Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

The making of Sheas 06

In these next few pages I want to walk through the making of one of my images - Sheas 06. I selected this image for an example because it incorporates a number of the techniques I might use on any image.

  • High Resolution Image Capture with a Spherical Panorama Head
  • Stitching into a larger Mosaic
  • Bracketing Exposures
  • HDR
  • Monochrome conversion from color sources
  • Local Contrast Enhancement

Here is the final image.

Sheas Theater Final
Sheas 06


Part One - The Capture

Initial Tasks

Camera White Balance

Before even beginning to compose an image I like to set my white balance. I shoot in RAW so I can adjust the white balance later when I get to processing the images but setting a preliminary white balance lets the camera know what it's dealing with and gets my histograms in the ball park. This is very helpful when it comes time to start judging exposures.

I have a translucent white lens cap that I got on eBay for a few dollars that just pops on the front of my lens. I stand in the subject plane and point the camera in the general direction that I will be shooting from so that the predominant light sources are falling right on the lens cap and set the White Balance. This doesn't have to be perfect because I will also take a shot with a gray card in the scene for accurately setting the white balance later.

Panorama Head

This image is going to be captured in sections using a Sherical Panorama Head and stitched together later in software. My general approach is to divide the scene into 9 overlapping frames of 3 rows by 3 columns. Each section of the image is captured at the full resolution of the camera's sensor and later when all the sections are stitched together I will have a single image of around 90 megapixels.


Spherical Panorama Head
Spherical Panorama Head


This is only possible because the Sherical Panorama Head rotates the image around the No Parallax Point of the lens. Every lens has a different location for the No Parallax Point and the Panhead needs to be adjusted for the lens currently in use. I know I will capture this image at 50mm so the first thing to check is that the camera is at the correct distance on the panorama head. For this lens at 50mm I have determined that the camera's tripod mount needs to be 74mm from the point of rotation.



To begin composing I set focusing to Manual. I'm going to determine the correct focus point later and I don't want it to change while I'm making my exposures.


Original Scene
Original Scene


My Tamron 17-50mm lens is ideal for this kind of work. I compose the scene at 17mm and then make my captures at 50mm. The convenience of this lens is that I will be shooting a 3x3 matrix and 50mm is almost exactly 3 times 17mm. Even though the zoom ratio is 3:1 I have to account for the 20% overlap in the frames necessary for stitching. This just means I need to frame the scene with a bit of excess area included and make sure that nothing critical is near the edges.

An easy way to do that is to get the perfect composition and then move the tripod a couple of steps back.




With the image composed and framed I need to decide where to focus and what aperture to use for my desired Depth of Field. I have a handy application for my iPod Touch for calculating Depth of Field. I could have just guessed and picked a spot to focus on but I'm going through a lot of trouble to capture this image and I'd like to get it right.

Aperture selection with APS-C size digital cameras should be considered carefully because of diffraction. I want to make sure I maximize my depth of Field with out losing shaprness to diffreaction. While it's true that diffraction at smaller apertures robs your image of sharpness you have to think of all the elements of the system together when making your assessment including sensor size and print viewing distance. My general rule of thumb is that since I will be effectively increasing my camera sensor size by a factor of 3 the aperture where I am diffraction limited is increased by three stops. I'm sure that isn't exactly true but I have run through enough diffraction calculations to satisfy myself to the general rule.


DOF Application for iPhone


With a Depth of Field application on my iPod it's a snap to determine what aperture I need and what point to focus on. First I need to know the distances that I want to set my DOF for. Standing at the tripod I start walking toward the subject and count paces to the nearest and farthest points in the scene. Once I know the distances to include I can use the Depth of Field application to determine what aperture is required and what distance to focus on. I found I needed to focus at 17 feet and use an aperture of f/16.

You might notice that this is a very dim scene and focusing on an arbitray point can be difficult. The iPod now becomes a focus target. I paced off 17 feet and placed the iPod in the scene. I now have a bright clear contrasty point to focus on. Remember that Focusing is set to manual.

