Category Archives: Landscape

Recent Panoramas

I’ve just gotten back to taking and making panoramas after a break of several months. Some good weather lately inspired me to go out and try to capture the light.

Rock outcrop, sunset, ocean, castle
Rock outcrop, Castle Sands, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland 30th June 2021. The tidal range here is 4.32m, thus at low tide many rocky outcrops are exposed as the tide goes out. Full panorama can be viewed at 360Cities.
Ocean, castle, pool, waves, sky, clouds, sunset
Tidal pool, Castle Sands, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland 30th June 2021. “The surge in popularity of seaside resorts in the mid-19th century, and the fashionable practice of sea bathing, made St Andrews an attractive tourism destination. The Ladies Pool, today known as the ‘Castle Pool’, was situated on the east side of the Castle ruins with shelters and huts for dressing. The pool was largely abandoned in the 1930s when the larger outdoor Step Rock Pool started to allow both male and female swimmers.” From St Andrews Preservation Trust. Full panorama can be viewed at 360Cities.

The conditions were perfect for landscape photography with high altitude clouds providing texture to the sky, a moderately clear horizon for the setting sun for lovely colours, and not too windy. The waves add texture to the water but do pose a slight challenge to making sure that seams are not too obvious. A small amount of retouching during post-processing was needed to smooth over the most obvious joins.

The main challenge is dealing with the large range of contrast within the whole scene. The dark rocks and seaweed have to be balanced against the sunset and bright sky. Much of this is able to be handled by the dynamic range of the camera, a Sony A7m3 shooting raw, but some additional steps needed to be taken to comfortably cover the extremes in exposure. In addition to the usual shooting pattern of 4 around (spaced at 90 degrees) + Zenith + Nadir, additional shots were made directly at the brightest parts of the sky using autoexposure (as I use for all the shots). This additional shot will have detail in the brightest parts that can be combined with the rest of pano that has detail in the dark and mid tones. Enfuse is used to combine the various exposures into a single image without having to go through the steps of creating an HDR intermediate image and then tonemapping.

I have also delved into the back catalogue of panoramas that were taken but but assembled, in this case ones taken in 2019 and 2020.

Christmas Market, Big Wheel, Glasgow
Glasgow Christmas Market, 19th December 2019
Pollok House West Pavilion
Pollok House West Pavilion 27th September 2020. Full pano can be viewed at 360Cities.
Kelpies, sculpture
Kelpies, Grangemouth, 4th October 2020. Full panorama can be viewed at 360Cities.

These panoramas varied in difficulty. The Christmas Market pano had many extra shots added and masked in to deal with moving objects such as people and the Big Wheel. Exposure blending was also used to tame the contrast. The Pollok House pano did not have to worry to much about moving objects between frames but did have a very large contrast range. This require bracketing and exposure blending to arrive at a  decent image. The Kelpies pano was as staightforward as you could get, a simple 4+Z+N shooting pano, no need for bracketing as the dynamic range of the camera was sufficient, and not even exposure blending was required.

I’ll continue to dive into the back catalogue to see of there are any more unassembled panos waiting for their turn. Hopefully there are some undiscovered gems.

Simple Hugin Example with “Wrong Technique”

Sunset over St Andrews Harbour, Scotland. Equirectangular projection 360 deg x 180 deg. Sony A7m3 + Samyang 12mm/2.8 Fisheye, Nodal Ninja 3 Mk III, Capture One, Hugin, and Picture Windows Pro. This is the final stitch without adjustments. Further post-processing steps may include exposures curves, sharpening, saturation adjustment, and eliminating dust spots in the sky.

Source Images & Hugin project file (17MB zip)

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Here is an example of a simple 360 deg panorama in Hugin that shows that good results can be obtained using “wrong” techniques. Specifically, you can use autoexposure, even for highly contrasty scenes that normally would required bracketed exposures and HDR+Tonemapping.

For post-processing, you can crank up the highlight and shadow recovery and individually tweak each frame for exposure. It is not necessary to shoot with manual exposure with each frame with the same exposure settings, nor process them identically.

