches than a sock darning contest!    Each shot was taken in vertical format at a focal length of 50mm.    All camera settings were in manual mode and were identical for all 11 shots.   Ideally the shots would have been taken from a tripod using a bubble level to ensure a perfect horizontal.   In this instance the shots were taken from the top of a hill and the only practical way to get there was by a brief helicopter flight,  carrying a tripod in the chopper wasn’t really an option so,  the shots were taken handheld.    Whilst taking the shots I was mindful of the need to overlap each frame by about 20 to 30 percent and to keep the framing consistent so that not too much was lost in the final cropping of the image. In the end I was left with a completed file measuring over 20,000 x 4,00 pixels and about 800 megabyte.   Not surprisingly my computer suffered a dose of “digital indigestion” when I attempted to work on that sized file,  so I went back to the original 11 files and downsized them prior to a further stitching attempt at a more manageable total file size.    Another issue with such panoramic stitches is the way the sky is rendered.   No matter how good the camera lens is,  and the 24-105 is brilliant,  there can still be a bit of light fall off towards the corners of the frame,  vignetting.   So prior to stitching it was necessary in Camera Raw to apply a lens correction to each frame.

I’m reasonably pleased with the end result,  interesting to think that the full size file would print up to a high resolution print over 2 metres wide,  anyone got a large blank wall they need to fill!  (chuckle).    Oh,  and I said it was an “extra wide” pano, so just how wide is that?   By my maths the angle of view is about 210 degrees.    I guess I could have kept going and made it a 360,  that way you could have seen the helicopter parked behind me….

Given the unusual dimensions of the image and the limited space on the blog,  I’m making the image available,  for a limited time,  in a larger size at my main site.     If anyone has any questions or thoughts regarding panoramas and panoramic stitching let me know.   ~ Enjoy KD.

Drakensberg Mountains panoramic

Canon 5D with 24-105 mm zoom lens at 50mm and F16,  shutter speed 1/160 second at ISO 200.     Vignette reduction in Camera Raw,  stitching in Photoshop CS3.


- 4/02/2009 3:57:00 PM

First let me say that this is a very nice panorama for sure!

Now some tech stuff, 1 The justification for taking panoramas is to get more data than you could otherwise right? 2 Reducing the size defeats the purpose of #1 3 Panoramas, especially large ones horizontally can’t be appreciated in this venue for sure, you could have taken a single shot and we couldn’t tell the difference on our pc’s 4 I have heard arguments why one should take vertical shots, and they are to get more information (see above) and so they fit together better (than landscape), avoiding the edge distortion of wide angle shots, I have found that if I use 50mm or greater they fit together just fine every time. 5 Even with a 5D like you have (21mp) you would do as well or better to used 35mm film or better yet medium or large format format and crop to suit.

OK all this said you did a fantastic job Kevin, especially so many shots hand held ! I would love to see the full res pan in print on a really big wall someday!      (Steve-  Alaska USA)

- 4/02/2009 9:56:51 PM Thanks for the feedback everyone, I appreciate it.   You’ve raised several points here Steve, let me go through each in turn and offer you my perspective on them.

(1) getting more data is part of the issue but it’s really a means to an end. The objective is in presenting an image in the panoramic “format” or “aspect ratio”. The scene in front of me was a sweeping landscape and I felt the very wide format was the best way to present it.

(2) The original size of the total file was 800 meg, unfortunately I’ll need to upgrade my computer memory in order to handle that size with ease. The beauty of it is that at some point I will, inevitably, upgrade and the original file will still be available on my hard drive should I ever want that 2 metre print. Reducing the file size was necessary in order to carry out routine processing, colour balancing, sharpening and so on with my current computer. Further, virtually all images (assuming RAW capture not jpeg shooting) need to be downsized for display on the internet. Even simple point and shoot cameras are now rated at 2 to say 5 megapixel, a converted RAW image from such cameras will provide a Photoshop PSD file or flattened TIFF file over 5 megabyte. Typically when resized and converted to jpegs for web display the file size will end up in the 50 to 200 kilobyte range. I generally display my jpegs at around 50 to 100 kb on this blog.

(3) “Panoramas….can’t be appreciated in this venue…” Sadly that’s right, something that I’ve bemoaned here before, that’s why I offered the larger size via the link for those that are interested. “you could have taken a single shot…” Actually, no, I’ll explain why shortly.

