Seeing and composing the panoramic
I have just purchased a sinar Zoom 2 from a nice fellow ape hugger. Not having had a chance to get out and use it I have been doing some navel gazing. Having dropped a forklift fork on my foot Saturday I am not walking around a lot either, which is a good thing, because like gum chewing one should not navel gaze and walk at the same time.
For this discussion panoramic is at least a 2:1 aspect ratio.
I remember reading somewhere that a panoramic image must have a beginning middle and an end. Because of their long nature the viewer "reads" them left to right for horizontal images, and top to bottom for the vertical.
I can see the point but I think weight and balance dictate the viewers viewing of the image. Due to it's skinny nature there needs to be a greater emphasis on these things. The more successful images I have seen take balance and weight into consideration, and are a success as a whole instead of "read".
What do you think?
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One big challenge that pano shares with wide-angle work in general is to build in a sense of visual depth. Unless the shot is thoughtfully composed, wide lenses have a tendency to flatten a scene out... even if it is a dramatic mountain range. Of course, a pano doesn't have to be shot with a wide lens, but that is the norm.
Overall, I have noticed that the panos that I find interesting usually have pronounced foreground and background subjects. This approach can provide useful scale cues and also prevent a scene from looking flat parallel to the lens plane and along the vertical.
You make a point Keith, but I think one of the problems is many people use relatively long lenses for Panoramic shoots which of course flattens out the scenes far more than a wide-angle.
I deliberately bought a 75mm SA to use with my 617, I had also intended to use a 90mm but found I never used it. My rationale for the 75mm was that it was close to a normal lens for a 6x6 and therefore the vertical dimension of the 6x17 format while wide angle for the width. In practice for my requirements it seems a perfect balance for the format.
One of the more useful rules of composition especially for panoramas is the concept of the Golden Section with its approximate ratio of 8:5. It is probably applicable to the initial view with the subject, if any, at that point. But panoramas invite the viewer to look for detail when viewed up close. If the image is that of a landscape, then a wide-angle lens should enable good detail front to back.
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But Ian, your examples neatly (and gorgeously!) illustrate my point- you have big foreground elements there and the compositions carefully use elements that tie foreground to background to build in a compositional sense of depth. Perhaps we can agree that this is something that must be done regardless of focal length / FOV to communicate a feeling of depth.
Consider what you sometimes see in panos: mountains or seascapes with no foreground. Then there is a tendency for the long horizontal to dominate and there is little to draw the eye in and experience the depth of the scene. And if you try to put a foreground element in there and are shooting a wide lens, that foreground element can become so enormous in the frame relative to whatever is out at infinity. Even the largest mountains or big thunderclouds or big sunsets can be diminished to a long thin line in the pano frame by an ultrawide lens. Then if you have a daisy in the foreground... what is the shot really about?
When I went out west I thought I'd get a lot of use out of my wides, so that is primarily what I packed. There is the tendency to see a scene and the whole atmosphere is so gorgeous and unique that you (or I) want to capture the whole thing on one sheet of film. But of course it doesn't work that way. The lenses I used most out west turned out to be (usually) the longest I'd packed.
When you say longer lenses flatten things out, I think you are referring to 'compression' of foreground against background. To me, that is not flattening at all, that is juxtaposition, and depth can be built into a scene if its composed properly. In the shots you posted, I see some care expended to preserve depth, i.e. not to incorporate so much foreground as to blockade the main subjects.
I think another possible point here, and one seldom used in pano, is limited DOF. If the foreground and background are in equally tight focus then I would argue that a sense of depth and scale can be lost. Not always but there is a tendency to go for front to back sharpness that may not necessarily be the right approach. I suppose that with ultrawides this is is a stronger tendency.
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I think that too often pano photographers look for the wide open expanse, rather than what is nearer them. I believe that since I have begun looking for images containing an important object very close, 10 feet or so, to the lens my images are stronger. On a recent trip with the 717 every strong image I returned with contained such an object, and the middle grounds and backgrounds seemed to become more important and tied together in a stronger manner.
I generally use a 12" on the 717. About one in twenty images are made with a 15" or 19". The wider lens just pleases me more.
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Yes but Keith what is wide or even ultra wide, assuming 120 & the 6x17 format I'd guess the widest lens that would cover the format is probably a 58mm SA and to me that's not particularly wide in respect to the vertical dimension.
The flattening is really more about the distance and perspective rather than the choice of lens, I have a tendency to go in close which of course alters the perspective and apparent depth. Jim Noel is saying much the same
Well, 58 on 4x5 or 617 is pretty freaking wide already. It would be a real challenge to take a landscape with that and not have a greatly diminished sense of vertical scale. I am not saying it can't be done, I am saying that one has to really pay attention to how foreground and background elements interact, and vanishing-point issues can be so prominent as to dominate the whole composition. I think I am agree with Jim's point that "wide open expanse" can be alluring to the photographer but not necessarily effective in the photograph.
Anyway, let's set focal length / FOV aside for a minute and see if we agree that with pano images a major challenge is to build front-to-back depth. The aspect ratio tends to emphasize horizontal compression. (assuming we're talking about landscape-orientation for now) I am merely asserting that this is a bigger challenge (for me) than figuring out what to put where in the frame...
Of course, there are vertical panos too, which can be gorgeous. I am remembering some of Geir Jordahl's photographs in his recent book.
By the way a pretty interesting gallery of panos may be found on the fotoman site. It was while perusing those that I started to think a bit more about what makes a pano effective and deciding whether I can do it.
I suppose I don't actually see such a big difference composing with the 6x17 and the 75mm lens compared to say a 2¼ square Rollei with a similar focal length lens, the perspective is the same, so is the balance between foreground & background, only the horizontal angle of view changes very significantly. (Assuming landscape format).
There's a good reason for this, for many years I've often been frustrated by the 5x4 format for very wide views, far too much irrelevant foreground and sky. I have shot and deliberately cropped on a small number of occasions but I get no satisfaction working that way because I always compose tightly to the format. So when I bought a 6x17 camera it was from an informed knowledge of the type of images I would use it for.
Having had a look at your Portfolio, and a little of your website, I can see where you are coming from a bit better, and we approach the landscape in different ways. I use wide angles for 5x4 work quite frequently, particularly a 90mm, and when needed a 65mm, in fact in 20+ years I only shot with longer than a 150mm twice - a 300mm but I never used the images, although more recently I've begun using a 210 bought of one of the Mods.
So back to composing Panoramic images I guess I initially position myself for the vertical, then adjust my position to accommodates the horizontal, if that makes sense. Working with only one lens that means I should walk in or out, but I seem to be able to walk to the right spot subconsciously.
I love Art Sinsabaugh's panoramas. His camera was 12x20", but he would crop to whatever dimensions suited the image, even if it was 2.25x19"--