Category Archives: Behind the picture

Fontaine Saint-Michel

I’ve been going over my back catalogue of unstitched panoramas. These are mostly one which I didn’t have time to assemble at the time, or were lesser priority than other ones. However, this one was challenging to stitch due to the combination of lots of moving objects and the need to take a bracketed exposure for the sky, and I have waited nearly three years before attempting it. My post-process has improved and the tools I use have also advanced which means that I can now more easily assemble difficult panoramas.

The panorama was taken on a visit to Paris in July 2009. It was a lovely summer’s day, sunny but not too hot. The sunset was not going to be too spectacular so I decided to wander around to soak up the ambiance. The Fontaine Saint-Michel is a noted meeting spot for young and old. It had a lively atmosphere so I hung around and set up my tripod. The people near me didn’t seem to have a problem with it so I quickly took a series of shots, especially trying to capture the moving people and allow me latitude during assembly.

I knew at the time that it would be tricky to blend together the shots without cutting people in half. I had many other panoramas to stitch from the trip and I concentrated on the low lying fruit. Waiting three years to attempt this has paid dividends. The masking tools in Hugin and the RAW development in Lightroom 4 have improved immensely. With lots of masking, I was able to assemble a near seamless panorama, and the highlight recovery tool was able to bring down the highlights which helped blend bracketed exposures. Enfuse was then used to exposure fuse three renderings of the scene to adaptively compress the dynamic range into something which looks naturalistic.

I was able to assemble all the elements within Hugin itself without the need to use Photoshop to blend layers, clone or mask elements after stitching. I did my usual post-processing in Picture Windows Pro 6, levels, curves, large-radius sharpening, detail sharpening, and a few colour tweaks.

Singapore Marina Bay

I’m slowly going through photos which I took during a recent visit to Singapore. The Marina Bay area is quite colourful at night when the CBD and the new casino development are lit up. Night panoramas can be quite challenging, especially when coupled with lots of people moving around. The hot conditions also increases the dark current of digital sensors meaning that dark frame subtraction is a must on long exposures. It can take several minutes, maybe half an hour to get the photos for a single pano depending on how many shots are required to avoid people being cut in half.

The Merlion is an icon of Singapore, the one on Marina Bay shooting a geyser of water from its mouth a crowded tourist sport. This pano also surveys the bay with Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino opposite. Tourists and locals soak up the balmy evening air.

Outdoor Model Shoot

A funny thing happened on the way to the shoot. Apparently, you have to get a certificate of permission to do any sort of model shoot in the Necropolis. I was informed by the groundsman and after some discussion, I was eventually let off for this time only and allowed to continue as long as I didn’t have any recognisable writings on headstones or monuments in the shots. I actually wanted to take advantage of the view and backdrop so in the end it wasn’t a big deal but I have had a lot of trouble finding out exactly who to contact should I want to do a future shoot in the Necropolis so any hints appreciated.

Anyway, the afternoon was bright though hazy. The sun was shining down but veiled with a thin layer of cloud. I still needed to bring down the ambient exposure by using an ND4 and used ISO50, 1/250th, and around f/4 to f/5.6 depending on the exact flash output and balance against daylight.

I placed the flash against the sun to allow the ambient light to partially fill in the shadows. I also used a reflector on a stand and arm to bounce the flash onto the back of the model. I used the sunfire surface to add some warmth and to match the sun.

I used a Bowens Gemini 400 flash powered by a Travelpak and the small battery. This gave around 300 shots at about half to three-quarter power on average. I mounted an octobox with both diffusers (probably could have gotten away with just the outer panel). I tried to place the flash as close as I could to the model to get a soft light, though at the cost of less even illumination. A strip light could have been a better choice had I had one.

I shot with the 16-50mm/2.8 and a Cokin P filter holder. This combination does vignette at the wide end so I had to either zoom in a bit or crop in the post-production to get rid of the mechanical vignetting. To be perverse, I added in artificial vignetting to accentuate the tunnel effect.

After the flash had finally run out of juice, it was time to do some available light portraits. The lay of cloud had thickened up a bit and though still partially sunny, the light was soft. I retreated to the shade to get an even more diffuse light.

I didn’t need the ND4 so I could take off the Cokin filter holder. I switched to the Tamron 70-200mm/2.8 so I could back up a bit and zoom in from a farther perspective. I positioned the model a bit away from the background so I could blur it out. In post-production, I added a bit of contrast and highlight adjustment to make the model separate from the background even more.

It was very handy to have a helping hand with the equipment. Even though the Bowens kit is “portable”, it’s not something you want to have to lug with you for very far. Together with all the extra bits and bobs (octobox, reflector, stands etc.), any help is appreciated.

Thanks to Sarah for modelling and to Francis for assisting despite a bad leg.

Story of a Picture

Here’s a pano which I took in France. I was visiting the town of Longny au Perche in Normandy and came across this artist in the grounds of the La chapelle NotreDame de Pitié, supposedly Mary Queen of Scots was responsible for its construction. The interior of the chapel can be seen here.

I was wandering around the ground when I saw the painter capturing the scene. In very broken French I managed to convey that I wanted to take her photo and would she mind. I detected no great objection so I set up  my camera close by and took this pano. Afterwards, I asked for her card and I sent a copy of the finished version.

This is my favourite projection of the pano, Miller cylindrical with a bit cropped off the top and bottom. The shadow of the is camera ominous opposite the sight of a traditional artist at work, the new and old facing off in this picturesque setting. I have to go back to the original source images and redo the pano, get rid of some stitching errors where the wind has blown the parasol around, and deal with flare in the sky. But I have a soft spot for this pano despite its technical flaws.