Monday, July 27, 2009

Panorama Photography Part II

In Panorama Photography Part I, I discussed what panorama photographs are, and why they’re so appealing.

Now in Part II, I discuss techniques for taking photographs for panoramas created from multiple photographs, and stitched together into a single spectacular image.

There are three major rules of thumb to ensure your images can be successfully mated to make a panorama.
  1. You need exposure consistency in your photographs to ensure colors match from photo to photo which make up your image. One of the most common problems in stitching photographs together is differences in the color of the sky, due to inconsistent exposures photo to photo.
  2. You need to ensure there is enough information in adjacent photographs that they can be successfully “glued” together. This accomplished by photo overlap.
  3. You need to eliminate image parallax so that there are no ghosts in your final image and that lines in the panorama are aligned and look normal.
Galapagos: North Seymour Island

Here are my major guidelines for taking photographs to use in creating multiple photo panoramas:

  • Use a tripod to keep all your photos in the same horizontal plane.
  • If your panorama contains parallel vertical or horizontal lines, such as when the panorama includes a fence or building facade it’s important that your lens’ pivot point, or entrance pupil (the optical center of the lens), not the camera, be located directly over the central axis of rotation of the panorama. It’s relatively easy to locate the entrance pupil of a prime, or zoom lens (each focal point). By rotating your camera/lens over the pivot point, the problem of parallax, where the photographer can’t align vertical and/or horizontal lines in pairs of photographs when stitched together disappears. Really Right Stuff, the manufacturer of my panorama head has an excellent tutorial about locating a lens’ pivot point to eliminate parallax. (Please note, that while Really Right Stuff continues to call the pivot point the “nodal point,” which is an incorrect use of terminology, their method of locating the pivot point is the best way I know of to quickly locate and set the pivot point.)
  • You need to keep your exposure settings uniform throughout your images, so their brightness and color will mesh, photo to photo. You should scan the entire scene making note of the aperture and shutter speeds your camera is suggesting, then pick one pair of settings in the middle, or slightly darker to make sure any sky details are preserved and manually set it, so that the settings will remain the same for each photographic image used in the panorama.
  • Monument Valley, UtahAmply overlap each of the images in your panorama. You wouldn’t have liked my photo of Monument Valley with a white bar in it because I failed to overlap each photo enough. I overlap by 30% each time. Some say 15% works just fine, but I prefer more. Increasing the amount of overlap helps reduce “flaring” that happens when the software is forced to use all of the image frame, including the corners which may show distortion depending on your lens choice.
  • Look for movement in your overall scene. While movement in a scene can make it more interesting at times, too many or large blurry areas in your photos can ruin your final panorama. When overlapping images have items which don’t precisely match, you get a blur, which can ruin the shot. I try to take each of my multiple images quickly to avoid the problem of movement. By the way, I do realize that some movement is unavoidable. You just need to minimize it.
  • Shooting with shorter focal length lenses more often than not introduces problems of lens distortion. When there is lens distortion the stitching between side by side images can be unnatural looking. Many wide angle lenses suffer from barrel distortion to varying degrees. You can avoid this problem merely by shooting with longer focal length lenses.
  • You should also minimize the use of filters, to obtain exposure and white balance consistency between the photos which will make up the complete panorama. Polarizing filters, in particular, often darken the corners of your photographs. Depending on the angle of light to the filter they can create a significant variation in sky color from photo to photo in the panorama, preventing you from creating a combined image which looks as one. I never use polarizing filters when shooting panoramas. For that matter almost any filter can add some vignetting to your images, which interferes with good stitching and the final image, so I normally never use a filter on my lens other than the UV filter which I keep on all lenses to protect them.
  • I normally turn off auto focus and preset my focus manually for the entire group of images which will comprise my final panorama photograph. Image size can change with focus shift. If that happens, it’s likely you’ll never be able to achieve a high quality alignment of your stitched photos which make up the overall panorama image.
  • I manually set my white balance of my DSLR to eliminate color shift from photo to photo so they will seamlessly stitch together. This is especially important for landscapes showing substantial sky.
Good luck. Let me know if these guidelines help you put together your next panorama.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego - Ansel Adams: A Life’s Work

Ansel Adams - YosemiteThe Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego mounts eight to ten major exhibitions per year that represent the history of the medium, contemporary works, photojournalism, and varied photographic processes. This is, in my opinion, the outstanding museum concentrating on the photographic arts in the US.

