Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.

One panorama – three stitches

A quick experiment. One set of nine images and three attempts at stitching. The first in the DJI Media Maker, then in Photoshop and finally created in Microsoft ICE. In all cases I set everything to auto.

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First, the nine original images in Adobe Camera Raw

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Into DJI Media Maker to be automatically stitched. Note the locks are incomplete.

Ignore the overexposed sky in the top right quadrant, the original files are similarly over exposed. Note how DJI Media Maker automatically crops the image.

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Now, Photoshop. The canal is sadly misplaced with a new Cut on the left!

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Finally, Microsoft ICE

Microsoft ICE also has an option which if enabled causes the software to attempt to complete the missing elements.

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I have manually cropped this auto-completed version but there’s lots of edge distortion.

Conclusion

In this quick test none of the three automated methods produced what I had envisaged although DJI media Maker made the best attempt. Before I closed ICE down however I manually cropped the automated version (with auto-complete turned off) which gave me the best version of this test.

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The final version – manually cropped in ICE

Shooting panoramas with the drone

If you’ve read any of my recent posts you’ll have noticed a few spherical panoramas as I’ve been playing with this feature on the Mavic Pro. Here are my thoughts having had a chance to shoot a few panoramas and played with them in post processing over the weekend.

The Mavic Pro has four panoramic shooting modes accessed via the DJI Go4 app which I use on my iPhone 7 when flying the drone. These are:

  • Vertical panorama – 3 frames
  • Horizontal panorama – 9 frames
  • 180° panorama – 21 frames
  • Spherical (360°) panorama – 34 frames.

I’ve seen other (different) frame specifications in some blog posts so I can’t comment on what’s available for, say, the Air but these hold true for me at this moment in time.

I found the vertical panorama less useful so haven’t really played with it that much. The horizontal panorama however is a format I’m very familiar with and enjoy shooting.

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Horizontal panorama – 9 frames

The 180° panorama is not something I play with very often when out with a camera, largely because it needs a specialist tripod head to get consistently good results. However, with the drone doing the technical bit I had nothing to lose by trying it out. Twenty-one frames with the drone adjusting itself between each shot automatically.

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Twenty one frames – the drone does the hard work too!

So far, my basic workflow has been:

  • Shoot the images with one of the panoramic presets
  • Quickly stitch and review on the app (depends on how critical composition is, I often skip this step)
  • Batch process the RAW (DNG) files in Adobe Camera Raw and save as full-sized JPEGs in a separate folder
  • Stitch the panorama using the DJI Media Maker app on my computer
  • Finishing touches in Photoshop

This has worked very well and I’m very happy with the results I’ve obtained so far. However, the DJI Media Maker app is very much an automated process with minimal user input and I do like to provide my own input! Artistic input if you like. I’ve been playing with Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) this morning and that is looking interesting. I am running ICE on an iMac using Parallels software to overcome the Windows/Apple differences. I suspect that in this mixed environment ICE may run a little slower than in a native Windows system but have no way of verifying this.

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My first attempt at a spherical (360°) panorama with the Mavic Pro

One thing I should have done before shooting my first spherical panorama (above) was some basic research. Whilst I like the result I could have positioned the drone more carefully and kept the canal within the frame with just a little more thought. But that is what my regular visits to this location are for – to try things out, to learn and to make mistakes before visiting a more distant location. For example, I could have stitched this immediately on my phone whilst the Mavic was still airborne and got a sense for the finished result there and then, which would enable me to adjust my starting composition and shoot the frames again.

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One of the intermediate stages as the original long panorama is turned into a sphere.

When I got that first panorama back I wasn’t happy with the resulting sphere it created and after some further research I went back two mornings later and tried again.

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Spot the difference – broadly the same view but composed a little differently with the final spherical composition in mind.

Back home I stitched the 34 frames using the DJI Media Maker software (a free download from their website) and then took the panoramic image (above) into Photoshop to create the pre-visualised spherical panorama. Notice how the edges of the panorama become the central element.

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Second time – luckier!

So, there you have it. My basic panoramic workflow using the drone and my initial thoughts on the subject.

