Thursday, 15 December 2011

Making a 'Jigsaw' Panorama

One of the most useful tools in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements is a feature called Photomerge.  As the name suggests, this has been designed for stitching panorama sections together. And it’s done this job well ever since it was first introduced in PSE (then it was upscaled to appear in Photoshop CS). In its original version, the finished Photomerge panoramas were unpredictable and required a lot of fine-tuning to get them perfectly lined up and tone matched.

This is the massive caldera of Mt Batur in Bali by Wendy Travers. Many people will be familiar with this (although rarely do you get such a clear view as this!) but few can claim to have captured the entirety of the scene. Wendy shot 30+ images on a point and shoot camera then stitched the lot together using PSE's Photomerge Panorama utility. The resulting file not only encompasses most of this massive scene (including the window ledge at extreme right), it also produces a very large file!

Once the jigsaw has finished stitching, check the layer masks (the black-and-white thumbnails to the right-hand side of the layer thumbnails) to see if there are any redundant layers (ones with no apparent content). Delete them to free up computer resources.
However, ever since the release of PSE 6.0 and a revamped version of Photomerge, it's almost easy to create eye-popping panoramas using this clever piece of computer code. So much so that the same code has been adapted in Photoshop Elements to work with face montaging (called Photomerge Faces), people montaging (called Photomerge People) and there's even a Photomerge 'scene cleaner'. This montages people, and things, OUT of a scene. To make the latter work you have to remember to shoot multiple images of the same subject preferably shot using a tripod, ensuring that the moving parts in the image, usually the people, are recorded in different parts of each section. The software then replaces the ‘busy’ parts of the frame (i.e. those sections that have people moving through them) with ‘less busy’ parts of the frame (i.e. those same sections that have no people moving through them).
One of the refreshing features of a jigsaw panorama is that they move away from the rectilinear format of most photos. The edges can be unpredictable and therefore introduce a sense of chance into the image making process. Mt Batur view jigsaw panorama by Carolyn Pettigrew.
When it comes to shooting a panorama most photographers only record a few frames before stopping the shooting process. This produces quite acceptable panoramic results. But, it’s possible to shoot multiple frames, with different focal lengths, and even at radically different angles to each other and still produce a completely stitcheable result. To a certain extent this technique relies on your computer being able to handle the massive number of calculations this entails but, if you set your camera to medium or low resolution before you start, you'll find that you can shoot up to, and including, 50 frames which are then flawlessly stitched together using Photomerge Panorama.

Hindu ceremony, Tirta Gangga, Bali by Robin Nichols
I call this process a jigsaw panorama. To me it has several advantages over the standard rectilinear frame. Every straight panorama is rectilinear. That's the nature of photography. Everything comes in a rectangular frame. However, if you shoot multiple frames of a set scene, at slightly different angles, randomly if you prefer, the stitched image that’s subsequently produced will have irregular edges. In fact it might even have large parts missing. It just depends on how careful you are when shooting each section.
Aside from a delightful randomness in the resulting shape, you'll soon find that by stitching multiple frames together (and I mean more than six) results in a truly massive picture file. The largest jigsaw panorama I have ever created came to more than 1.5 GB, although I had one student who, memorably, produced a massive 4Gb panorama! He claimed that it took his computer more than three hours to complete.
If you don't want to spend all day waiting for the computer to complete the operation I suggest you lower the resolution, either before you shoot the picture sections, or after using Photoshop Element's batch conversion utility (called Process Multiple Files). Reduce your images to 50 or 70% and then import them back into Photomerge.

Jigsaw Shooting Tips:
Remember to overlap the frames by at least 20%
Do not overlap the frames to much because this just makes the computer have to work harder
Set the lens to manual focus (so the camera does not accidentally re-focus on a near object)
Set the metering to Manual (so the exposures are all the same)

Reduce the file size by 50% to make the processing easier and faster - you will still end up with a large file.
Here was my attempt at the Mt Batur scene - I managed to cover a wider area but missed several sections in the lower slopes of the caldera! This needs another 10 or 15 sections along the base to make up the lost details!
This illustration demonstrates how the frames above overlap, or didn't in this example. I'll just have to go back and reshoot...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Painted Ladies in Ubud