Their current exhibition, Ansel Adams: A Life’s Work, is a fabulous exhibit of one of Photography’s giants.

This exhibition will run through October 4th

The exhibition includes over 80 photographs by the 20th Century master, and celebrates Adams as an artist and conservationist.

A Life's Work features an overview of Adam's work from his early years in Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley, to his work in the Japanese Internment Camp at Manzanar, as well as his well-known masterpieces.

As one of the most celebrated and renowned artists of the 20th century, Ansel Adams expanded the practice and appreciation of photography as no other photographer has before, or since. As an environmentalist and a vital member of the Sierra Club, his efforts as a pioneer and crusader for the preservation and protection of America's natural beauty has been duly celebrated and recognized.

Of all the photographers who have influenced my work, none has had the influence of Ansel Adams, his work, and his teaching about such things as obtaining the right exposure for your photographs.

If you’re in the San Diego area before this exhibition leaves, this is an exhibition which no one should miss.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Panorama Photography Part I

When you go to an exhibition of photographs, what type of photo always seems to be one remembered? It’s the sweeping panorama.

Monument Valley, Utah
Panoramas of a scene seem to take the image to new heights. They make landscapes more dramatic and vivid. Mountains become more majestic. Horizons become more exciting. Even a panoramic style view of great architecture becomes more admirable. The above panorama, made from five photographs stitched together, taken in Monument Valley, far better represents the feeling one gets traveling among the Valley’s natural wonders than squarish photographs.

We’re used to seeing photographs in the typical 3:2 aspect ratio of width to height which started with the invention of the 35mm film format, and is carried through on today’s digital cameras, both the DSLR’s and Point & Shoot varieties. The most common print sizes of 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14, generally adhere closely to the squarish 3:2 ratio.

I think that part of the reason panoramas so appeal to the eye is their departure from the 3:2 format, and the easy way they draw your eye across their “canvas.” The appeal of Cinemascope, the first widely accepted “wide” movie format, is much the same. Cinemascope allowed movies to go to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, twice as wide as the conventional format of 1.33:1. With Cinemascope, the breathtaking beauty of the background of some of the classic movies of the 50’s and 60’s and beyond was greatly enhanced.

Imagine what “Ben Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia” would look like, reduced to a square screen. Without their wide screen aspect ratio, in my opinion, neither of these films would have won an Oscar for “Best Cinematography.”

The Louvre at Night, ParisYou don’t have to limit your panoramas to landscapes, though they are the most familiar use of the wide aspect ratio photograph. Buildings, city-scapes, groups of people, and parades are all great subjects for panoramas. Isn’t this photograph of the Louvre in Paris at night made more dramatic by its wide aspect ratio?

There are two basic methods for producing a panorama photograph. The easiest way is to take a wide angle view of your subject and crop it to produce an image with a wide aspect ratio. This is how I produced the photograph of the Louvre above.

Some Point and Shoot digital cameras have a “Panorama Mode.” If your camera has one, use it. It will enable you to get some spectacular results with some practice.

The other method for creating a panorama photograph is to take several photos of your subject, moving your camera across the subject, being careful to overlap each shot, then stitch them together with an image editor on your computer. Both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements contain tools to stitch photos together, or you can use specialized software to accomplish this task. I use PanaVue Image Assembler for my multi-image panoramas. It allows me excellent control in creating the combination image.

While you can hand hold your camera to take multiple photographs stitched together into a panorama, I strong suggest you use a tripod. Using a tripod allows you to easily keep each photo in the panorama in the same horizontal plane. I use a special panorama head on my tripod for these shots, which makes leveling the tripod easier, and helps you rotate your camera a specific number of degrees between each photo.

