Long exposures at night with moving clouds can make stitching 360 panoramas difficult. The 6 panos in virtual tour below were shot some time ago. Over the last 6 months I’ve finally developed a reasonably efficient post-processing technique to get the clouds to stitch smoothly. I’ve also upgraded my pano player software to Pano2VR Pro, which makes building a virtual tour really fast. I’ll be adding 1-2 more panos to the tour over the next few weeks, and then creating a separate tour for another part of the facility. In a regular web browser, click the button on the bottom right to go full screen. The virtual tour also works on on iPad or iPhone. Enjoy the panos!
Sometimes I get emails from students who have an assignment to interview a photographer. These interviews are often a good reminder to re-examine how I tell the story of my photographs. Recently I received some questions from a student on the Isle of Wight:
1) What inspired you to do the style of art you do?
My inspirations evolve every day. In addition to photography, I’m also inspired by film, music, and design. I’m a firm believer in the idea that paying attention to a wide range of artistic inputs helps your artistic output immeasurably. This could be the clean lines in the design of a chair. Or how an album sounds on a new pair of headphones. Everything can have a subtle influence on your art if you pay attention.
Ten years ago, photography and lighting workshops led me to the desert and I fell in love. From old ghost towns to more modern day ruins, there is a special feeling when you stand in a place where humans have come and gone. Visiting these places under the light of the full moon intensifies the energy. I hope I can capture a little bit of that feeling with my camera.
2) Have you always been interested in photography?
I’ve been interested in photography since high school, but music was my primary artistic outlet for 15 years. I started on piano, then guitar, and finally upright bass. A series of events around 1999 led to my slow transition from music to photography. By 2003 I didn’t own any musical instruments, just cameras.
3) Who bought you your first camera?
First camera stories are the stuff that bad artists’ statements are made of. Equipment needs to be easy to operate, reliable, and produce the intended results. Cameras come and go – it’s the photographs that count.
That being said, here’s my first camera story: My dad gave me a Petri 7 rangefinder camera that he had purchased while in the Army. The Petri had a fixed 45mm lens, and also included wide and telephoto screw-on lenses. When you used the screw-on lenses you had to use an auxiliary viewfinder and compensate on the focus scale. I would not call it easy to operate, but it was fun.
4) Did you take art or photography at school?
I studied electronic music and jazz in school, and somehow got a degree in literature. I lived near the college darkroom, and a friend who was a photo major taught me to develop and print. I also worked in a black and white lab for a short time. We used to buy old 620 cameras at thrift stores and jam 120 film into them. Photography was something fun to do when I wasn’t playing music.
5) What gave you the idea of taking photos of abandoned places?
I’ve always been fascinated with ghost towns and ruins. There is a rich photographic history of this type of work back to the 19th century. We live in an interesting time. A lot of what was built after World War II has come and gone. Photographs are a way to record the last gasp of these places before they’ve disappeared. There’s a line from a song that says: “how strange it is to be anything at all.” Examining ruins under the moonlight is a way to tap into the mystery of being alive.
Figures rendered in glow-in-the-dark paint walk in the shadows of these 19th century stone ruins. Explore the interactive version of the 360º panorama below, or here’s a gyroscope enabled iPad and iPhone version of the pano that you can navigate by moving the device. Point your iPad up to the sky and spin around!
360 Panorama Equipment and Exposure
This spherical panorama was shot with a Canon EOS 60D and a Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 8mm. Four exposures were made with the camera in the vertical position on a Really Right Stuff PG-02 panohead with a 192 FAS nodal slide. Each exposure was 2.5 minutes at f/8, ISO 800.
The weather was in the low 60′s at 9:30pm when I made this image. Under typical full moon conditions, the exposure time for these panoramas is about 1:15 or 1:30. Because the moon wasn’t quite full yet and this area was quite dark, this image needed a longer exposure time. Even with doubling the exposure time for an extra stop of light, I still had to boost the exposure in Lightroom by +0.60. The resulting image was incredibly noisy.
Extreme Noise Reduction in Lightroom
At first glance, I didn’t think the pano would be usable. Normally my luminance noise reduction settings in Lightroom have an amount between 2-10. I cranked up the noise reduction to twice those settings, but the noise still looked terrible. I tried various Photoshop noise reduction tricks, but still wasn’t happy with the massive luminance and color noise in the shadows. After some experimenting, I was able to get the noise reduction right by turning the detail slider way down. If you’ve got a really noisy image, you may need to sacrifice detail in order to smooth out the noise. I increased the sharpening settings slightly to compensate. A before and after noise reduction comparison is below, along with the Lightroom noise reduction settings.
Lessons Learned for Future 360 Night Panos
This is by far the most noise reduction that I’ve ever used on a finished image. Next time I’ll use Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) in the camera. When shooting panos at night, it’s important to keep the exposures short and not wait too long between exposures so the stars stay aligned properly when stitching the image together. Some Canon digital SLRs such as the EOS 5D Mark II, allow you to shoot right away without waiting for LENR to run. The LENR is held in a buffer until you finish all of your shots, and then runs on the images in the buffer. This technique would have allowed for slightly crisper images with less post-processing.
A secret location found in a library book, investigated on a 20 year old map, and accessed through extensive and humorously unnecessary bushwhacking. This beautiful circular wooden library is in quite good condition. I’d like to fill up the bookshelves, dust off the mattress, and move in. Use your mouse to take a look around. Go full screen with the button on the bottom right, it’s the next best thing to being there.
The 360º full moon night panorama of the stone ruins at an abandoned 19th century resort involved a somewhat precarious camera position. I climbed up a low stone wall into the broken up rocks and overgrown trees and shrubs next to the building. Adjusting the tripod legs on the rocks to get the camera stable was a challenge. Shooting 6-shots around for the panorama involved finding stable footing between camera rotations without upsetting the rocks that were supporting the camera. The pano stitched together just fine, and turned out to be worth the effort. Use your mouse to navigate around the image — the button on the bottom right will take you full screen!