There’s an extensive interview with me about shooting abandoned places at night over on Digital Trends. I talk about why I love night photography, how I got started, gear, location access, and technique. There’s also a portfolio of 10 images. Enjoy!
A 360 degree full moon panorama of a 4×4 rock crawling obstacle course in California’s Central Valley. Go full screen with the button on the bottom right. Check out that muddy tire pit — think you could make it?
The 8-shot panorama above features telephone lines that are not stitching correctly in Photoshop CS6 or PTGui 9 with the standard software settings. The images were shot with an 18mm Olympus lens mounted vertically on a 5D Mark II. The camera was on a nodal slide, but the setting wasn’t perfect. The power lines were also moving in the wind. You can download a zipped folder with 2000×3000 jpeg versions of all 8 images (33MB download).
Do you have a good panorama stitching technique for correcting parallax error in long sections of telephone wires? The warp tool and masking in Photoshop is too tedious. There has to be a better way. Thanks for taking the time to give this stitch a try — I’ll be curious to see if anyone has a good way to fix the wires!
Update: Below are 2 techniques to solve the powerline panorama problem:
1. Puppet Warp to the rescue — Over on fredmiranda.com, a photographer from Mexico who goes by the name Eyeball provided an excellent step-by-step technique for fixing power lines using Puppet Warp:
- Do a copy merge of a section of the power line up to the break. You want to select a long enough piece of the line that the slight change in direction won’t be noticed.
- Paste to a new layer.
- Do an Edit>Puppet Warp on the layer with the piece of power line. Select a pivot point at each end of the segment as close to the line as possible.
- Move the end of the line to eliminate the discontinuity.
- Accept the Puppet Warp change.
- Use a quick clone edit to remove any fuzziness around where the line connects.
2. PTGui’s horizontal control points — On panoguide.com, photographer John Houghton from the UK provided a PTGui technique using horizontal control points and an optimizer plugin for PTGui from 2001. This also worked quite nicely. John went the extra mile and provided a PTGui file so I could see his technique.
One thing I love about panoramas is the wonderful community of photographers who will go out of their way to help you. Thanks to Eyeball and John for their help with the powerline panorama problem. Cheers!
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.
Six interactive 360º panoramas are included in the full moon virtual tour of Eagle Field. Look for the red hot spots to navigate between panos. If you’re on an iPad or iPhone, you can navigate the pano by moving your device around. My portfolio site has more night photography from Eagle Field.
Panorama Gear and Technique
All of the panos were shot with a Canon EOS 6D and an 8-15mm fisheye lens. I used a Really Right Stuff PG-02 panohead on a Nodal Ninja rotator and leveling base. The files were processed in Lightroom and stitched using PTGui Pro. The interactive panos and tour were created using Pano2VR.
Most of the exterior shots were 90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800. The exteriors are 4-shots-around at 12mm with a 5th shot to patch the ground (nadir). The interior of the hangar was 6-around at 15mm plus a zenith (up) and nadir (down). Shooting 6-around provides more resolution, but 4-around was necessary outside due to the fast moving clouds.
Even with the short exposures, blending the clouds between shots was sometimes difficult. In the junkyard image above, the Enblend plugin for PTGui did a better job with the clouds. Enblend couldn’t stitch the foreground well, and the stars weren’t as sharp. So I output a second version with the standard PTGui blender, and combined the two files in Photoshop.
Blending bracketed exposures without that HDR look
The shot of the plane outside the hangar required a lot of dynamic range, and includes 6 bracketed images at each camera position. The 5-shot bracketing available in the EOS 6D’s custom menu worked well, but only goes up to 30 seconds. I switched the camera from M to B and used a timer remote for a longer exposure of 75 seconds at each camera position.
PTGui’s Exposure Fusion was used to combine the bracketed exposures. I’ve been impressed with Exposure Fusion’s ability to quickly create natural looking images. The controls are simple, with only 4 sliders. I’ve found that about .5 of highlight reduction and .5 of shadow boost with a Sigma setting of .11 is a good place to start.
Reducing the orange glow of Sodium Vapor lighting
Before stitching and blending, I wanted to reduce the intensity of the orange sodium vapor lighting in Lightroom. Placing the white balance eye-dropper on a silver airplane or gray sidewalk yields a color temperature of 2000K. This makes the sky a deep intense cyan that looks wrong. A tungsten balance of 2850K looks a lot more natural. I finally settled on a slightly warmer 3250K for the overall scene.
The easiest first step for neutralizing sodium vapor is to switch to the Camera Neutral profile under camera calibration (the bottom panel on the right in Lightroom’s Develop module). This also works in Adobe Camera RAW. Then I slightly reduced the orange and yellow saturation in the HSL panel. This looks more natural than using bigger desaturation moves to deal with the orange cast, especially when the image will be viewed alongside other photos from the same location.
I hope these technical tips are helpful for a few people!