Panoramic Problems

Even though six weeks have passed since we got back from the Southwest I still have not finished processing all the photos.  One of the last things on my list was to put together all the panoramas I shot.  The views are so vast that even with the 16-35mm landscape lens I borrowed from Roger; I couldn’t capture the horizon to horizon detail.  One of the challenges I’d been running into before we left was the file sizes that the D800 produces.  My old computer was a couple of years “overdue” for an upgrade, but it was still working.  Trying to handle multiple 50MB Raw images had visibly slowed the system down and in some instances, forced Photoshop to just quit.   I was just used to the inconvenience.  Fortunately (?), I started getting warnings from one of my hard drives that it was about ready to die.  So I put together a new system with a lot more RAM and it makes a huge difference.

Monument Valley

This is sunset at Monument Valley.  I shot it from our balcony on a tripod at f/8 at 30mm mostly at 1/20 sec.   I loved the moonrise over the butte as the light was fading.  The dust in the air from the blowing sand made the picture a little hazier than I would have wished, but at the same time diffused the colors nicely.   How many images did it take to get this picture?   Remember you want 15-30% overlap between sequential images to help the software work.

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That’s right, this was actually nine shots.  Just select the images you want in LR, and then select Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.   It opens your images as layers in one file and then auto aligns them, creates masks for each layer and blends the edges together based on the best fit of the overlapping segments of the images.  When loaded from LR to Photoshop the file size sprang up to 1.56 GBytes.   One of the techniques I learned at Photoshop world is once the automatic Panorama magic has happened, use the “Mash the left side of the keyboard” shortcut; CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-E to create a flat merged layer on top of all the individual Layers.  You can then go into to the layers palate and just drag the individual layers to the trashcan icon at the bottom.  That will make the final image a lot smaller.  All that is left is to just SAVE the image.  You don’t want to do a SAVE AS, just the plain old save will tell Lightroom to keep this new image with the other images it came from.  As another general good housekeeping rule for my catalog, I then go in and stack  (CTRL-G) all the images together with the panorama on top, so I can both hide the now unneeded files but have access to them if I want to do some different processing on them later. 

I am still working through the images and have not finished yet.  Here is a 12 photo shot from the Grand Canyon.  I confess I applied a little bit of HDR to the image as the mid-day sun took away much of the contrast visible to the naked eye.   I have been working on a 20 image piece, but that overloaded the memory on the computer…here we go again.

Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?

It’s time to wrap up my postings on summer travel. After we departed from the Grand Canyon, Sarah had the opportunity to meet cousins she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl in Prescott, AZ so we stopped there for lunch.  We had heard that Sedona was beautiful, and so that was our destination for that evening.  It was way more than beautiful.  It is in the middle of Red Rocks and Pine trees, tucked alongside a swift and cold river.  It was the night of the Super Moon, and I was certain that we were facing the wrong direction.  Much to our surprise, the light popped right up in front of it.  I had to scramble to get my tripod set up.  We are definitely going back to revisit and spend more time there.

Sedona Super Moon

Sedona Super Moon

The next day we stopped at the Great Meteor crater.  This hole was caused by something no larger than a school bus, but it ignited the air around the crater for 10 miles.

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We did some touristy stuff, and yes, that is me, “Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona”.  Not certain about the “such a fine sight to see”.  We had a nice day and got our kicks and ice cream on Route 66. 

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Our last stop in our summer fiesta was Santa Fe, the capitol of New Mexico. We stayed downtown, just a block off the main plaza and loved being able to walk to everything.  Good thing, as Santa Fe has a lot of everything—museums, historic sites, a thriving art colony and fabulous restaurants. The city was one of the main Spanish outposts in the New World.  Santa Fe has spent more time as a part of Mexico than it has as a state. The Cathedral of St. Francis would be at home in Europe.  

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During World War 2, the Manhattan Project was hidden nearby.  The people reported to this doorway and it was listed as their address for all their mail while they worked at Alamogordo.  Now the space sells brightly colored ceramic chili peppers. 

Hidden Door of Atomic History

Hidden Door of Atomic History

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Under the shade of the main plaza portico are native craftspeople.  Each morning there is a lottery for the spaces to display and sell their handmade jewelry. 

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As I was telling the guy I met there; around almost around every corner there is another unique piece of sculpture.  We managed to find a place that would a really cool kinetic piece home to VA.  It and these photos will provide years of great memories from our SW vacation. 

