Posts Tagged ‘composition’

On a recent trip to Slovakia, I took a lot of pictures, many of them in panoramic format. I thought, combining the recent impressions from Slovakia with a short essay on panoramic viewpoint would make an interesting article.

I have been active in the panoramic community for almost two decades now, and the possibilities still amaze me. Originally, I started with film cameras and used wide-format fixed Fuji GX617, swing-lens Noblex, and rotational Seitz Roundshots. The specialized panoramic cameras were very expensive, so were the films and naturally, also the film and print processing. Although the stitching concepts emerged more than 15 years ago, originally we were fusing scanned slides, which was a lot of work, and often quite inferior to the large format panoramic film images. However, the panoramic stitching methods changed dramatically in the last ten years with the introduction of Canon 20D and newer digital cameras. The progress has been relentless and using the latest crop of large megapixel cameras, motorized accessories like Gigapan, and latest software stitching tools, it is now possible to construct very impressive panoramas.

Nevertheless, the challenges of composition and panoramic viewpoints remain today the same as hundred years ago. Anybody even with a simple pocket camera can now create a long and skinny print, but it takes some experience and practice to see and display the scenes in a pleasing panoramic format.

What is actually a panorama? A classic definition states that a panoramic image should be at least twice as long as high, but there are some Gigapan panoramas in huge 4:3 or 3:2 formats, assembled from hundreds of individual images, and sometimes you’ll see also very tall pictures, called vertical panoramas. And there are the screen-only-based spherical panoramas. To add more complexity to the subject, we are dealing not only with the actual physical format, but also with a panoramic viewpoint.

Simple panoramas with a single point of interest can be seen and digested with a single glance, some short-distance rotational panoramas with curved streets and corners have to be studied and analyzed, and then there are some sophisticated panoramas that are similar to old master paintings depicting large groups of people and other objects, telling complete and complex stories.

Let’s move from the theory to practice, and I will use the examples just from my recent trip. On that journey, I didn’t carry any specialized panoramic camera, and most images were taken handheld by a dSLR with a 50mm lens and stitched later together in Photoshop CS5.

The first picture on the top is of Spissky Castle in eastern Slovakia, one of the biggest medieval castles in central Europe. The ruins of this partially restored castle are photogenic enough to produce a pleasing image even in the conventional 3:2 format. However, I found the entire scene so enticing, that a panoramic format seemed more appropriate. This panoramic picture was combined from six vertical and slightly overlapped images. Picture like this really should be viewed on a huge wall-sized print, but if you look carefully, even the small screen version tells a story (click on the image to see a slightly larger version).

Initially, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the castle on the right, and then he becomes aware of the countryside around – several villages and hamlets in the centre, a road and plowed fields in the foreground, mountains in the far distance, and a beautiful sky with picturesque clouds.

The picture below in a conventional 3:2 format conveys a completely diferent feeling. The focus is primarily on the castle, and even the vilage below serves just as an underlining border to emphasize the hill with the castle. Not better or worse than the panorama, but definitely a picture with a very different feel.

The next panorama shows an apartment building subdivision in town Poprad against the backdrop of High Tatra mountain range.

In this case, the panorama is much simpler, showing four separate vertical segments – a field, city, mountain range, and a sky with clouds. All four bands are very symmetrical, spanning the entire width of the image.

The next landscape panorama is yet slightly different in structure.

A large green meadow in the middle, and a mountain range in the background. A small cabin on the right side is the focal point in the picture, and the trees and bushes on both sides contribute to a nicely balanced image.

Panoramas can be also very effective in the urban places. The following scene shows two streets with renovated buildings in the town of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia. A short conventional picture couldn’t accommodate this amount of information, whereas the panoramic picture depicts the entire scene very naturally, almost exactly as experienced with our own eyes.

The problem in many cities, especially in Europe, are the parked cars. Often they ruin the street scene for you. Whenever possible, I look for pedestrian zones. The following picture shows the main square in the same town, devoid of any cars.

Shooting doesn’t have to be confined to the day light. Sometimes, the night lighting will provide special effects, suitable also for panoramas. Here is a night capture of the main square in Bardejov, a famous health spa town in eastern Slovakia.

Sometimes, there is so much colour in the scene, that you really need a wide canvass to show it all. Here is a picture of Banska Stiavnica, a medieval mining town, proclaimed by the UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site.

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