Fall is probably our favorite time of year to ride. It’s definitely our favorite time to pack our cameras on rides. Whether it’s pocket sized Canon ELPH, or our eagerly awaited, professional, Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, fall is the time to pack the camera and bring back the photographic goods. And there are few more impressive goods than “the panorama.” Walt Denson will give you the basics so you too can “Get the Shot.”
If you’re in to action sports, then you already understand the most important requirement of “getting the shot.” And that’s to be in the right place at the right time with the right set-up. Think about it; if you’re a skier, you don’t get plan on skiing when you have the time in the middle of the summer, you plan to have time during the winter for that big powder dump just like you’re probably fired up about the riding conditions after these first fall rains when the trails are nice and tacky but the temps are still mild.
Many people feel fall is the best time to be on a bike with a camera. So what’s so special about the fall for photos? To begin with, there’s simply more color out there. Secondly, as early storms move in and out, they move stale, polluted, low visibility air out, and replace it with the fresh clear stuff. And that means far greater visibility which makes for greater photographic detail (especially with scenic and panoramic shots) greater color saturation, those beautiful blue skies, etc.
Timing is everything. Just as there’s a best time to head out for a ride, as before it gets too hot, in time to come back before it’s dark, etc. there are “best times” to be on the lookout for the best photo set-up. In the fall – which is when we’re writing this article – that means you want to be in the area where you’d like to be taking those pictures with the sun either above you, or at your back. Generally that means around 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in most places, but there are times when a late, backlit “golden hour” shot can be taken a bit later with great results, as can be the case with sun rises and sun sets – but they’re often more difficult to setup, require special gear, etc. We’re talking about the basics here!
Two other basic timing components are the day(s) you head out with your camera and the camera shutter speed you select. A single day can make the difference between post-storm, 100 mile visibility with epic cotton ball clouds framing a cobalt sky, and a nasty fog or pollution filled mess. It’s equally important to the day you choose to nab photos is having a basic understanding of your camera’s shutter speed and exposure systems. The photos above were taken roughly a few seconds apart. The first with a very high ASA level. The one on the right with a low, ASA 64 setting. Notice how the “detail” of the city in the background is missing in the first picture? No amount of “post” work can clean up what’s not captured in the first place.
Taking you camera is a given. Bringing your camera’s manual is a must. It’s often been said that “the best camera is the one you have.” No doubt about that. But with software intensive, digital cameras, we recommend you really listen to Walt, who says “always bring your camera’s operations manual…or, you will, wished you had.” Even a pocket sized camera like the Canon ELPHs series have literally hundreds of features, options, and all but endless capabilities. But with dinky knobs and endless display screens, good luck sorting them out in the field… without the manual.
Here Are Some Pro Pointers From Walt Denson:
- Use the lowest ASA possible – finer detail in the highlights and shadows
- Shoot using the largest file (image) possible – finer detail
- Asses the scene, is a large part of the story objects in the distance? If so, do not use the widest angle lens you have. They tend to make objects in the distance appear small. Remember we are shooting a panoramic and will be covering the shot in more than one frame.
- Shoot verticals of the scene. Stitching or photo merging software tends to crop the top and bottom of the frames.
- Shoot a marker photo at beginning and end of your panoramic sequence. This helps you remember which images to use for the panoramic.
- Overlap your images by 25 to 30%.
- Turn your whole body including your feet as you shoot your images, do not just twist your upper torso.
- Many cameras come with stitching or photo merging software and here are even some free ones but the best one is the one that comes with Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Elements. See the difference below. Both images were processed with the same 3 jpeg files shot on a Canon G10. The upper image was processed with the software from Canon, ZoomBrowserEX, the “stitch” function. The lower image was processed with Photomerge in Photoshop. Notice how the image made with the Canon software has faint vertical lines in the sky where the image was blended? Not there in the Photoshop processed version below. Make sure you click on both images to see them full-size for a better comparison.