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A Big Hole in The Ground

By Mark

The story of our trip through the Great Southwest was sidetracked for a couple of weeks to talk about color management.

When last we were on the road, we were headed for the Grand Canyon. Shooting the canyon can be a challenge.The scale is so vast, that the viewer doesn't really have a chance to make any relative comparisons.When you enter the park from the Eastern Entrance, you stop at the first lookout point to see this majestic scene. 

Eastern Tower

Eastern Tower

Blow up of the Rapids

Blow up of the Rapids

At this point the canyon is over 9 miles wide and the bottom of the canyon where you can see those rapids is more than 5 miles away.  The resolution on the D800 is so incredible that you can see rafts waiting alongside the bank, which I can assure you, were not visible to our naked eyes.

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For much of the day, the direct overhead light just washes out much of the details for a photographer.  So sunrise and sunset are the peak viewing times, or so it would seem.  Actually, it is the hours just before and after those traditional “golden hours” that make the most interesting pictures here.

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When the sun gets too low, it takes all the colors with it.  What you want are the long shadows and rich warm light as it moves down the mesas and buttes inside the canyon.

The hour before sunset

The hour before sunset

We did get to take a helicopter ride across the canyon to the North Rim.  The afternoon flights were dicey because they were experiencing really high winds with strong gusts—not the optimal conditions for small helos.  When you transition from the canyon’s edge over the Colorado River, you go from 500 ft above ground to over a mile.  It’s a long ways down.

Long ways straight down

Long ways straight down

We hiked along the rim for a couple of miles.  The South Rim is about 7000 feet above sea level, and the altitude is noticeable.  We were glad to see lots of people hiking, but a little sad in that most of them were foreign visitors.  Few Americans seemed to want to walk that far.

Framing adds perspective

Framing adds perspective

The Hopi house is a reconstruction of a typical native dwelling, now selling expensive, but authentic jewelry.


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This was Sarah’s first visit to the canyon and really was her goal for the trip.  I’m happy to say that she was not disappointed, nor was she sad that we didn't get the chance to ride the burro’s all the way to the bottom.

Where the West Was Filmed

By Mark

Starting in 1938 with John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” starring John Wayne, the iconic images of Monument Valley have become the images most people imagine when they think of the “West”.  While planning our great Southwestern adventure, I really worked to avoid long days of driving. Looking for a good route between Taos and the Grand Canyon I realized that the valley would be a great stopping point, especially since it also gave us the chance to go by Shiprock and the Four Corners National Monument along the way. Neither of us had previously visited either of these sites.  

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Shiprock is a very sacred formation at the heart of the Navajo or Diné nation. It rises up from out of the desert and is visible for miles. 

We took a short detour north to see the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona all come together.   Tourists wait politely to take their pictures while standing in all four states at once.  It was very interesting to learn that modern surveying technology has shown that the monument is still in the wrong spot, even though it has been moved before. 

Four States at Once!

Four States at Once!

Anyway, as we continued to drive into Arizona we got to enjoy high winds and the dust/sandstorm I wrote about a few blogs ago.  Our destination was the new hotel that the Navajo nation built inside Monument Valley itself.  Only 95 rooms, all of which face East, and all with balconies. Because of the sandstorm, we chose to enjoy our evening watching the sunset from our private viewing post.  I set the camera on the tripod and shot every few minutes to watch the light and shadows change dramatically. 

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There is a 17 mile scenic drive through the valley floor and it comes with warnings that strongly recommend a vehicle with high ground clearance.  Some of the most scenic areas can only be accessed when accompanied by a tribal guide.  We made arrangements, although it took a little bit of coaxing, to go out before sunrise the next morning.

Our guide, Charlie, picked us up in the hotel lobby at 0430 and we headed off into the backcountry in the dark. 

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We bounced around as we headed to the inner reaches of the valley and then stopped to see the light begin to creep up on the rocks and the sand.  The winds were much calmer than the previous evening,  and the view was spectacular.  There were a couple of spots where we headed down steep embankments filled with deep ruts that made us very glad he was driving. 

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John Ford’s Point was just one of the iconic stops along our way.  By 0830, as we headed back up the hill to the hotel, the light was already getting flat.   Definitely a place to shoot at sunrise and sunset; the two Golden hours of the day.

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The valley would definitely be interesting to photograph in winter as well.  They get a decent amount of snow and from the photos displayed around the hotel, it really adds more magic to already magnificent scenes.  After much needed showers and a hearty breakfast, we checked out and headed for the Grand Canyon.

Monument View Inn