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Partial Pano: The City Under Clouds Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 February 2017

Atmospheric conditions provided a rare opportunity for a panorama of the city the other day. The cloud cover was menacing but distributed a wonderfully diffuse light quite different from the gloom the fog spreads. It was like having a big silk hanging just over the city.

A Partial Pano. Scroll to see the rest of the image.

Not trusting the weather to hike or bike up Twin Peaks, we took the car. Can't remember the last time we did that but it must have been with visitors. It was unusually deserted, we noticed, as we pulled the car into a parking spot and jumped out.


One nice thing about the cloud cover was that, with even light across the scene, you could use any auto exposure without worrying about it.

Usually traversing from north to south at the overlook, you are going straight into the sun, which changes your exposure and makes it hard to keep the sky even. So you can't use any priority mode. You pick an exposure that works for both ends, set it Manually and make your series.

See the problem? There's no way to exhibit this thing.

To actually make the series of exposures, you should find a horizon line you can follow throughout the series. It's easier if you have a grid overlay on your viewfinder or LCD so you can lay the horizon line (which doesn't actually have to be the horizon but a horizontal) on it. Just make sure you're on the line before you snap the shutter.

The other trick is to identify some landmark in the section of the frame that will be overlaid by the next image. Do that before you snap the shutter. It could be a tree or a building or a pole. Anything in the third of the image that you'll see in the next frame.

We also cheated our focal length to a 76mm 35mm equivalent to get a little more detail. Wide angle, with its distortion, isn't optimal.

That's really all there is to a hand-held pano shot.


Because we really rely on Adobe's pano tools in Lightroom and Photoshop, which make this fool proof. Just select the images, pick a rendering and off you go.

That delivers a nice Raw DNG image to work with from the Raw captures (which we routinely convert to DNG on import). A 217-MB file, in fact, that expands to a 45.9-MB image. That's a 22,434 x 2,046 pixel image. From a Micro Four Thirds camera, incidentally.

See the problem?

There's no way to exhibit this thing. We can't show it as a 500-pixel thumbnail here (not even an 800-pixel one). And while, we have scrolled our past panos, a 300-pixel deep image would still be 3,289-pixels wide.

A 100 Pct. Crop. Full detail from downtown San Francisco to Berkeley..

We sure can't print it and we can barely see it on the screen, frankly.

So we decided, for once, to sacrifice the full effect of scrolling from the Golden Gate Bridge to south of Oakland in favor of a little more detail. A partial pano, that is.

We not only cropped the ends off but we cropped off much of the sky and foreground so our we could reize to 500 pixels from just 1,300 pixels or so, rather than the full 2,046-pixel depth. The idea was to maintain some detail of the buildings.

We did all this in Photoshop after building the DNG composite in Lightroom. Then we ran the cropped image through the Camera Raw filter. And, because it was resized, we also applied a Smart Sharpen filter to it.


We didn't go to all that work to preserve a little detail for nothing. We thought we'd challenge you to find a few landmarks, now that they're actually visible.

So here's your challenge. Can you, scrolling from the left side of the image, find 1) St. Mary's Cathedral, 2) Coit Tower, 3) Treasure Island, 4) the Transamerica Pyramid, 5) the Bank of America building, 6) City Hall, 7) War Memorial Opera House, 8) Davies Symphony Hall, 9) the Old Mint, 10) the Eastern span of the Bay Bridge, 11) the Western span, 12) SFMOMA, 13) the Campanile on the campus of UC Berkeley, 14) the Claremont Hotel, 15) the ballpark, 16) Downtown Oakland and 17) Mount Diablo.

There's more, of course, but why torture you? In fact, here are the answers:

Landmarks. Look just below the numbers.

In 2015, we complained in A Better Panorama that "we still haven't done the subject justice." And, you know, we still haven't.

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