Happy 2024!

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I know I promised the amazing story of our third day in Arches last week, but I’m afraid I have one more post for you before I get to that.

I also previously promised some panoramas of our stunning sunrise at Landscape Arch, and this is the promise I get to fulfill this week!

As you already know, it took us three days to finally get our sunrise in Arches, and it was worth the wait.  What I didn’t know is it would likewise take three tries at my computer to get just the right panorama out of that day.

I took over 600 photos that morning at Landscape Arch (yeah, I’m a crazy photographer).  For one, I was ecstatic to finally have excellent lighting at a magnificent arch.  But more importantly, with so many dark shadows and bright skies, I was bracketing every shot (taking multiple pictures at once at varying exposures, typically combined later as HDR images).  And I couldn’t not take a panorama of this expansive arch.

I’ve discussed before my opinion on HDR images.  They often come out looking oversaturated and fake, but I still try them because I hate what pushing shadows and dulling highlights can do to the quality of a dynamically challenging photo.  As I keep practicing, I figure out ways to make it look a little closer to what my eyes experienced, so perhaps it’s just learning the tools better.

My first two attempts at my panorama used my bracketed shots, 2-3 images per frame, resulting in 23 HDR images to be stitched together for the panorama (54 total exposures).  As you can imagine, this took several passes in Photoshop, and that didn’t come without a few crashes.

My first panorama turned out alright, but I never did like the way curved panoramas distort the final image.  The arch looks all squat and lacking in its true elegance.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This can be mitigated by using a longer lens, but I was almost under the arch for these shots, so I was shooting at 10mm (don’t shoot panoramas with a wide-angle lens if you can avoid it – for this very reason).

But I also discovered Photoshop has a checkbox to fix this is post!

I selected “geometric distortion correction” in the panorama panel, and here’s my second try with the same 54 images.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This looks much more natural and gives a closer sense to the true distance this beautiful arch spans.

Upon initial stitching, this option creates an odd cosine wave of a panorama, so there’s a fair bit of additional work to crop and fill in the extra space left blank, so next time I’ll try to do two rows of vertical images to allow more vertical space for cropping.

While this one looked better, I still wasn’t quite happy with it.  Firstly, these were taken a bit after sunrise, so I no longer had the breathtaking rays streaming through the clouds.  Secondly, I wanted to try something that wasn’t HDR.

Instead of merging 2-3 images for HDR panels, I selected the best-exposed images from my bracketed sets that I took right at sunrise.  This took some careful exposure adjustments before the final stitch, as I began with the darkest images at the horizon, slowly moving to my brightest images at the tail end of the arch.  I had to make sure each image smoothly transitioned to the next.

In the end, the extra attention paid off, and I got the panorama I wanted.  I like the mood of the non-HDR, but even more, I love that sunrise.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I hope I didn’t lose you with all the photography jargon!  Be sure to come back next week for our story on Day 3.  This stunning sunrise was just the beginning of the best day in Arches, and I promise I’ll actually have that post for you next week!

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