Here are five shots I took of women queueing up to go into the market shrine in central Ubud, Bali. To coin a cliche, the scene looked like a painting. So, to emphasise that concept I thought I'd try adding a paint effect to the images to see if that enhanced the image. It did but it needed a little extra tweaking as well. I used a program called Auto Paint on an iPad (thanks for getting me started on that Bev!). Unfortunately this app offers no user input other than for you to choose the style (Cezanne, Benson, Van Gogh or Aquarell) and apply a rough protect mask to areas that you don't want to totally obliterate. The mask sorta works, but not very well so I took the resulting (tiny) output file and stretched it back over the original image (thank goodness for interpolation). Because the Auto Paint version is very textured the resampling does not look nearly as rough as it would if I'd chosen to use a regular picture.
Finishing the effect off required some fiddling using the Eraser Brush to cut through the paint layer (on top) to reveal the photo details beneath. A final contrast tweak was then applied to get the 'paper' tones looking good. When I have the time I shall print these onto some textured watercolour paper I have for my inkjet printer.

This is a short video on how it works on the iPad, then I demonstrate how to fix it up better using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Beware: Security at Brisbane Airport

Don't know if it's just me but every time I fly through Brisvegas airport I run into some sort of trouble. On this particular visit, on the return leg from a trip to Denpasar, I was passing through the security screening and got bailed up for having a 'prohibited object' in my hand carry baggage: a 5mm allen key.

I expressed my surprise, then incredulity, that such a small, innocuous, and very blunt instrument could cause such a fuss. Security were being overly officious. "It's a tool, and no tools are allowed thru security. It's in the regulations...". Those are the regulations that no traveller is privy to. Anyway, I'm amazed that my large and pointy front door key passed through the check. Isn't a regular key also a tool? And the three very pointy, sharp pens. These are, arguably tools too. Not to mention the spikes on the bottom of the tripod I was hand carrying. Even though I protested, I had to go back through the scanners to buy a padded bag and stamps and post the darn thing before I was finally allowed into departure to catch the flight home.
A selection of the other 'offensive' objects carried in my bag that were deemed not to be illegal. The logic defies common sense.
I was also hand-carrying a large Velbon carbon fibre tripod that has extendable steel spiked feet. Feet that could do considerable damage to someone or something if you had a mind to...

Ironically I also had a very sharp jeweller's screwdriver in my pack which the security staff also pulled out but, while I was arguing about the Allen key,  I simply I took it back from the officer's hand and put it back into my pack.
Some security. I recently had to post a camera to the US for conversion to infra-red. I was asked if there was a battery in the parcel when it was presented at the post office. Apparently you can't post batteries. Batteries are 'dangerous' goods. The flash capacitor, the component that stores current prior to your firing the flash can store a current up to 200 volts that can be boosted to 4000 volts once the flash is triggered. That's not dangerous? But you can take batteries on a plane if they are in your hand baggage.
Or can you?
A student recently told me that the authorities in Dubai airport tried to confiscate the AA lithium batteries he had in his carry-on baggage. He argued the case and they finally backed off but still, it's a worrying trend. I had no idea that lithium batteries were so dangerous!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Some Balinese People Shots

Robin entertaining the local kids in Trunyan, in Batur crater, central Bali
Cool portrait of a local man by Tina Brauer
Great service from our trusty Balinese guide, Kadek
Great shot of this little girl carrying here incense sticks on here head, Besakih temple, Agung, Bali by Tina Brauer

Remains of someone's relative sitting in a heap of loose change in the graveyard at Trunyan, Mt Batur. Pic by Dianne Clements.
Beautiful portrait of a local Balinese woman, pic by Steve Mullarkey
Locals at Tirta Empul temple, Central Bali by Steve Mullarkey
Ikat weaver, Tengenan village by Ann Keniry
Young worshipper, Tirta Empul, pic by Carolyn Pettigrew
Family on a motorbike by Wendy Travers
Worshippers at Tirta Empul, pic by Wendy Travers
"Here I go again" Fire dancer at Batu Bulan, pic by Geoff Driscoll

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bali Photo Tour: The Dancers

Our last slide night/critique evening happened on Monday afternoon, as everyone waited for their departing planes. The images submitted were simply amazing. Professional, and completely Bali-centric, with great colour, contrast and terrific timing, especially with shots of fast-paced dancers. Everyone learned how to master their on-camera flash or speedlights to get some great results in what amounted to very tricky lighting conditions. Because there are so many great shots, I thought it best to subdivide these into categories. Here are some of the best dancer shots.

