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San Francisco Bay Panorama Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 January 2014

We had walked up Portola to the bend in the wide road where it turns into Market St. to shoot a handheld panorama of the city on Jan. 5, a clear day here even if the air was still stagnant. We set the Nikon D300 to Manual mode so exposure would be consistent as we swung north to south toward the sun, looking east.

We were careful to align the East Bay shoreline with the grid marks in the viewfinder and to overlap the image generously, taking six shots, all Raw images at f8, 1/500 second and ISO 320. We also set the focal length of our zoom lens to 52mm to minimize distortion.

Nothing fancy there.

But it's worth repeating: shoot in Manual mode with settings determined from an exposure reading of the most average scene (neither the darkest one nor the lightest), watch the horizon, overlap generously.


To assemble the image, we used Photoshop CC's Automate, Photomerge... command to select our six images and let Photoshop align them automatically with distortion correction.

Because we shot Raw, Photoshop had a good range of tones to work with. But this isn't like using Camera Raw to fiddle with them. Photoshop made all the decisions. We just pointed it to the images and let it assemble them, which it did pretty seamlessly.

So, as with our exposures, we did nothing fancy.

We did crop the composite image rather than use a Content-Aware Fill to paint in the sky. But we were going to reduce the height, anyway, to retain detail when we resized the image for this display. We used Smart Sharpen after reducing the crop to about half size.

We did fuss around a bit using Curves after viewing it in our browser, but not much.

And, just for fun, we ran it through Alien Skin's Exposure 5 using the Panatomic-X filter to get a black and white effect (because, you know, that stagnant air really takes the fun out of the color).


To display the image here, we again didn't do anything fancy. We simply used our usual HTML code to display an image (the img tag, in short, with the full image dimensions), wrapped in a div that specifies the width of the display area as usual but with an addition style command of overflow:auto.

With the full height displayed, the browser has to draw only one scrollbar, on the bottom where the image width of 7692 pixels greatly exceeds the window width of 500 pixels.

As you scroll from north to south, see if you can pick out the landmarks: St. Mary's Cathedral, the U.S. Mint, City Hall, the Transamerica Building, the Bank of America Building, the new tower of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and its western span, U.C. Berkeley's Campanile, the Claremont Hotel, AT&T Park, downtown Oakland, Mount Diablo, San Francisco General, the smokestack at Warm Water Cove and Hunter's Point. To name a few.


We've shot panoramas with smartphones, digicams (using all sorts of pano functions) and dSLRs. The smartphone and recent digicam versions are delightful because you can play them back instantly.

But they tend to suffer from distortion from fixed wide angle focal lengths that lead to obvious splicing issues. And the splicing isn't helped by automatic exposures that are not consistent from image to image. So the closer you look at them, the worse they are.

But the dSLR versions not only avoid those pitfalls but have a lot more detail and, with this approach, aren't much more work to produce. Even the HTML is pretty simple (no JavaScript required) and everybody has a browser.

So, for once, it was simple to be better.

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