While you’re looking horizontally to produce panoramas, there may be some opportunities for vertical panoramas too. Don’t loose sight of these vertical possibilities.

Hubbard Glacier, AlaskaDon’t forget the “Rule of Thirds” when taking panoramas.

Take my word for it, or try it yourself. Placing the bay’s horizon in the lower third of this photo of the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, close to the intersection of the lower third with the middle third, made this panorama much more pleasing to the eye, than if I placed the bay’s horizon across the middle of the photograph.

In Panorama Photography Part II, I will discuss techniques for taking your photographs for multiple image stitched panoramas.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries

Edward Weston, Mexican Cloud, 1926, Courtesy the Getty Museum, Los AngelesThe Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, periodically has terrific photographic exhibitions. Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries is one such exhibit.

This exhibition will run through November 2, 2009
In the decades following the Constitution of 1917, Mexico became a powerful magnet for foreign artists and intellectuals drawn to its ideal climate, dramatic landscapes, and inexpensive cost of living.

Photographer Edward Weston's early biographer, Nancy Newhall, described Mexico as his "Paris," because Weston's short time there had such a lasting impact on his career. In the mid-1920s a vibrant photography movement in Mexico City centered around Weston and his Italian-born lover, Tina Modotti, and, during the 1930s, on the Surrealist-inspired work of Mexican native Manuel Alvarez Bravo, as well as the American photographer and documentary filmmaker Paul Strand.
The exhibition covers a wide range of Weston’s subjects, from portraits to avant-garde nudes, to abstract urban views and landscapes, and much more. The exhibition also includes work by Modotti, Strand, Bravo, and Edward Weston’s son, Brett Weston.

If you’re in the Boston area through November 2nd, I strongly suggest you take in this terrific exhibition.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taking Photos of People while Traveling

Tour guide in full 18th century costume in PhiladelphiaI’ve mentioned it before. Adding people in your travel photos brings context to locations, and often can exemplify, present and unveil the culture of wherever your visiting. Especially if you’re visiting a city, town, or even a rural populated area, including people in your photos can boost their quality and interest.

The problem is, adding people into your photos can be fraught with pitfalls, beyond setting the exposure and focusing your photograph correctly. For example, in the US, it’s generally true that when someone is out in public they have no right to privacy, so therefore, in general, you may photograph them, even if they are recognizable in your photograph, without permission. In France, if someone is included in your photograph and they are at all recognizable, you must have their permission to include them in your photo.

