4-February 2016

As Featured in Moab Happenings, February, 2016

Photographing the Red Rocks Country

Take Your Photos for a
Walk on the Wide Side

By David L. Brown

Look at most photographs and you will see a rectangular shape framing an image that simulates what you would see in front of you if you were at the actual site. But reality is a little different. Our eyes are most attuned to the field of view in front of us, but thanks to our peripheral vision we actually see a wide sweeping field from the far left to far right, up to 110 degrees in each direction.

To capture this vision in pixels, or in the past on film, is the art of panoramic photography. A panoramic image, or “pan,” can capture this wide view of the world that our eyes see all the time.

A pan image can be simply a wide-angle view cropped or captured in a format ranging from a ratio of 1 to 3 or more. In the days of film, cameras were available to make pans on 35mm or 120 roll film.

When I did landscape photography full time in the days of film I used a panoramic view camera called the V-Pan to produce 6×17 cm transparencies (about two and a quarter by seven inches). I used view camera lenses ranging from 47mm to 720mm in focal length. For a time I also used a 6×17 pan camera made by Fujifilm that had special interchangeable lenses, and I also had a 6×17 roll film back custom-fitted for my 5×7 inch view camera.

Fig.1In Fig. 1 is an example of a picture I made with the V-Pan camera, capturing a wide view of the Three Gossips and The Organ in Arches National Park. The image was made on Fuji Velvia film using a Nikkor view camera lens (probably a 90mm or 75mm which are fairly wide angle lenses for that format).

Even more “wideness” could be captured with rotating pan cameras in which the camera itself or the lens assembly actually turned during the exposure to capture the wide field. I used a camera called a Noblex that had a 25mm rotating lens in which the exposure was made by a moving slit that passed over the film. This produced transparencies measuring about 2 by 5 inches on 120 film. The Noblex covered a field of view of 140 degrees and created very interesting effects, especially when pointed up or down since the horizon line would then become curved.

Fig.2Fig. 2 shows this effect in a Noblex picture I made of a field of sunflowers in Kansas. The curved horizon gives the picture an “edge of the world” look that accentuates the masses of flower heads greeting the morning sun.

Fig.3Fig. 3 illustrates the ability of the Noblex to capture wide fields of view, in this case the entire expanse of Newspaper Rock.

Nowadays it’s a lot easier to make pan images, thanks to digital cameras and the ability to “stitch” multiple images together in Photoshop. In its early versions the image stitching software didn’t work too well and the camera had to be absolutely level. By version PS5, however, Adobe had worked out the bugs it’s now easy to make a series of handheld exposures that stitch together seamlessly.

Fig.4For Fig. 4 I linked a series of five frames made with a Canon t3i camera to create a pan image in Arches National Park featuring the Moon over Balanced Rock and with the La Sal mountains as a backdrop.

Here are a few tips on how to make a series of digital exposures to be stitched together:

  • Turn off the autofocus on your camera to prevent the focus from changing between exposures. Make sure the scene is in proper manual focus and don’t change it.
  • Turn off auto exposure functions and use manual exposure. Set your exposure from the middle of the scene and use that setting for all exposures in the series.
  • In most cases you will want to hold the camera close to level during the exposures. However, by pointing the camera up or down it’s possible to get the “edge of the earth” effect illustrated in Fig. 2.
  • Overlap each exposure by about one-third to give Photoshop plenty of pixels to match together.
  • Make sure to use a wide enough lens to allow plenty of room to crop the final stitched image.

Next time you’re out with your camera, practice visualizing panoramic compositions. It’s fun and can result in some dramatic shots for your collection of images of the Red Rocks Country.


David L. Brown is a long-time landscape photographer who lives in Moab, where he leads photo workshops and tours. He is a life member of the American Society of Media Photography. Thousands of his photographs have appeared in print. You can learn more about him at www.imagequest.photo.