Friday, August 27, 2010

Photography in the North

So here I am in the NWT...or now the NT. How did I end up here, you ask? I'm still trying to figure that out ha ha ha. But it worked out for the best. I'm finally in a stable environment now...a bloody cold environment, but stable.
I live in Hay River, on the south side of Great Slave Lake. The town is small and isolated but the people here make it for anything it lacks. I've been here for almost a year and my main objective is to photograph the North and all the aurora on the way.

This past weekend I made it to Hay River's neighbor, Fort Smith. It took me far too long to make it to this town. It's lovely. The best part for me is the Slave River. In four parts of the river close to Fort Smith the river features pelicans and rapids. I was only there for a short time but I was able to capitalize on the light that was featured.

So the trick for me here for photographing the rapids is long panoramas. I've been in a panorama phase ever since getting new software, my new camera (1ds mark III) and my new lens (16-15mm f2.8). Panoramas can be tricky without some practice and some knowledge. So I'm going to share what I know with you.

First, your gear. You need a tripod. NEED. Do not try and attempt this without it. A good ball head or panning head. There are more expensive dedicated tripod heads for panoramas, but they're not, but not necessary.

Second, you need to make sure nothing on your camera is on a priority or automatic setting. EVERYTHING has to be manual. Your white balance has to be set before taking your photos, your camera has to be on 'M' set your aperture and your shutter before taking these photos. So make sure to take a test photo on the brightest part of your panorama and make sure it's not overexposed. Then make sure your focus is on manual. You want EVERY image that you take for the panorama to be on the exact same settings. If you don't you're just causing yourself more headache. And I'd recommend taking any polarizing filters off your lenses as well.

Now start off on the left side of your image and proceed to take your photo. Make sure you can keep an eye on your horizon and where it will be in your next photo. Your next photo (moving to the right in your scene) should over lap your previous photo by at least 30%. You need this overlap because most lenses have a little distortion to the far edges, so this over lap should eliminate the distortion.
Continue to take your photos, from left to right, until you've completed the scene.

Here's what I ended up with:

Next you have the pleasure of merging the photos together! In some cases this can be very easy (if you've done everything right) or it can be a bust. I use CS5 for this feature alone. It stitches panoramics better than any other program I've seen in the past, although Canon has some great software for pano's that comes with their camera. When using CS5 be prepared to make some 'Warp' Transformations to make sure everything is lined up in it's proper place, like a straight horizon with straight trees pointing skywards.

*Remember, if you're stitching together images that feature water in them be aware that the water may not always align. It's a hard fact that I haven't found a solution to yet. And be prepared for large images. I'm working with images over 300-400mbs with these panoramas.

I hope you enjoy this. Panoramas are a great way to expand your photographic portfolio and a great new way to see landscapes.

These tips are by no means the 'be all and end all' of advice. All I know is that it's worked for me.


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