For my second installment of “How Did You Get That Shot” I wanted to talk about this 30 image HDR Panorama taken at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia, PA.
I was in Philadelphia for business during the week and had extended my stay to shoot with some of my Olympus friends who had a planned agenda to go around the city to different locations which was great. It was a wonderful photography weekend. The one thing I hadn’t planned on though was to capture some of my favorite imagery in a place not on the agenda at all. A place that just happened to be near my hotel, The Navy Yard. The explorer in me is always looking for that next cool place that I haven’t seen before, the one that will allow me to make and image or two that becomes memorable and is a marker for that visit. I found it by just driving around the back of the hotel and somewhat getting lost to come upon these amazing naval ships all docked and in their glory. I could see a great morning or evening picture in my mind.
Knowing that I was going to be in town a couple days it allowed me to take some scouting rides past the ships to imagine what they might look like in the morning and evening. I first tried to shoot in the morning with another Olympus shooter and we loved the images we captured but I felt we could get more in the evening, knowing the sun was going to be setting behind this certain row of ships out in the distance. So, after being out all day shooting some amazing sites in the city and beyond, we came back to have a bite to eat near the hotel, just before sunset. I don’t normally recommend or write about restaurants on my site but if you are in the area it is worth checking out Lo Spiedo. It was a great place for us to eat and just relax outside watching the sun go down with the vision of these monster ships just behind us waiting to be photographed. We were able to talk about the great day of shooting and discuss how we wanted to capture some marvelous images of the ships as the sun went down behind them. The sun was getting lower so we wrapped up dinner and grabbed our gear.
Once over in the Navy Yard area we had choices all over on how to shoot, wide expanses, up close with a long zoom, you name it. I think I have a few shots I really liked but I have always wanted to try doing a panorama shot in HDR, High Dynamic Range. Panoramas can take as many shots as you like but I normally take about 5 to 8 and stitch them together in Photoshop. But, when you do an HDR Panorama, you are taking multiple exposures at every one of your stops meaning when you take 10 stops to capture the breadth of the scene, which is what I did, you are actually taking 30 images. Each image had a +2, 0 and -2 exposure. Each set of 3 images needed to be merged into an HDR image before they could even start to be stitched together as a panorama. I loved the sunlight that I was getting behind the ships on the right and I wanted to capture the Girard Point Bridge which crosses the Schuylkill River on the left. It was such a grand expanse and I thought this is where I needed to experiment with making that HDR Panorama I always wanted…
As far as the technical skills to capture this scene I will be brief. There are many places on the web that talk about making the perfect panorama and the only way to perfect your skill in panoramas is to keep trying and making mistakes along the way. I will in no way say I have the answers because not only do I not do panoramas all the time, I’m a street photographer, this isn’t my forte if you will, but I did love the scene and I am always looking to experiment with my photography. Any tips I give you here are not the end all for shooting panoramas or landscape photos. I still have a lot to learn. I try to shoot panoramas a bit like I shoot panning shots in the streets. I make sure I have a strong base with my feet and know the area immediately around me. Before I ever shoot, I scan the image I want to make through the viewfinder like I was snapping the panorama I want to eventually get. Just like panning, I always coil my body to one side and end by uncoiling at the other side. I never move my feet or arms in and out. I try to lock my arms in a position that can be maintained throughout the pan. Now of course you can do this on a tripod but I trust the image stabilization in my Olympus OM-D E-M5 MarkII so much, I was even using the 40-150mm Pro Lens on my camera at the time. My camera was in portrait mode so I could get slices of the landscape and capture the sky along with the water and ships to the right. When I shoot panoramas I try to shoot each section and uncoil just enough to overlap about 25% from the previous shot. This will give the stitching program enough of the image to work with in the end when it does its job. My camera settings were in manual so I could maintain the same exposure level and focus area throughout the 30 shots. Once I had all that dialed in I started to take the images 3 at a time at each of the 10 stops.
One last tip is always take a lead in and lead out shot of your hand. I do this so I know where the pan starts and where the pan ends. If you are trying a few pans this is a good technique when you get all those images back into Lightroom, other wise you may not know where one set begins or ends. I just look for my out of focus hand and I know that was either the beginning or end of my pan.
Once back in Lightroom I use the new HDR merge option for each of the 3 images per stop. I mark the new HDR image with a green identifier in Lightroom so I can easily pick them out when I am ready to put the images together for the pan. I look for the green identified images, 10 of them in this case, select them and right click to bring up Photomerge > Panorama and let Lightroom do its magic. You can select from three different kinds of panoramas or let it choose the best option for you. I looked at all three and ended up taking the best option box in the end. After the panorama is made I adjusted the horizon and worked on the sky a bit with the gradient filters. Once done there I took it over to the OnOne Suite 9.5 for some enhancements in the sky by adding some textures and making sure those same textures didn’t add anything to the boat textures already there. I roundtripped it back to Lightroom, added a small vignette and finished the image.
After completing the process, which was much longer than I would normally spend with an image, I was happy with my results and look forward to the next time I get the opportunity to shoot a panorama in HDR. I have learned something, captured a beautiful scene at the end of a long day with friends taking images in a great city. Wow, that was FUN!
Here are 3 of the 30 images unprocessed as an example…