Taking a Pano (and a few more pics from Israel)

I kinda struggled with what to write about this week.  I had a few different ideas and I wanted to finish up posting some of my favorite photos from my trip to Israel earlier in the month, so I decided to combine two ideas.  My first idea was about shooting panorama shots, cause I shot a bunch of those the last few weeks, so I decided to do just that -- How to shot panoramas... and a few shots of Israel too!  

First thing you need to know, is that if you want to sound really cool, you gotta call these types of shots panos... not panoramas.  I don't know why, it's just how it is.  It's like calling San Francisco "Frisco."  If you want to sound like a tourist around here, no better way than saying "hey, let's go into "Frisco" for some dinner."  Sure dork, that sounds like a great idea! ;-)  Okay, so we got that out of the way... we're gonna call them panos.  But how do you take them?

Most people take panos of landscapes or cityscapes, but you can do it will all types of shots.  I recently took one of a pier that is one of my favorite all time shots.  You're gonna need three things to make your panos.  1) A camera 2) a tripod and 3) a computer for putting, or stitching together your photos.  There are a bunch of programs you can use to do this, but I fine Photoshop to be the easiest.  It works great for stitching together photos.  You can also take a bunch of photos, print them out and tape them together on a big white board like you're in 3rd grade, but that's a lot more difficult and doesn't look nearly as cool.

So how do you set up for your shot?  A stable position to take your panoramas from is important. Actually, this is almost always important, but with panoramas it is more important because the Photoshop process that joins your photos together is good at what it does but it is not perfect and when it has trouble putting the individual pictures together it either leaves ragged white lines in between the photos or chops large sections out of the photos because it doesn’t know what to do with them.  Now this too is fixable, but why not just avoid the issue in the first place?

I definitely recommend you use a tripod since it allows you to turn your camera slightly in order to take successive shots. If you can’t use a tripod, some sort of flat surface like the top of a wall or fence may work as long as it is possible to take a picture and then rotate your camera slightly and then take another picture without vertical movement.  The key is to have the top and the bottom of your shots stay as constantly similar in all of your shots and that is done most easily with a tripod.

Once you find your spot and set your camera up, rotate it to the extreme right and left edges that you want to include in your photo to make sure nothing is going to get in the way.  I was taking a panorama recently and when I got the photos home, I realized that part of the wall on my right was in the photo.  Total suckage, but luckily it was really easy to remove in Photoshop.

For the panoramic pictures I take I start at the extreme left of what I want to capture but there's no reason you couldn't start on the right side either.  At this point you'll want to take a meter reading and you'll want to shoot in manual, cause you don't want your camera making changes to the exposure as you move the camera.  You want all your photos to be taken at the same exposure, so when you stitch them together in Photoshop they all look the same.  If now, you may have one light photo next to a dark one with a medium one in the middle!  When you have the settings you want and have taken your extreme left pictures it is time to grab a reference point in the viewfinder about 20%-30% away from the right side of your viewfinder. You do this because you are going to swivel the camera so that this reference point is at the far left but still in the viewfinder so that there is some overlap between your photos.  As far as overlap is concerned, you are shooting digitally so snap away, overlap 30-50% if you want, but err on the side of overlapping too much. If you don’t overlap enough, as Photoshop attempts to blend the shots it will not have enough of a fingerprint to blend well and your panorama will end up with the ragged white lines that look horrible.

Once you mentally choose a reference point such as a tree or mountain top, swivel the camera to the right until your reference point is almost at the left edge of the viewfinder. Try not to move the camera position. Once you have swiveled far enough repeat the process that you did to take the first picture.

Now simply just keep doing this.  Repeat this process until you come to the extreme right end of your desired panoramic shot.

You're now ready to stitch the photos together in Photoshop, which is a pretty simple process, but too long to talk about here, so we'll save that for next week.  In the meantime, here are those Israel photos I promised.  Panoramas from Israel!!  Enjoy!

The Western Wall.  Jerusalem.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea.

Shot of the Old City at night.

The Old City looks rest at night, but my favorite time of the day for shooting photos of it was right before the sun went down.  The elusive "golden hour" makes for a rich and colorful photo.

I'm back!

Well, after a week in Israel and two missed blog postings, I'm back.  I'd say I missed you all, but I didn't really.  I love traveling and this was quite the traveling experience.  I went for my sister's wedding, but one of the benefits of a destination wedding is the ability to take photos... lots and lots of photos.  I took about four 16GB memory cards and I almost filled three of them with hundreds, if not thousands of photos.  I've been back for almost a week and since then I've culled them down to about 600 keepers.  I feel like some of those are really great and some will only be great to my family, but I had a great time and really loved bonding with my camera.  It was an amazing place and over the next week or so, I'll be sharing tons of the photos from my trip.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share one to wet your appetite.  Let me set the stage for you. I was in Tel Aviv for the second half of my trip and I decided, without any knowledge of where I was going, to try and get up for sunrise and head over to the Mediterranean to take some photos.  So I set my alarm and got directions for how to go down to the water.  It was about a 20 minute walk and it went off without a hitch.  However once I got there, I realized that there wasn't anything but empty beach around.  I could see the old city far beyond and the sky scrapers of the new city as I looked in the opposite direction, but where I was, there wasn't a lot.  It just goes to show you that when you're in a new place, it really benefits you to do a little research before heading off to take photos. After walking for a little bit and thinking that my morning was hopeless, I happened upon this old pier.  I was stoked and I knew with a long exposure, this had the potential of being a really cool shot.  There was a fisherman on the pier getting ready to fish for breakfast, but after I asked he graciously said he was happy to share the space with me.  The most interesting part of the experience wasn't getting to the sea, it was coming back.  I quickly realized that I had no idea where I had walked to or how to get back to my hotel.  The good news is everybody in Tel Aviv that I ran into was really nice and I felt very safe.  People were more than happy to try and point me in the right direction.  Having my camera with me actually saved me as I couldn't remember the address to my hotel.  The good news was I had taken a photo of the chocolate shop a few blocks down from where I was staying and that photo was still on my camera.  So, not speaking the language wasn't a problem... I could just point to the photo on the back of the camera and folks knew exactly where I was trying to go.  The fact that everybody I asked gave me DIFFERENT directions is besides the point... they meant well.  So that 20 minute walk I took to get me down to the water was over an hour and a half walk to get back!

Here's the photo I came home with:

This photo was taken right at sunrise.  It was a 30 second exposure which is why the water looks so silky and creamy.  Using a long exposure does the exact opposite of what using a fast shutter speed would do.  A fast shutter speed freezes all the action... that would mean the water and waves would freeze right where they were.  The long exposure blurs the area of the image with movement, so although the pier is really sharp (because it wasn't moving), the surrounding water that was flowing in and out is creamy smooth.

This is one photo with lots more to come.  Stay tuned.  I promise there will be at least one that you like and if not I'll give you your money back.