Sunday, September 20, 2015

Gate keepers

It's been a daunting task to keep up with the images that are being ingested into Lightroom. I have a set of images to share from the Great Sand Dunes, which I visited back in April. I've only shared some fully immersive panos from that trip but I haven't shared much in the way of actual images. See an example of one of such immersive panoramas here. Worse, I haven't been able to share many of my images from a trip to White Pocket in 2014! The best images from that trip except for the ones in the link are still locked up in my Lightroom catalog. At the same time, some revelations in digital imaging as well as the new panorama tools in Lightroom have made me go back to even earlier times. The image I share below for example was taken on October 31 in 2009 in Zion National Park while exploring the Narrows with my friend Dave. We were there just on the cusp of fall color hitting and once in a while we would find trees in the canyon that were in color like the one on the right here while the one on the left is still mostly green. We were in full wetsuits and at places we had to hold our gear above our heads as the water was near our shoulders. I was reminded of these images and the trip while hearing about the tragic deaths that occurred in the slot canyons in this beautiful park just recently. The image below is a stitched high resolution composite of 9 images along the gorgeous Virgin river in the park just a few days ago. I shot this with my D300 camera using the kit lens using my old homemade panoramic head. I stitched this using the new panoramic tools in Lightroom and edited and cropped. The native image is 7530x7530 pixels or 57 megapixels as I cropped from the full stitched image for a better composition. I hope you enjoy the image

Gate Keepers. Zion National Park. Oct 31, 2009. Stitch from 9 images, Nikon D300, Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 at 35mm, f/16, 2.0s, ISO 200.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Playing with the new panorama stitching mode in Lightroom CC/6

I've been playing extensively with the new panorama tools built in Lightroom CC/6 that just came out a few weeks ago. The quick and dirty conclusion is that it is not so useful for what people normally do with it, which is horizontal panoramas, but it is extraordinary at stitching the high resolution composites I like to do. Let me elaborate on this. Traditional horizontal panoramas are made by somebody panning (preferably on a tripod) the camera horizontally. What you would do is select the individual shots in Lightroom and then hit Photo-Merge->Panorama when you right/control click on the images. This brings up a simple dialog after a short while where you can select the projection and output your image. The good and the bad of this:
The good:
  • Generates a 16-bit floating point pseudo raw file (a dng). This allows almost full control of the resulting image concerning white balance, shadow/highlights, etc. without any loss of quality. This is extraordinary and quite unique. Everything else will render a white-balance baked in file including my preferred method using hugin.
  • Uses the full resolution of the input file
  • Corrects for lens distortion, vignetting, aberration, etc. all automatically
  • Corrects for exposure automatically
  • Stitches are very high quality - I wonder what algorithm they use as it is different than Photoshop's merge to pano.
The bad
  • Generates absolutely gigantic files with no way of generating a slightly smaller scale. It needs a slider with a resolution multiplier (i.e. 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, etc.)
  • Very easily generates curvy horizons with no way of correcting this. This is the main issue in my opinion why it is not good for simple horizontal panos. If your horizon is not in the middle of the images it almost always generates a curved horizon. This cannot be corrected in any way as Lightroom lacks the adaptive wide angle filter you would use in Photoshop and the dng files generated in Lightroom cannot be directly edited without rendering them to tiff in Photoshop. The interface needs a way of dragging the images up and down to give you more control over this. The gold standard for panoramic stitching: hugin, does this with a few clicks and drags.

Interestingly, these pros and cons actually make it extraordinarily good at stitching the high resolution composites I have blogged about before (see for example this post). These are images that are built up from several rows of individual images. You will want to select the rectilinear projection (i.e what Lightroom calls "perspective"). An example is the below image that I never stitched before from False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park, an extraordinary place that is not shown on the park map or any of the USGS or USFS topo maps. The composite was done using 12 images arranged in 3 rows of 4. Each image was shot at 70 mm, f/16, 1/100 and ISO 100 using a Nikon 24-85 mm f/3.5-4.5 lens.

