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|| News Item: Posted 2006-11-16

Panoramas Fill Void in this Photographer's Heart
By Michael McNamara, The Lincoln Journal-Star

Photo by Michael McNamara

Photo by Michael McNamara

This is the view of the infield at Busch Stadium during game 4 of the NLCS. This panoramic was made up of about 65 separate photos.
Since this is my first piece for the newsletter, I feel like a confession is in order: I'm pretty sure I have ADD. I think I've always known. I think everybody close to me kind of knows, too. So while I really like shooting sports, I'm never really satisfied with what I'm doing. I always want to be doing more…I feel like I bore myself easily. Trust me, when you have trouble entertaining yourself, you try new things.

Okay, where was I?

Shooting stitched panoramas has always been something I've toyed with, and it's always been like a best friend; I can play around with it and have a lot of fun, but we disappear from each other's lives for a year or so, and then when we meet up again, it's like we were never apart. (Light painting is like an ex that I go back to every once in awhile when I'm in a funk -- it's a little sexier and much more seductive … but that's another topic.)

So, back to feeling a need to keep myself entertained… The first time I did a panoramic that was more than a few 4x6 prints together was a 360º image of Columbia, MO. I was doing an assignment at a building in town, and I asked the maintenance guy with the keys if it was in fact the tallest building in the city. He said it was, and I could go check out the roof if I wanted. I went up, walked around the edge and made photos looking out over town. I shot about 20 separate photos and stitched them together back at the office, and made a quick laser print that I put on my locker.

Photo by Michael McNamara

Photo by Michael McNamara

This is a detail of a wider panoramic McNamara did at game 4 of the NLCS from the right field foul pole. One of his goals in doing this one was to have the focus be all over the image, and to have the seams from photo to photo be visible.
Then, Trent Nelson's montage of John Stockton showed up on his member page, then in my mailbox in Sports Illustrated, and then finally in this very newsletter. "Hey, there might be an actual use for these," I said to myself. But around this time I was having a very gratifying affair with light painting, and I had no room for panoramas in my photo life.

Last year, I felt a void in my heart, and I decided it was time for a quick drink with my friend the panoramic. I went to Busch Stadium a couple weeks before it was going to be torn down. The Cardinals were playing the Padres in the NLDS and Albert Dickson and I were shooting the games in St. Louis. During the final day game at the old stadium, I did a couple panoramas from the top row, knowing there was a spot for one in a book Sporting News published last year.

This season, I wanted to do a follow-up to last year's panoramic in the new Busch Stadium -- I was inspired after seeing Huy Richard Mach's time lapse video from opening day -- but I never made it over for a game when I had enough playtime. Then in mid August, I accepted a new job with the Lincoln Journal Star. I knew this meant I wouldn't get my chance to shoot the Cardinals again, but in the middle of packing, Albert called and said he had a credential for me for the NLCS, and I could come shoot if I wanted to. My better judgment told me to keep packing and watch the game on TV, but remember my first paragraph? I shot the game.

Originally, I planned on doing a panoramic with a 50, but there wasn't one available. Instead, I took a 16-35 and kept my fingers crossed that it would work while set on 35. As I was panning around the stadium, it was painfully obvious that I was fighting a losing battle. It was too loose. There was too much distortion on the corners. There was ghosting all over the place from the lights. There was no detail (which is why I love doing them in the first place).

The only other lens I had with me was a 600mm, so I figured I'd give it a try. If I kept my monopod in the same place, I could probably do something cool off the infield. In all the other panoramas I've shot, the plane of focus was always the same, so I could see everything…I knew this one would be different, and since things would be very separated, I decided I wanted to accentuate the focus jumping around, and wanted all the seams to be visible.

Photo by Michael McNamara / Lincoln Journal Star

Photo by Michael McNamara / Lincoln Journal Star

This is a panoramic McNamara did at the "reveal" for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. This final image was made up of about 95 separate photos.
The Cardinals took the field for the next half-inning, and I started blasting away. I decided my left edge would be the batboy, and my right edge would be a little beyond the dirt. So I started at the batboy, and made my way across the frame.

I immediately went to work putting it together when I got home from the game, and spent about eight hours getting it finished. The results were great, and I wished that I'd spent the entire game just working on it.

Since I took my new job at the Journal Star, I got lucky and got to shoot another panoramic…this time for the paper. ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to town last week, and because it was such a micromanaged situation, I took my tripod to shoot a couple panoramas during downtime. I showed them to Ted Kirk, the photo editor, and he liked them enough to have me go back and shoot one during the show's finale, when they "move that bus," because we wanted to show the readers what the entire scene looked like, instead of just showing the progress on the house. I took the lessons I learned from the NLCS and applied them on the Extreme Makeover set. I spent about 45 minutes just shooting for the panoramic, using my tripod and making small jpegs (the final print was still 80-inches wide). I did all of this with my 70-200 zoom set at 70mm. First, I shot a background panoramic, and then I dropped in things I wanted, like a fire truck, a street sweeper, lots of spectators and the motor coach.

Photo by Michael McNamara / Lincoln Journal Star

Photo by Michael McNamara / Lincoln Journal Star

This is a detail of the wider panoramic from the "reveal" of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Now for the geeky part. If you don't care to know how I did this, just stop reading now. I set a huge canvas size that I thought would begin to hold the images I wanted. I opened images about 20 at a time, and dragged them all onto the new canvas. I took one that seemed like it was in the middle, and put it off by itself. Then, I took one that overlapped it, and made sure it was arranged above the layer of the first image.

At that point, I changed the opacity of the layer I was moving to 50%, so I could see when things were lined up from image to image. Then, I put the opacity back to 100%, and started the process over again. And when I wanted to tweak the look, I would move the new layer further back in the order (so the newest images weren't always on the top). Because I really like consistency, when I do a panoramic, I usually set the white balance manually in the camera so it always stays the same. But this was the first time I'd done a panoramic at night and I set the white balance to auto in order to get some variation from image to image; I wanted inconsistencies within the final image. And I didn't flatten the image until I was completely done. I didn't want to lose any potential data by downsizing the image. When you have a ton of layers, the file size will be huge and saving will take a long time. Be patient and don't take any shortcuts. The results are worth it.

(Michael McNamara, formerly of The Sporting News, is now the Assistant Photo Editor of The Lincoln Journal Star. His work can been seen on his member page: )

Related Links:
McNamara's member page

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