Balinese dancer at a Batu Bulan Barong dance session.
Pic by Mike Clements.
The monkey, friend of the Barong tiger creature, shot in the pouring rain at Batu Bulan, pic by Robin Nichols
Fire dance at Batu Bulan, Bali by Tina Brauer
Mythical Garuda character featuring in the Barong dance, pic by Tina Brauer
Monkey man dancing in the flames, pic by Kerrie Dixon
Balinese Barong dancer, pic by Kerrie Dixon
Beautiful Legong dancer, pic by Geoff Driscoll
Fire dancer in an explosion of sparks and smoke, Batu Bulan, pic by Geoff Driscoll
Intense pain or concentration? Fire dancer at Batu Bulan, Bali by Mike Clements
Exquisite Legong dancer in the rain, Batu Bulan, Bali by Mike Clements
Utter concentration shown by one of the performers in the Kecak dance, pic by Steve Mullarkey
Hanoman the monkey God in the kecak dance, Ulu Watu. Pic by Carolyn Pettigrew
Superb colours in the final stages of the fire dance, Batu Bulan. Pic by Anne Keniry
'Psyching up' for the fire dance, pic by Anne Keniry

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Ancient Culture to Grubby Isolation

Immaculately kept stone age street of Tenganan
Yesterday we had a very pleasant couple of hours in the traditional village of Tenganan over in the Eastern part of the island. The govornment has cleaned the village up to the extent that the locals are not allowed to spread their shops around the main street. Businesses are limited to inside family houses so the main street, that runs for a kilometre up the hillside, looks to all extent original. Running down the centre are various wooden meeting halls and storage sheds. All raised off the ground, looking like they are constructed using rain forest timbers. It's a magical place. Clean, atmospheric and very photogenic (apart from the odd bright red or yellow (dyed) cockerels that wander around the yards.
Keyside at Trunyan in Batur volcano. Note the distinct smell of pig poo?
Today was a little different. We travelled up the main volcano to Kintamani, then dropped over the lip of the massive Batur caldera, into the crater itself to catch a ferry boat across the massive lake that occupies about one third of the caldera floor to the Bali Aga village of Trunyan.
Trunyon, 20 mins boat ride across the lake, like Tenganan, is also a Bali Aga settlement, an original village that, until about five years ago, was cut off from the world. Now a road meanders down the steep volcano side into the village. It was too steep for our bus (thank goodness) so we took the more pleasurable boat option. However, the resemblance to Tenganan stops at the front gate. Our guide described Trunyan as being 'primitive'. I think what he meant, in so many words, was that it was a very poor community. And that meant it was messy, smelly and perhaps not that interesting.
The people, although friendly enough, looked as though they had very little pride in the cleanliness of their village. Very different to Tenganan. And in fact different to the rest of the island, where people seem top be constantly cleaning up, sweeping dirt and burning rubbish. Trunyan desperately needs a "Clean up Trunyon" day.
The real reason for going there was also to visit the cemetery, another ten minutes away in a boat. Deceased bodies are left in the open, covered in palm fronds till their flesh decays and drops away. The skulls and various bones are then removed and placed on display in the graveyard for a few months. Then people seem to lose interest. The place itself was littered with bits of rubbish and human bones. Quite creepy. 
But interesting for a few HDR shots...

More great images from Bali

Tourists posing at Git Git waterfall, Northern Bali by Geoff Driscoll - an awesome slow shutter, telephoto shot...
Too hot to walk? Wendy and Bev heading off to Besakih on the back of a local's motobike
Geoff Driscoll burning rubber in the car park...
On a hideously hot day, our CCE group sings the praises of a family that makes/scrapes a living from salt manufacture, Candidasa, Eastern Bali
Testing the veracity of a Canon sensor. Our knowledgeable tour guide, Kadek, admiring a fighting cockerel in Tenganan. And Yes, that is the correct colour. Amazing what you can do with a small bottle of food dye!