I on purpose left the images undeveloped and as you can see I exposed for the highlights not to blow out as you should always do with digital images. I simply selected these, let Lightroom put them in a panorama with perspective selected. What came back into Lightroom was a 14722x15848 pixel image (after cropping). I only had to rotate it lightly to get the horizon straight, change the white balance to a more appropriate value and play with shadows and highlights and here it is:

"Window on the world", stitched from 12 images from a Nikon D600, Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 at 70mm, f/16, 1/100s, ISO 100.

To show you the incredible detail in this image, here is a closeup near the center of Candlestick tower, a prominent landmark on this side of Canyonlands.

Note that on a typical display, you are looking at a print of 12 ft x 13 ft or 3.6 x 4 meters, which is higher than a single story of a typical house! The slight softness you see here is owing to the fact that the lens was focused at the hyperfocal distance and not infinity and I was shooting at f/16 where diffraction should be evident.

So if you make high res landscapes using stitching, give Lightroom a try. The great thing is that it gives you a very flexible dng file that you can edit like any raw file with much more latitude than if you stitch with any other piece of software. The only "disadvantage" is that the image you'll get is absolutely gigantic.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Glowing wings

Twilight light makes the wings formation in the Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in Northern New Mexico glow.

The Wings in the Bisti badlands are glowing in warm twilight light
The Wings in the Bisti badlands are glowing in warm twilight light
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-288mm f/2.8, 21 mm, f/18, 6.0s, ISO 100.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I am very slowly going through my images of White Pocket in the Pariah Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs wilderness where I was last April. Every time I go into those folders in my library I discover new gems. Unfortunately this prevents me from actually getting anywhere as I become too scattered, so I have been taking the approach that I don't even try and just pick one image once in a while that I work on. The below is one such image. This place is full of landscapes and lines such as this at every corner. The colors were really quite amazing this morning. Deep reds, yellows, and pinks all over the place. The below scene really reminded me of veins or marbling. There were many opportunities here for abstracts, but in the end I decided to show some sky here too.

White Pocket, April 2014
Veins. On smugmug. On Flickr. On facebook. On Google+
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28 mm f/2.8 at 16mm, f/16, 0.5s, ISO 100

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Dream sunrise

Last week, I went for a sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park. The original plan was to go for sunrise at Lake Helene or Two Rivers lake to photograph sunrise on Notchtop. However those plans were scuttled due to a miscommunication with the friend that was coming with me. We both thought the other was picking us up. So we arrived too late to get to Helene. Due to this delay, we decided to divert to Dream Lake for sunrise, which you can easily get to in half an hour or so. It looked like it was going to rain and overcast completely. Luckily right at sunrise, an opening in the clouds at the horizon let through a spectacular sunrise.

This is looking back in the direction of the rising sun not long before sunrise. The glow is starting.
Tree near Dream Lake
Ushering Dawn. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 1.6s, ISO 100.

A few minutes later an almost unearthly glow was starting on Hallett peak and Dragon Couloir. There was a strong breeze kicking up waves on the lake which gives the water a smoky appearance.

Dreams of Snakes. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 2.5s, ISO 100.

I also created a horizontal version of this image using another tree trunk as the foreground element.

Smoke on the water, fire in the ... . Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 1s, ISO 100.

A little later, the color got really intense and a few very short breaks in the wind allowed me to compose images that included a reflection. This was really quite spectacular. Very little editing went into these pictures. I did also move back a little bit to get some more quiet water.

The quiet. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 0.8s, ISO 100.

The color was changing rapidly at this point. This image has a somewhat more perfect reflection but the sky was already taking on more blues. The light was fading in and out all the time due to the patchy clouds on the horizon as you can see in the first image above.

Upside Down Dream. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 1.0s, ISO 100.

I also made a portrait version of this. I like both a lot. This one again has more direct light on the peaks compared to the previous shot
Sunrise reflection in Dream Lake, RMNP
Reflection. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Tokina 16-28mm at 16mm, f/16, 0.4s, ISO 100.

At this point, we moved on to Emerald, Hayiaha, Mills and more. On the way to Emerald. I came across a small strand of Aspen trees that was backlit and really glowed. This is a handheld shot.
Trees near Dream Lake
Trees. Bigger and prints.
Nikon D600, Nikon 24-85mm at 28mm, f/11, 1/25s, ISO 100.

More tk.