Click on the above image if you haven't done so already. Go ahead, I'll wait.
This was shot in the middle of winter in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park. The Hoh is officially the wettest place in the continental US and it was raining the day i took this. The image is a 4 shot vertical panorama taken near the Hall of Mosses. I wanted to take a shot that conveyed a bit of what it was like being "in" the forest and everything that's going on.
Shooting in a forest is generally not easy, and shooting in a rain forest is even harder. It's so very difficult to get a clean composition without a million things intruding in the image or distracting from the scene. Especially in this shot, there is SO MUCH going on in this part of the forest, how do you distill the composition to create a pleasing image....that was the test for me.
I spent about 5 minutes just looking at this scene, trying to compose and visualize what the final image might look like. I scanned left and right and back again stitching a pano in my head and looking at the composition, the balance, distracting elements, noting what I need to do in the camera to capture the scene.
Once I finally put down my tripod, it took me another 5 minutes at least to get the right positioning for my camera. One of the lessons that my good friend Jack Graham preaches to his students is "space". Specifically, having space between elements in the image and leaving enough space between elements and the edge of the image. This lessons is so true and one that i've practiced for many years. One of the key parts of me composing a shot is not looking at how pretty the scene is, or my camera settings.....I'm looking if I have the right amount of space in my image and if there are any distracting elements. In setting up this shot, I repositioned my tripod no less than 6 times, trying to create space between the tree trunks so they don't overlap. I found a spot that had the minimal amount of overlap and maximum space between the trees, so that's where I left my tripod.
Even though it was overcast and raining, there was still a lot of light in the sky. Underneath the forest canopy, it is fairly dark with lots of shadows or areas where i could lose detail in the shot. So, the next thing i knew is that I did not want any of the sky showing in this shot. This would reduce the dynamic range needed, and, would allow more accurate metering of the forest scene. Sky = no no for this image.
Once i put my camera on the tripod and got everything level, I put my eye to the eyecup and panned left to right several times, slowly, looking for how the image flowed left to right, AND, looking for distracting elements or things that didn't quite fit. How far should I go left to right would dictate how many shots I would need to take. I really liked the HUGE tree on the left and decided to anchor the left side of the frame with that tree. There are a couple of really cool tree trunks just right of center and then to the far right, I liked the quality of light that I was seeing so I was able to pick an end point for the right side.
One area of the image that bothered me was the immediate foreground. There wasn't anything super cool about it and it was fairly messy with lots of dead branches, leaves and other forest debris. I made the decision that I would exclude a portion of the foreground. So a this point I knew that I didn't want the sky, and, I didn't want a portion of the foreground....i knew how much of the scene I wanted to capture and that in itself dictated what focal length I should use to capture the image.
The rest is really just the technical aspects of the shot. I metered the scene in several different places and decided on the correct shutter speed for my aperture. Then started shooting from left to right, overlapping each image enough so the stitching software would have the information it needs. I only shot one pano series for this, no backup in case I did something wrong.
Once home, I stitched the images together in Lightroom then took the image in to Photoshop. Once there, I used several Nik products as well as worked several layers of luminosity masks to bring out certain areas of the image. When i was done, this file was over 1gb!!!!!
i don't shoot a lot of panos in general, but I do like them in specific situations and they can do a wonderful job of conveying a sense of presence to your viewers.