Here are my top 10 suggestions for including people in your travel photographs.
  1. Research the law and customs in the countries and specific locals to which you will be traveling. There is an abundant amount of information on the Internet about this subject, so I would start there. Consulting with a professional travel photographer may be helpful, however, don’t expect to get specific “legal advice” from a pro travel photographer, unless they happen to be attorneys too. I know I scrupulously stay clear of offering “legal advice” about this subject.
  2. If people end up in my photographs incidentally, such as in the street scenes I took at the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Championship parade, I don’t seek their permission to have their photographs taken. Most of them aren’t recognizable anyway.
  3. If I’m at a performance or concert, if there had been no directive which bans photography at the event, the performers are normally considered public figures (public, limited, or involuntary) and therefore I generally don’t ask permission to take photos of the event and its performers.
  4. Phillies fan at 2008 World Series victory parade in PhiladelphiaIf a person is the main subject of my photograph I request permission to take their photograph, such as in this portrait of a woman at the Phillies parade all decked out in her Phillies clothing and jewelry, with her World Series memorabilia.
  5. Most of the time, asking permission to take someone’s photo means catching their eye, smiling, then pointing to my camera. I asked the question that very way to the gentlemen at the top of the article, who leads tours of historic Philadelphia in full 18th century costume. Such gestures and motions normally cross all language barriers. It’s been very rare I’ve been turned down.
  6. If my intent is to offer the photograph I’m taking for sale, I always attempt to get written permission to take the photo of the person. I have a bunch of release forms, and a pen, I carry in my bag for such a purpose. As stated before, I’m a photographer, not an attorney so I’m not going into the legal ins and out of this subject.
  7. When I ask someone to take their photograph, I try to keep in mind the tone and words I’d like to hear from a photographer asking me for permission to take my photo.
  8. Family in front of Old Christ Church along Market Street in PhiladelphiaIf I’m taking a photograph of children, I always attempt to obtain permission from their parent(s). Sometimes this can be very difficult considering the persistence of kids who want their photo taken, or because the parents or a sitter aren’t around, and because of the fear these days of child pornography, whether real or misplaced.
  9. If someone says no, or says yes, but seems uncomfortable when I go to photograph them, I don’t take their photograph. In some cultures people want to be very polite and say go ahead, even though they prefer not to have their photograph taken. In some cultures they believe a photograph will capture their spirit and absolutely don’t want their photograph taken. Sometimes a person is just shy and can’t say no, even though they want to. I never take out a long lens to sneak in a photograph of a person if they don’t want their photo taken.
  10. Short of sending a copy of the photo to someone I’m photographing while traveling, I’ve never “paid” to take a photograph of a person. I know some who have paid cash, and others who have given token gifts for the photos. I don’t do that.
Those are my suggestions and general rules of thumb for taking photographs of people while traveling. If you have some more good ones, put them in the comments, or email me.

Photography Exhibition: The Art Institute of Chicago - Photography of Judith Turner

From Columns and LeavesThe Art Institute of Chicago, regularly has extraordinary photographic exhibitions. I haven’t seen this particular exhibition, however, I am familiar with the work of Judith Turner and can’t imagine this exhibition wouldn’t be absolutely great.

This exhibition will run through January, 2010

Turner is most often described as an “architects’ photographer and a photographer of architecture.” She has been taking pictures since the early seventies, and has photographed iconic, modern buildings by internationally known architects such as Richard Meier, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Kohn Pedersen Fox, as well as Zaha Hadid, Fumihiko Maki and Shigeru Ban. She has also photographed fragments from architecture and nature, uncovering the essence and structure of columns, glass facades, leaves and trees.

Turner employs a unique approach to photography, capturing her subjects at close proximity and emphasizing their unique design and form. This is especially evident in the artist's series of metallic pictures of leaves and columns. A more recent series of prints featuring billboards and other large-scale advertisements in Times Square, are also photographed within startling proximity to the subjects.

If you’re in the Chicago area before this exhibition leaves, I strongly suggest you take it in. I will definitely be seeing it during my next visit to Chicago.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Traveling to Europe this summer? Keep your camera equipment and valuables safe!

Philadelphia SkylineSince I published my two part article Tips for Urban Photography, I have had many requests to write a follow-up article on keeping your photographic equipment safe while traveling.

If you travel with or without a camera, you need to take precautions against having your camera, valuables and other belongings stolen.

Alice, a Rome theft victim relates, “Hah! Well our camera was stolen last March (2007) from between our 'bottoms' in the middle of a mass in a church in Rome where we sat in a pew!…While the camera was not at all valuable, the first half of our trip's pictures were all gone.”