Additionally, you do not need very much overlap between frames in many cases, only a few control points can do, and they only need to be placed along the seam lines.  A few manually well placed control points can quickly give a good stitch.

This example also shows some other things that you may need to watch out for. You should clean your lens and sensor. I’ve not been able to do much photography lately so my equipment has not been maintained as well as they should have been. My lens also needs to be adjusted as the plane of focus is slightly skewed and it does not reach infinity focus. This is slightly masked by the depth of field at f/8 but can still be detected in the full sized source imagery.

I have provided downsized source images and a Hugin project file if you want to have a look at how it was assembled. I only spent a few minutes putting it together so I’m sure it could be further optimised. The final full sized and processed panorama can be seen at 360Cities. I adjusted the exposure curve, sharpened the image, tweaked saturation, and repaired the dust spots in the sky.

First Shot. I set up my tripod with a Nodal Ninja 3 Mk III. The rotation axes of the panohead is aligned with the no-parallax-point of the lens (it’s not called the “Nodal Point”!). I tilt down to minimise the Nadir hole, bringing in the tripod legs slightly also helps reduce the size of the Nadir patch. I oriented the first shot to capture some bystanders, making sure that they were towards the centre of the frame (don’t want to have anyone cut in half). I also made sure to centre the brightest spot in the sky as I will be patching it with a lower exposure shot. The camera was set to its lowest native sensitivity (ISO100 in this case) and I used autoexposure. The lens is manual focus and manual aperture so the camera controls the shutter speed automatically. I set the lens to be at f/8 and the focus was placed at an approximate “hyperfocal” distance. I used a remote shutter release to minimise vibration. I recorded full uncompressed raw files for later processing.
Second Shot. I rotates the camera by 90 deg using the click-stop rotator on the panohead. For simple scenes, where there are no moving objects, the amount of overlap between frames can be minimal. Here, there is only 10 to 15 deg overlap between the horizontally rotated shots. In more complex scenes, where the could be moving people, cars etc., it may be necessary to take shots in many more different directions in order to produce a stitch with not objects cut in half.
Third Shot. I had also set up the shot so that the main object in the scene (this rowboat) was captured in one frame. This minimises the possibility of any stitching errors occurring on this object. Though the panohead has been aligned to the no-parallax-point, slight shifts due to uneven ground, movement of the tripod as it is rotated, etc., could introduce parallax errors especially with close-up objects. Centering such potential problem areas reduces the possibility of parallax errors happening.
Fourth Shot. We see a small amount of overexposured sky on the right. Hopefully this area will be covered by the extra shot that is exposed for the sky highlights. A belt-and-braces approach would be to take extra shots on either side of the brightest sky areas. This was done but I have omitted this from the example as it is not strictly necessary to illustrate the points.
Extra Shot. This shot was taken by pointing the camera directly at the brightest part of the sky and allowing the autoexposure to control the shutter speed and capture the highlights. Alternatively, the other shots could have been bracketed, e.g. +/-3EV and a conventional HDR+Tonemapping process applied. Here, we show that a much faster and simpler process can produce acceptable results without the extra shots and processing. The wide latitude of modern cameras reduces the need for bracketing and raw processors are very good at extracting highlight and shadow detail.
Zenith Shot. This is taken pointed straight up. In order to position it in the final panorama, I have included a few features in the corners than can be used to locate it via control points. As there are no important features in the sky, it is not important to precisely align it with the other images, hence it could be manually positioned in a pinch.
Nadir Shot. I have a Nadir Adapter on the Nodal Ninja 3 Mk III panohead that allows the taking of the straight down shot very easily. It also provides extra vertical rail height to allow the A7m3+12mm/2.8 combo to rotate to Zenith easily.
Masking Source Images. The tripod and corners are masked off first. The corners often suffer darkening due to vignetting, masking them off can improve photometric optimisation and matching. The overexposed sunset sky is also masked off and will be replaced by a separate shot that is exposed for the sky. This was taken by just pointing the camera straight at the brightest point in the scene and allowing the autoexposure to set the shutter speed to capture the highlights. The Zenith and Nadir images are also given a circular crop.
Adding Control Points. Only a few control points (CPs) are required to get a good stitch if the rotation axis is well aligned with the entrance pupil aka no-parallax-point (NPP). Some of the images pairs have 4 CPs, some only 2, and a few have more. It is only necessary to place the CPs long the likely seam lines of the final stitch. Placing CPs away from the seams means that alignment is compromised in the regions where alignment errors are actually visible. A few well chosen CPs will give better results than heaps of widely spread CPs that may have mismatched features. NB: The NPP is often erroneously called the “Nodal Point” but the entrance pupil does not in fact correspond to any of the (several) nodal points of a lens (look them up on Wikipedia). It’s like calling the steering wheel a “tyre”, they are both round and are parts of a car, but they are not the same thing.
Preview Window. This is how the aligned images are placed, green crosses show the location of the control points. The small exposure differences will be eliminated during the stitching and blending process. The panorama is exported at a reduced exposure so that the highlights are not blown out. Exposure range compression can be used to bring back shadow detail. Curves adjustment in post-processing can then equalise the exposure to obtain a pleasing image.

