This will be pretty dry and technical but some of my former students found this useful and perhaps someone else will as well!
The composite method I use for piecing together large-format prints with a high degree of detail relies heavily on planning out what parts of the ‘scene’ will be in focus and where the crucial areas of interest lie. This is also a distinguishing factor and plays into the conceptual creation of the image, and why a single frame (for instance, from a large format 8×10 film camera) won’t achieve the same effect – fundamental to the ‘readability’ of these images themselves is the rather neurotic control of depth of field and focus across the composite frame. This allows for a ‘flexible’ depth of field that can be essentially deformed across the image, allowing the simultaneous sharp focus of several elements at once that wouldn’t normally be possible with a single-frame image.
The second work I’ve planned for The Once and Future King is tentatively titled “The Impact”, and it’s just easier to copy and paste the narrative description from the proposal here to give a sense of the final product:
The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)
On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.
Instrumental to the work will be the ability to “read” a lot of the details of the “stuff” piled into the Jeep – literally read the book titles, but then also a lot of the signifiers and symbols present in the rest of the ephemera spread throughout. So the first function of this test shoot is to map out the focus points / depth of field across the scene, and make sure that everything that needs to be in focus, is in focus. The second function is to test the viewing angle with respect to the composite – rudimentary at this point cuz my tripod head sucks – but because we need to be able to see “inside” the Jeep the angle of the shots, and the Jeep with respect to the camera, is somewhat crucial and does complicate the composite somewhat.
Last, the test generally brings to light unanticipated problems with the shooting/composite process, and gives me a sense of “what I have to work with” – just how much detail I get straight out of the camera under uncontrolled conditions without any post-processing. As such these images haven’t been touched and a few look a little dark or desaturated for a few reasons I didn’t anticipate. Learning!
Anyway, some fairly large images and such follow, so click below to read the rest.
Completely randomly the first video I shot with the D800E ended up being for my brother, who was making a short tutorial on shaving with a straight razor. Even with my completely noob technique and generally terrible focus the footage looks rather pretty. My brother did a great job putting the video together from my scrappy camera work, bonus points if you spot the curious dog:
After a couple years of waiting and planning, I’ve finally acquired my new camera: a beautiful, very definitely intimidating Nikon D800E. Google will tell you about the differences between the D800 and the D800E, likely accompanied by all manner of delightfully dramatized arguments shifting to one or the other or neither … the fact is the work I do is probably perfectly suited to a camera with this degree of optical resolution, and I’m excited!
I’ll be posting the results of some “readability tests” for some preliminary planning for The Once and Future King soon, but meanwhile, and much more interesting, the first dozen shots directly out of the camera, no processing, no nothing – the dogs of course (btw, this is also with my new 50mm 1.8 G lens):
As most Nikon “enthusiasts” are aware, Nikon has been delaying … or just not bothering … to release a replacement for the venerable D700, their only full-frame DSLR that retails under $5000. The gap is pretty large – the D700 runs around $2500ish canadian, and the next step up, the D3S, is $5200. Both are 12 megapixels, incidently, the only DSLR body in Nikon’s line surpassing that – 24 MP – being the D3X, which is around $8000.
This seems like a problem to me, and most retailers have seen it as such for some time – not only is there a huge “megapixel” gap, there’s a giant price range which Nikon hasn’t filled – actually two gaps, really; The D300s, their high-end crop-sensor DSLR, runs around $1300, the D700 clocks in at $2500, and the D3S, again, $5200 – all 12 MP cameras, by the way.
This becomes a ‘worse’ problem when you look at the Canon line – their 7D, at 18 MP, with a 1.3x crop sensor sits nicely between the D700 and D300s price wise, and their D700 equivilent (speaking fairly arbitrarily here), the 5D MkII, is about the same cost, and is a massive 21 MP full frame sensor. Canon fills in all the gaps nikon has left, and doesn’t have this bizarre fixation with 12 MP in their full-frame cameras.
Why am I bitching about this? Well, basically, I’ve been reaching the limitations my S5 Pro can manage for print-size, and I’ve wanted to make the jump to a full-frame DSLR. But it seems somewhat redundant to go from a 12 MP camera to another 12 MP camera, so I’ve been hoping, for a good year now, to invest in the replacement for the D700 when it came out, but Nikon has been dragging its heels. They say “summer” now, which, I guess, is better than nothing, but meanwhile I have prototyping and planning to do … not to mention exhibition proposals and grants … so I’ve been forced to improvise.
(and, yes, heresy, but if more delays or some kind of shocking price point occurs with the D800, I will switch to Canon and get a 5D Mk II)
With composite imagery, the problem of parallax tends to be the chief obstacle in stitching multiple horizontal layers of images together, particularly when there’s the existence of horizontal and vertical lines to match up … or extreme angles … or big long-ass panos. Being a significant distance from your subject tends to help – a 2 gigapixel or some nonsense image of the grand canyon comes to mind from a few years back – so big, expansive landscapes lend themselves to extremely “high megapixel” composite images. Interior spaces, anything within 15′ of the camera, problems arise.
So the current mess of a project I’m thinking through right now requires an extreme amount of ‘readable’ detail, and will be printed fairly large (I’m thinking 60′ x 90′ ish right now, and I’m fishing for suggestions on mounting such monstrosities…), so a high-res composite image is pretty much a must. I really wanted a 20MP, full-frame camera to execute this with, because it’d require less photos to stitch together, but that just doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
So I’ve been futzing around with methods for achieving this on my own with my trusty S5 Pro. My first successful test involved a garage wall, standing about 10′ away from it, using a 50mm lens to help offset the parallax issue, and I was pretty shocked at how well it stitched together. The resulting image, ironically, covers about the range of a 20mm lens from the same distance – this isn’t really compressing space like a wide-angle composite pano.
Anyway, what follows (click the ‘read more’ below) is the final image, and then some details with reference image from where I pulled them. (… as I’m inserting these into the post, I’m noticing they’re fairly dark and not as sharp as I thought. I didn’t really do any post-processing apart from the composite stitching, so .. that’s likely why. It’s just proof of concept anyway.)