PART 3: Processing your shots
After applauding your choice to invest in featherweight cameras and optics that have the image quality to rival top end digital SLR’s (well, in many scenarios anyway), it all comes down to processing, and turning those files into the beautiful images you knew they’d become. While weight is no longer a huge part of the equation, it is now time to see if we’ve compromised our ability to document our travels for posterity in all their pixel rich glory…
Shot with the Canon EOS-M and 22mm f/2 lens
Depending on your approach, your post processing time may vary. If you didn’t do much in the way of bracketing exposures, or framing panoramas as outlined in Part 2 (click here), it may be a fairly easy batch processing chore. A couple button clicks and then upload them to your Myfacespacestagram account and off you go. For me, I had a bit more work, and if I’m honest, a lot of time in front of the computer. This may or may not be what you’re looking for, but, if you have taken the time to set up larger panoramas and/or hdr brackets, there are not many alternatives to sitting down and processing them all.
My main chores were split between processing my bracketed exposures into a high dynamic range file (HDR), and then stitching many of these images into large panoramic shots.
You can click on any image to get a larger view.
For an idea, here is a diagram of what I did to get the finished pano at the beginning of this post.
All but two of the images in this article were shot using the Olympus OMD-EM5. One shot from camp at Summerland below was shot with the Panasonic GX1. The other is the reflection lake pano above which was shot with the Canon EOS-M. You can see all the gear that was brought along for the trip in Part 1 HERE.
Assuming you’ve been well versed in bracketing exposures and processing HDR files (if not, don’t worry, here’s how you do it) you can process them in your software of choice. Mine, is HDRsoft’s Photomatix.
The idea behind HDR imagery is to capture a broader range of tonality. While it can be processed in a variety of ways, I see it as a digital, modernized version of dodging and burning on an enlarger. Both techniques go about it very differently, but the idea is to stretch the exposure and it’s dynamic range. By capturing, and processing a greater dynamic range, you can help even out exposure disparity in the cases of extreme over or under exposure when necessary to expose for a particular subject or scene.
Single frame HDR’s are easy, and fun to play with.
Shot with the Panasonic GX1 and Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye lens.
In the case of using multiple HDR frames for a stitched panorama, the trick here is to make sure that your exposures and processed HDR files are uniform. As we outlined in PART 2 (click here), making sure you have the same exact exposures for each frame is crucial. Then, when processing them into HDR images, it’s important to keep the processing the exact same as well. The easiest way to do this (of course, assuming you captured the same exact range of exposure for each bracketed series) is to create a preset. Use your first bracketed series as your guinea pig, and once you get it to where you like it, add a saved preset so that for each of the next processed series of bracketed images, all you need to do is push that one button. (Helpful hint: do not introduce any vignetting, or if needed, correct for it because it will play havoc on your final stitched shot, especially in areas of fairly constant color, i.e.: skies, etc)
So, why shoot so many frames, why not just shoot a wider, single frame? Panoramas are by no means the only way to capture sweeping landscapes, but this series was shot with a 200mm equivalent lens which A) got me closer to the action so to speak, and B) allows for detail like this:
Shot with the Olympus OMD-EM5 and the Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS lens.
Those are climbers, miles away from where I was, making the morning ascent to the summit. Not even remotely visible with the naked eye, in fact I didn’t know they were in the picture until reviewing it later. The final, stitched panorama measures in at 17,674 x 5,194 pixels, or just shy of 92 mega pixels which could translate into a print of about 5 feet by 1.5 feet at 300dpi. It would probably have no problem tripling that print size to come in at 15 feet by 4.5 feet at 100dpi, so that is pretty cool.
Here’s an example of the same scene, from a similar location, bracketed, shot and stitched similarly with a 50mm equivalent lens by comparison:
Shot with the Olympus OMD-EM5 and Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux Lens.
When shooting bracketed, stitched panos, you will end up with quite a few piles of processed images and to keep things straight, I like to process each pano as I finish the HDR shots. After I run the 4 or 5 vertically shot frames through their respective laps in Photomatix, I then open them up in Photoshop.
Stitching panoramas has become a remarkably easy thing as long as you follow the basic overlapping suggestions from Part 2, and assuming you have a panorama stitching software like Photoshop (which I use) or for those of us that may be more realistic with their software budget, Photoshop Elements utilizes the same stitching engine, it automates it quickly and remarkably efficiently. Check your computer as many will also have a preinstalled “Pano-Stitch” type program included in various image browsing software programs, or preinstalled on your computer. Here’s how I do it in Photoshop.
- With PS open, I go to FILE > AUTOMATE > PHOTOMERGE
- I choose auto align and navigate to my series of images, normally having been exported as processed, 16bit TIFFS to a project specific folder on my desktop.
- That’s it, there really isn’t a step three.
After the pano has been stitched, I tend to crop, and process from there to finish up the final product.
After originally posting the third piece of this article, I continued to process images from this trip and came across another image I wanted to share.
While on Rainier, I wanted to get some night shots as well. Night shots can be tricky, largely because it is very dark. Any light will fall off quickly and light sources are often many, many stops brighter than the subjects they’re actually lighting. In comes the magic of the composite!
This image is actually three images, one, long exposure of the mountain being lit by the moon, a second much shorter exposure from the same location to expose for the moon in which everything else is pitch black, and thirdly, a long exposure of the night sky to try and capture the milky way. While the micro 4/3 cameras are amazing, one shortcoming may be seen as they’re high ISO/low light performance compared to a modern full frame camera. To really see a huge difference, I think you need to move up to a full frame as even the best APS-C cams aren’t that much better than the newer m4/3 sensors which is mainly why I like the size reduction I get with the micro 4/3 system while maintaining quality images. You can see in the night sky shot that I obviously had to expose for a long period of time (as evidenced by the movement of the stars) to get the milky way to start to show up. To get the shot to be sensitive enough to pick up the milky way, I had to crank the ISO to 3200 on top of having a 30 second exposure. Not optimal for night sky shots. It would have been nice to be able to shorten that up by a stop or two (15 or 8 seconds at ISO 6400 or 12800 respectively) with a full framer, but being what it was, this is my final result.
Finally, I’d like to again thank Yukon Trading Company, Marmot, JetBoil, LEKI Trekking Poles, 43rumors.com, Expert Shield screen protectors, and B&H Photo for the continued support during this ongoing article. I’d also like to thank 1001 Noisy Cameras, BestMirrorlessCameraReviews, Mirrorless Rumors and CanonWatch for the trackbacks to the previous articles. Thanks guys, I really appreciate it! Check them out and for a list of all products used on this adventure, along with weights and links, or how to go about setting up panos and HDR shots, visit the first two parts of the series below…
Shot with the Olympus OMD-EM5 and Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux Lens.
Thanks all and happy shooting.