Boring Photos

Sunset over ShieldaigA recent forum post asked how to turn beautiful scenery into good photographs. The complaint was that even though the views were lovely, the resultant photos were boring. My advice on this goes roughly like this:

As an exercise, analyse why the photos are boring and then seek to do the opposite. Is it because the light is flat an uninteresting? Then find times when the light is dramatic. Is it because the scene is too flat? Then try taking photos from different perspectives, down low, up high. Maybe your post-processing is too conservative. Take artistic licence and play with levels, contrast, dodging/burning, saturation or cropping.

Some views are best enjoyed live and don’t translate well into a photo, at least not with a straight interpretation. You could try portraying it not simply in a representational manner but the impression you want to convey. Digital photography and post-processing gives you a lot of power to explore the artistic possibilities of a photo.

Sunset over the Fairy Lochs

Here is another photo from the Highlands. This was take after I had done some spherical panoramas around and in the Loch. Here, you can see both a propeller and a radial piston engine belonging to the B-24 Liberator bomber which crashed here in 1945. There is a memorial to the crew next to the Loch. For this shot, I used the NEX-7 with the LA-EA1 to mount a 16-50mm/2.8 A-mount lens. I set the exposure to f/8 and ISO to 100. Using LiveView, it was easy to make sure I exposed for the sunset so as to not blow out the highlights. It also made manually focussing the lens very easy. As the sun was setting fast, I had to quickly work my way around the Loch in order get some alternate viewpoints and perspectives. I think this one shows the view of the Loch the best.

Sunset over Shieldaig

I was returning from a hike to the Fairy Lochs with the sun rapidly descending towards the horizon. Some distant cloud cover prevented a truly magnificent sunset but the colours in the sky which remained were still impressive. I have very little time to set up my tripod, make sure my SAL 16-50mm/2.8 lenses was mounted properly onto the NEX-7 via a LA-EA1 adapter, and to set out to find a suitable spot to capture the scene. Luckily there is a beach next to the Shieldaig hotel which was at low tide at the time. I quickly set up the tripod, composed the capture both the sky and beach, and focussed manually, very easy to do using zoomed liveview. I took a few bracketed shots to make sure that I did not blow the sky, using both the live and post-shot histogram. I finally retreated under an onslaught of midges.

After importing the file into Lightroom, I was keen to see just how much detail I had managed to retain in a single frame, from the setting sun to the dimly lit beach. Cranking up the highlight and shadow recovery sliders, I was pleased to see that I could bring out detail both in the sky and the ground without too much trouble. A bit of clarity and vibrance completed the treatment of the photo. Some licence has been taken with the interpretation of the colours, but this more faithfully represents the impression of being there rather than actual photometric values.