Shutter Speed

One really nice feature of digital cameras is the immediate feedback you get from looking at the image and it's histogram on the LCD display. In the past I would have looked my scene and with my spot meter measured the brightest and darkest areas of my image that needed to retain detail. From this information I would plan my exposure and processing. Expose for the Shadows and develop for the highlights.

Now I work through the same basic concepts but the process is a bit different. I use the camera iteslf to provide me with the information. I can manually set my exposure and view the histogram until I find the longest exposure required to capture my shadow detail and the shortest exposure required to maintain highlight detail. Knowing these I will make bracketed exposures to cover the full range. I guess my new paradigm is expose for the shadows and the highlights and everything in between and worry about the processing later. Remember, you can't easily make up image detail after the fact so the goal is to capture as much information now as you will need later to build the image.

Configure Bracketing

Bracketing will always be done by varying the shutter speed. For this scene I found my shadow exposure to be 30 seconds at f/16 and and my highlight to be 0.6 seconds at f/16. I set my camera to 3 seconds at f/16 and the automatic bracket mode to capture 7 frames at 1 EV intervals.


7 Bracketed Exposures


Depending on the range of shutter speeds needed for the image I might set the shutter mode to continuous. This has the benefit of being able to hold the shutter release button down and the D300 will cycle through each exposure in the bracket set and then stop. For this image I set the mode to Mirror Up so that the first press of the shutter release locks the mirror in the up position and the second releases the sutter. This makes for lots of extra presses but it ensures the highest capture quality. A potential problem here is that I have to be sure to capture each exposure in the set before moving on. That means 14 presses of the shutter release. It is heartbreaking to get back home and start processing what you think is going to be a really nice image only to find out you missed one exposure and the whole set is ruined. This does happen.



I like to have a simple one frame reference image of the scene that includes a gray card before I begin making the final caputres. This helps me when I'm looking through all those thumbnails on my computer screen to see where each new image begins and I can use the image with the gray card to set my final white balance.

After this reference shot I make sure the lens is zoomed out to 50mm and run through my checklist.

  • Camera at the NPP for this lens
  • Scene composed at 17mm
  • White Balance set
  • Aperture set
  • Focus point set
  • Shutter speed set
  • Bracket parameters set
  • Lens zoomed out to 50mm

I actually have a little sticker on my tripod with each of these items listed on it to remind me. Forgetting any one of them will affect the final image. Items like setting the white balance might just make it more difficult to color balance later but things like forgetting to zoom out or set the NPP will mean the entire image is shot.

After checking my list I'm ready to begin capturing.

I have a well established routine for making my exposures. I have already determined that I will capture this scene in 9 sections, 3 rows x 3 columns, and I know the angular rotations required for each of the 9 sections. For my 50mm lens I need to rotate vertically up20 degrees for each frame in the top row. 0 degress for the middle row and down 20 degrees for the bottom row. the middle column is at 0 degrees horizontal rotation and the 1st and third columns are 14 degrees to the left or right..



14 Degrees Left

0 Degrees 14 Degrees Right
Up 20 Degrees frame 1 frame 2 frame 3
0 Degrees frame 6 frame 5 frame 4
Down 20 Degrees frame 7 frame 8 frame 9
Dividing the scene into 9 sections


To begin I adjust the head for section one by rotating the camera up 20 degrees and to the left 14 degrees. Press the shutter release once and wait a second for the vibration to settle then press it again and wait for the eposure to finsih. Repeat the exposure process for the remaining frames in the bracket set at this position. Now it's time to look at the cameras top display to be sure I have not missed any exposures in this bracket set. If all is good then I rotate the camera 14 degrees to the right to section 2. Repeat the exposures. Do this for all nine sections.

63 exposures later Im done. Now it's time to move on to the stitching.



  Next: Stitching the Images  


All images and content copyright © 1980 - 2010 Scott Hendershot