Woodside Mills lock

One of the things that featured in my initial interest in buying a drone was this set of locks near to my home. So, unsurprisingly I’ve photographed it from various angles and heights over the last twelve months. The lock is also within the relatively small area I regularly use to try out ideas with the drone.

 

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23 feet up is nowhere near my highest shot – but you don’t always need to be at 400 feet!

So, when I wanted to try using the panoramic feature it was to this spot that I headed initially. First results were very pleasing but on reflecting back at the computer I realised I could do better and also have a little more control of the composition by making some small tweaks to the process. So, for Take 2, I moved across the canal and used Woodside Mills locks as my focal point.

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102 feet up on a windy morning

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I’m immediately below the drone

What I was trying to achieve on a very blustery morning was a spherical panorama with the locks broadly central in the frame. And broadly-speaking it worked!

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From this …

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… to this. Thirty four individual images make up this spherical panorama which really puts the locks in context with their surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

Holga 120 Panoramic Camera

Last week I found a roll of 120 Ilford Delta 400 in the back of a drawer that had lain there for goodness only knows how long. Nothing on the label told me what camera it had been through (I have four that take 120 roll film) nor what was actually on the film. I’ve only recently packed away the darkroom and with it the film processing tools as well so it was sent off to Ag Photographic for processing.

On its return it was clearly the test roll I had put through a Holga Panoramic camera early last year and totally forgotten about in the meantime. Four strips of film, around 6cm x 12cm, each containing one image. I popped the first on to the small light box I still hang on to and it was immediately clear that they were all horribly over-exposed, a fact that I’d already been able to see just by glancing at them in their protective sheet. I wasn’t particularly surprised, the “controls” on the Holga 120 Panoramic are rudimentary to say the least and this was the first roll through the camera.

Undaunted I popped the first on to the scanner (a rather outdated Epson Perfection V550 that I have had since at least 2013) and fired up the interface. It took quite a lot of tweaking to get detail appearing and it took around fifteen minutes to scan the first negative. I scanned at 3200dpi (the scanner has an optical max of 6400) and saved the resultant scan as a 16-bit grayscale TIFF file.

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The shot here does have a certain atmosphere or charm I guess.

Why did I buy such a camera in the first place? Tempted by the hype in one online review on the Lomography website perhaps?

“One could argue that its 90mm ‘OPTICAL LENS’ is a piece of crap. I would argue that the fancier competitors (e.g. Linhof, Horseman etc…) produce cold, sad, perfect panoramic shots you wouldn’t even consider hanging in your toilet. Or maybe I’m just frustrated I can’t afford one of these monsters… Anyhow, the usual soft focus and vignette produced by the dirt-cheap lens give the warmth and dreaminess we all love in lomographs”

Well, as you can see the 90mm lens is definitely soft and the promised soft focus and vignetting is there for all to see.

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Soft & really? Or just crap?

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Can you see any sharps spots?

Well, I paid over my pennies as you can see and I took the camera for a wander down Gog Hill (above) to the Elland Bridge (first picture) and shot the allotted four frames. Then promptly forgot about it! I was probably waiting to process it with another 120 roll film but got diverted and started playing with the 35mm film SLRs instead.

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All images Holga 120 Panoramic with Ilford Delta 400 roll film.

What do I think now? Well, the images are everything I thought they would be so no disappointments there, but they probably don’t sit with the type of work I’m doing right now. They have taken a fair bit of work to look half decent, and I’ve not tried printing them yet. But the fact that they don’t “sit well” with my current work is perhaps irrelevant. We all experiment at times, or at least we should experiment, and these have produced images with the characteristic Holga charm. Charm is highly subjective of course and one mans charming image is another’s out-of-focus, soft piece of crap I guess.

Yesterday I was ready to ditch the Holga, even offering it to anyone who wanted it amongst my Flickr friends. But this morning, having processed the other three negatives I’m a little less inclined to ditch the experiment altogether. I won’t be rushing off to put another roll through the plastic-fantastic but it will live to see another film at some point I think.