Here’s some precautions that travelers should take when anywhere, plus some for those engaging in travel photography, and since I’ll be in Europe later this year, I’ve included a few tips specifically for European travel.
  • Paris MetroBe aware of your surroundings — Don't just look, see! Study your surroundings for things that make you uncomfortable, and go elsewhere if it doesn't feel right. Don't stroll blindly into a crowd.
  • Research the areas to which you’re traveling, for safety — Know what areas in the city are safe and what areas are not. Know where it's alright to go during the day and where to avoid at night. Check with the concierge at your hotel. Talk to your travel agent. Use travel books. Review the US State Department’s “Country Specific Information.
  • Blend in as much as possible — Wear clothing similar to the locals; no shorts or jogging suits, sports team clothes, baseball caps, white sneakers, shirts with funny sayings or political opinions, and absolutely no flashy jewelry.
  • There are pickpockets in major tourist destinations like Rome, Florence, and Barcelona — Day or night, locations like Barcelona’s "La Rambla" are both a great place to take photos and a major pickpocketing area. Consider carrying your valuables (money, passport, credit cards) in a sturdy, below-the-belt security wallet. Don't carry them in your back pocket. At least use your front pockets. Keep your passport, separate from your cash, and credit cards. Take 2 different credit cards on your trip. Carry one, and leave the other in a safe at the hotel.
  • Secure valuables left in your hotel room when out — Use the room or hotel safe. Put excess equipment and valuables in a concealed bag secured with a steel locking mesh.
  • Minimize the amount of cash you carry on the street —  Leave your excess cash in the hotel or room safe. Use ATM’s, carefully protecting your PIN number, to obtain cash as needed.
  • Don’t advertise your camera — Keep your camera in a bag, preferably a plain non-neon bag, not one that has Nikon, Canon or Kodak plastered all over it. It's much safer for the camera and you.
  • Make sure your camera and equipment are insured — Then if something happens you won't be inclined to save it, at your own peril.
  • Leave your used memory cards in your room — If your equipment is unfortunately stolen, your valuable photos will be safe if you don’t have them with you.
  • Amsterdam, on the Damark viewing Central StationWatch out for cut-snatch-and-run thieves for cameras around your neck, sling bags and shoulder bags — Thieves grab at cameras and bags, then with a very sharp knife cut off the strap and quickly disappear into the crowd with your equipment. Use a steel cable reinforced neck strap on your camera with a steel cable. Consider using an anti-theft camera bag to carry your extra lenses and other equipment.
  • Don’t put your camera and equipment down when you rest or eat — Avoid snatch and run theft at sidewalk cafés and while resting on park benches. Put the strap of your bag around chair legs or your legs, and keep the bag in between your legs, or just keep them on you. Don’t put your equipment on the café table top.
  • Watch out for the little motor scooters weaving through areas heavy with foot traffic — They’ll be eyeing your camera bag. If you hear or see them "be aware of them!" Hold onto your bag tightly and be prepared to kick the bike away, if it's not going too fast. Let go if they've managed to grab on. Whatever's in there isn't worth losing an arm.
  • Watch out for the “Cardboard Gypsies” — They’re the unwashed kids coming toward you carrying a piece of cardboard with gibberish written on it. The cardboard is to distract you while they pick you clean.
  • Beware of women with over-swaddled babies in the heat of summer — If you're on a crowded subway next to an overdressed woman holding an equally overdressed toddler, it's likely the excess cloth is hiding her wandering hands. Don't be distracted by the cute, sweaty kid. Move away from them.

Photography Exhibition: The Philadelphia Museum of Art - Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960s and 1970s

Composites: Philadelphia, 1964, Ray K. Metzker, AmericanThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, since opening its Perelman Building in 2007, across the Kelly Drive from the main building, has been hosting some of the best photographic exhibitions in the US. Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960s and 1970s should be no exception.

This exhibition will run from September 12, 2009 - January 31, 2010
Common Ground examines a critical period for the art of photography and for the Philadelphia art scene. In the 1960s, photographers including Emmet Gowin, Will Larson, and Ray K. Metzker, among the first generation of photographers trained in university art departments, all came to Philadelphia to teach in the city’s renowned art schools, bringing with them experimental approaches to the medium.

Common Ground brings together work by these internationally acclaimed artists and superb work by lesser-known figures, including some of their students, who pushed photographic experimentation to explore both the medium and the social and sexual politics of the era. In addition to highlighting eight strong bodies of work, the exhibition demonstrates the rich exchange of ideas possible within a city’s artistic community.
If you’re in the Philadelphia, PA area this fall through mid winter, I strongly suggest you take in what I expect will be a terrific exhibition. I know I plan to be there and closely examine the art of these Philadelphia photographers, who’s work I have admired.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.