Extra wide panorama, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Drakensberg Mountains

Stitched Panoramas.

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 frames,  stitching.   Good grief,  that’s more stitches than a sock darning contest!

Camera technique

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 per cent and to keep the framing consistent so that not too much was lost in the final cropping of the image.

Processing a stitched pano

In the end, I was left with a completed file measuring over 20,000 x 4,00 pixels and about 800 megabytes.   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 how 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.

Huge print possibilities

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
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.


– 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 use 35mm film or better yet medium or large format and crop to suit.

OK, all this said you did a fantastic job, Kevin, especially with so many shots handheld! 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 megapixels, a converted RAW image from such cameras will provide a Photoshop PSD file or flattened TIFF file over 5 megabytes. 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 handheld) 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.

Panoramic Camera Options and Limitations

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