How Photoshop Won The Panorama War

When I started talking about panoramas, there was some question about how you might turn a few pictures into one.  You didn’t need a tripod, but it was strongly recommended.  A bubble level wouldn’t hurt too.  Care needed to be exercised.  Incantations were recited.  If you took a picture of water buffeted by the wind, god help you.  Back in the day, I used Panorama Factory.  It crashed a lot.  I spent hours mapping little dots from one picture to the next.

Starting with Photoshop CS4, Adobe changed all that.  There was a panorama tool built right in, and it had a magic setting called “Auto”.  With CS5 it got even better.  No matter what you throw at it, it blends, warps, and just works magic.  The pictures always look good.  Always.  Here is my latest:

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Like before, I’m posting my panoramas at twice the width of most of my pictures so you can see a little of the magic in there!

This is a shot from the end of highway 270 on the north shore of the big island of Hawaii.  Stretching out to the east is the Waipio Valley.  From this side, near Hawi, you can drive only so far, and then you can hike.  The beach below is only 20 or 30 minutes, but you can go a couple days farther if you’re stupid brave enough.  It’s a beautiful place with lazy cows, fields of waist-high grass and the odd taro patch.  It might not be obvious but this shot is a bit odd.  I’m standing on a hill, shooting down and panning the camera diagonally – sort of inland + underneath me.  In the past, this just wouldn’t work.  You’d have to map every point in the panorama by hand, and at the end of the day you’d have a distorted picture that would probably lead to a lot of rending of hair and kicking of computers.  With Photoshop CS5, you just hit go and wait.  I’d like to say I miss the old days when things were hard, but I don’t – at all.  Not only does this let you just take pictures and do what you want to do, but it means you can shoot hand-held and with lesser equipment and still have something serviceable come out the other side.  Adobe, this time, I love you.

I Like You

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now.  You’ve been stopping by, here and there, to check in and look at a picture – maybe read a few words on how it got made.  Maybe you just do it to pander to me, but somehow I doubt that – I don’t often convince people to pander, which leads me to believe you like what you see.  I’m also under the impression you’re a facebook subscriber.  Everybody is a facebook subscriber, unless you’re one of those people uppity enough about preserving your privacy that you’ve quite facebook by now.  Talk is cheap, as they say, so I assume you’re still there.  Lucky enough, now your two favorite work diversions have come together.  You can like and share my blog with your facebook chums:

See that red circle?  You can now find the like and share buttons after each post.  If you could find it in your heart to spread the love, I’d appreciate it.  I do indeed like you.

UPDATE 6/23@2:45 pm: It is a rare day that any post comes close to touching what is clearly my most popular.  This bokeh post stands head and shoulders above all others on this blog but today, this guy made it to the top.  Thanks for liking me!

Black Sand, Green Turtle

There are some things that you can only find in one corner of the world.  Things that can’t or won’t take elsewhere for whatever reason.  A black sand beach populated by sunning sea turtles is one of those things:

Sea Turtle on Black Sand Beach

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Black sand is something you only find around volcanic eruptions.  When the right kind of lava enters the oceans, the reaction shatters it into little pieces that sometimes collect in certain areas.  Usually these beaches are transient and only last for a short while before the currents wash them away.  The black sand beach in Punalu’u is the exception.

Likewise, there are plenty of places in the world to see sea turtles, but the Hawaiian islands are the only place in the world where the green sea turtles pull themselves out of the water and hang around on the beaches and rocks.  Both times I’ve visited this beach there have been at least a couple.  You can see a second one in this shot just crawling back into the water.

Hawaii isn’t that far away but it can feel like a different world.  When your cell phone still works and Starbucks is an option, it’s easy to forget how far away you are.  Crouched down watching the turtles makes it easy to remember.

Windmills of South Point

South Point in Hawaii is a pretty barren place.  I’m not gonna say “no man’s land” because it’s gorgeous, pastoral, and picturesque.  But when I posted the boat hoists, I did mention the wind – you’re not gonna miss the wind.  Most of the pictures of my wife involve her cupping her hands around her eyes to keep the blowing dust out.  Clearly, this wasn’t lost on some people:

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On the 12 mile road from belt road to the point, you pass several banks of windmills.  These are some of the older and smaller ones.  The missing blades and patina of rust makes it pretty clear that these aren’t newly installed as some recent jump to green energy.  These have been here.  There are some newer windmills you can’t get as close to.  They’re larger and look more modern.  These had more character.

Interestingly enough, I took a few HDRs of these.  When I was editing the pictures I put them together and really didn’t think they gained much from it.  A good note on HDR is that unless you have really dynamic lighting that has a lot of bright and dark spots in the same photograph, you don’t gain as much from it.  These shots do have some shadows and blown out spots, but I like this effect just as much.

The other important thing to point out is one item you just can’t do without in Hawaii, or anywhere else where you shoot a lot of sky and water – a polarizing filter.  In this modern world of digital cameras and Photoshop, most on-camera filters have fallen by the wayside.  You can do many things after the fact, but polarizing the image isn’t one of them.  A polarizing filter removes reflections from shiny objects, like metal and water.  This means if you want to see the fish in the water, you can.  It also means you can remove reflections of people from building windows.  At the same time, it can turn your blue sky into a much more intense blue.  The downside is that they eat some amount of your light, so I only use them in bright and sunny places.  When I go to Hawaii, the polarizer goes on and rarely comes off.  The blue sky in this picture really pops from the filter, not from what I did after the fact.

South Point Boat Hoists

South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii is a wind-blasted expanse of farmlands, windfarms, and dirt giving way to cliffs and ocean.  The southernmost point in the US, it was until recently one of two places on the island your rental car coverage wouldn’t allow you to go.  The road is fine now – I’m not sure if the rules have changed.  I have heard that the locals that fish from the cliffs may take some liberties with the possessions people leave in their cars when they hike to the beach, so we stayed close.  Against the backdrop of wind and waves, there are a bunch of these creaky old boat hoists.  I think the premise is that this is the shortest route from road to water, but you’d have to be pretty nuts to actually use one.  I wouldn’t put it past some of the folks hanging out down there.

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