The Lee Monument and a new technique

Well, the technique is new to me, at any rate.

Last year, my wife bought me a present: a panorama kit for my tripod. This device allows one to position a camera/lens combination at the proper position over a tripod to create seamless panoramic images, or, as in the case below, stitched images to create incredibly high-resolution composites. It does this by allowing the photographer to center the nodal point of the camera/lens combination over the exact center of the tripod. As the camera is moved left-right or up-down, there is no perspective shift, allowing perfect composite images to be made.

The image below is my first real use of this device to create a multi-row stitched composite image. It is composed of 12 images shot using a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens zoomed to approximately 80mm. Each image was shot at 1/60th of a second @ f/14. The images are in a grid – 4 rows of 3 images each.

All 12 raw files were processed in Adobe Lightroom and then opened in Adobe Photoshop CS6 using the Photomerge tool. The resulting image was then cropped to the 4×5 format, after which I did my customary enhancements and converted the final image to the warm-toned B&W you see below.

Robert E Lee Monument, Richmond, Virginia

There are two aspects about this technique I find really cool: the first is the control over the perspective the technique provides. Notice in the image how the vertical lines are all vertical. To capture this image in one frame using a 35mm camera would cause either key-stoning distortion due to shooting upwards to capture the entire monument, or wide-angle distortion due to using a lens wide enough to capture the entire scene. The stitching technique results in an image identical to how it would appear had I shot the image using my 4×5 film camera (which I would LOVE to do, if it weren’t for the fact that I no longer have a darkroom and it’s getting harder and harder to find places that will process film!)

The second aspect about this technique I really like is the resolution it provides. The detail is just incredible. The final image is a 130 megapixel beast. I can zoom in on the bricks in the houses at the lower right and they are perfectly detailed and sharp. I just finished printing the first batch of 16×20’s of this image and I can’t stop staring at the detail. Printing 40×50’s of this image will not be an issue at all.

There is one major drawback to this technique: the resulting file size! The layered image that came out of the photomerge calculations, after cropping, is 2.5GB in size! I had to use Adobe’s “Large Image” file format to save it as Photoshop’s native file format is limited to no more than 2GB. But disk space is cheap, so I fully intend to keep exploring this technique.

By the way, the above image is of the Robert E. Lee Memorial on Monument Avenue in my home town of Richmond, Virginia. If you’ve never taken a drive down Monument Avenue before, I highly recommend it. Mansions, monuments, cobblestones, even a castle! The avenue used to be fully lined with huge trees, but several hurricanes over the last few years have taken many of them out. The saplings that were planted to replace them are growing well, though.

For those who are scratching their heads: “keystoning” is a term to describe what happens when you photograph vertical lines while aiming the camera upwards from perfectly horizontal. The lines will start to angle left or right. Imagine the keystone at the top of an arch: narrower at the bottom, wider at the top. Most modern images of the Lee Monument that show the buildings in the background will display this keystone effect. Classic large format cameras that provided movements allowing the photographer to correct optical distortions like this fell out of common use quite some time ago, though I still have mine. Now that I can shoot images like this with no distortion digitally, I may consider selling it.


This entry was posted in Richmond Images.