Big, Wide, & Open

Photo by Craig Hergert
Photo by Craig Hergert

Big, Wide, & Open

Hergert, Craig
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With the landscape around us so vast, and a world of technology and information at your fingertips, why constrain your composition to a tiny rectangle in your camera viewfinder? At this point in your photography obsession, you’ve probably tried to stitch together a panorama or two with your camera (or maybe even your phone), but don’t stop there—go big! Think of your viewfinder more as a single tile in a large mosaic of a composition. You can now shoot multi-row panoramas, square formats with six or eight overlapped shots, or even a giant “gigapixel” image that overlaps hundreds of images to compose a final large-resolution file perfect for printing big, sharp prints.

In the past, if you wanted to shoot in a different format, you were constrained to the size of film and chosen camera. These days, I typically use a Canon 5D MKII, a 21-megapixel, full-frame body with three basic lenses: a 17-40mm, 24mm tilt-shift, and a 100-400mm. When shooting and stitching seven to ten images, the resolution and size of the final stitched image rivals or even surpasses the quality from the film transparencies.

Shoot in Manual Mode
All you need is a camera that allows you to shoot in manual mode. The key here is to keep all of the images exactly the same. To ensure that this happens, exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus, focal length, and white balance all need to be set and locked.

Use a Tripod
If you’re just starting out, any tripod will do. Don’t let the manufacturers wow you with carbon fiber and shiny stuff. A multi-row panoramic tripod head can help yield better results, but isn’t always necessary.

Overlap, Process, and Stitch
You’ll want to overlap at least 1/3 of each frame over the next to make sure you have plenty of information for the stitching software. There are many great stitching programs out there, or you can just use the panorama feature in Photoshop.

Share and Print
In our digital world, most people only view their images on some type of screen. Therefore, a big printed piece is just what you need to set yourself apart from the rest. Just wait and see what your new large format image looks like on a 60x60-inch canvas! Many local and online retailers offer big printing services. Montana Panoramic will be opening a large format giclée printing and framing service this year, right here in town. Check it out at panoramicprinters.com.

Keep in mind that it’s easy to get caught up in the technology, gadgetry, and cool new equipment. But the most valuable tool out there is the one between your ears. Neat tricks and shooting techniques do not override the importance of good composition. Educate yourself, be prepared, get out there and shoot, learn to use the delete button, try to be in the right place at the right time, and of course... a little luck never hurts.

Craig Hergert is the author of Montana: Skiing the Last Best Place. See more of his work at montanapanoramic.com.

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