(4) You’re right, using a focal length of 50mm or more works best because you avoid the distortion which can occur with wide angle lenses. That’s why I used 50 mm here rather than go to 24 mm on the zoom. The other point to vertical shooting (particularly when hand held) is that it allows for top and bottom cropping which is almost inevitably required to avoid “stepping”.

(5) Another camera? film and/or medium format? I’m now shooting almost exclusively digital 35mm. Doing it with film would require carrying another camera/camera system with me which wouldn’t be practical whilst travelling, particularly internationally by airline. Another issue is the expense of some of the rather specialized panoramic cameras available.

It’s worth remembering the angle of view covered by this image, roughly 210 degrees, greater than the field of human vision. No conventional camera and lens combination, film or digital, 35mm or large format, is capable of getting all that in one shot. A specialized “panoramic” camera such as the Linhof Technorama 617 at nearly US$10,000 can only cover 90-102 degrees with the widest available lens, whilst the Noblex 150 at about US$4,000 with a rotating lens design can only cover 146 degrees. Irrespective of which system is used, stitching of multiple images will be required, whether that be from digital captures or scanned negative files.

Finally, I shoot for two forms of display, one of which is of course the internet. As discussed above the equipment and file sizes I’m (and for that matter just about everyone else is) producing are overkill. The second form of display is via the inkjet printer where the file sizes become more relevant. I’m printing A3 (about 12×16 inch) prints which are far in advance of anything I was ever able to produce either by commercial printing or in the darkroom using film and have no doubt that some of my files (single frame) would print very well beyond 16×24 inch. Unfortunately web display can’t, at this point at least, match the printed image. ….KD

Drakensberg Mountains, midday, flat light.

Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa.   The photo was taken during the mid afternoon by necessity (the location was only accessible via helicopter) meaning the light was really flat and the colours washed out.   I'm often critical of folks who get carried away with "excessive" digital image processing and given the limitations here,  there was the temptation to really go bananas with the colour saturation.   I see numerous examples on the internet of grossly over-saturated landscapes, including by the supposed luminaries of the craft.   After my first attempt at processing this image,  I felt that I had pushed things too far.   After coming back and reviewing the image,  I decided on a more subtle approach. The image may still be considered rather flat however this is a more realistic interpretation of the scene and one that I am more comfortable with.    ~KD

Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Golden pool, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Late in the day in the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa, the setting sun reflects off a hill to light a golden pool. I was on a hiking trail alongside the creek making my way towards the park exit when the light reflecting off the water caught my eye. I like the colour contrast, the warm late afternoon light of the hill reflected in the water and the cooler, bluer shadows.

Golden Pool, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

The abstract landscape

Time for a change of pace, or at least location,  I think.   As regular readers will know, I’ve been posting a lot of images from my Tanzania photo safari which I did earlier this year (June-July).    After the Tanzania leg of my travels,  I continued on to South Africa where I spent some time travelling through the Drakensberg Mountains and KwaZulu-Natal Province.

The name Drakensberg is derived from the Afrikaans Drakensberge meaning "Dragon Mountains" and is the name given to the eastern portion of a Great Escarpment which extends for over 1,000 kilometres right across South Africa.   Geologically formed over about 180 million years and subject to erosion which has left a series of massive rugged, steep sided blocks and pinnacles,  the escarpment in places reaches altitudes of over 3000 metres.    Indeed the nature of the landscape gave rise to an earlier Zulu name meaning "Barrier of up-pointed spears".

When you're in a grand natural landscape,  the temptation is to get out the wide angle lens and try to capture the "big picture".   However sometimes it's worth looking beyond the obvious and look for smaller details,  a telephoto lens can be helpful in doing so.    In today's example,  having taken the wide landscape shot,  I focused in on a single shrub or tree on a ridge line.    It was late in the day and the tree being back-lit was in silhouette.     The 70-300mm zoom used at the long end to isolate the tree.    Using the Canon 20D with it's 1.6 crop factor sensor results in an angle of view equal to a 480mm on a 35mm full frame camera.

Processing in Lightroom.

Looking at the final image,  I could well pose the question,  is it colour or monochrome?    Although I'm sure I could get a very similar result by doing a black and white conversion,   all processing was done in colour.    There were only a few simple steps taken but each was pushed fairly strongly to end up with the strongly graphic "abstracted" final image.

  • Contrast was increased dramatically driving the shadows to black
  • Colour Temperature was increased dramatically to end up with an almost brown toned sky
  • Sharpening was heavily masked so as to only effect the ridge-line and tree details,  with fairly strong noise reduction being used on the remainder of the image to ensure a smooth/clean appearance to the sky and foreground.

Lone tree on horizon, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa