How not to Panoramas

I’ve been trying to make stitcher panoramas again. It’s been a while, and I don’t have a nodal point head at the moment, but thought I would do some experiments and see what happened technically and creatively!

I took a trip to the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. The architecture has been quite divisive over the years, but I have always really liked it. Perhaps because the first time I saw the site was from above whilst walking over Salisbury Crags. The overall shape of the design curves beautifully and fits with the gentle slope down from Edinburgh Old Town. At once accentuating the hill, and also appearing to add a visual full stop to the buildings as they finish at the bottom of that hill. And the mosaic of structures, with their seeming chaotic arrangement of shapes, fits with both the natural textures and shapes of Edinburgh and somehow with Scottish culture and landscape. Whilst being a brutally modern counterpoint to the strong Neoclassical architecture surrounding it. I think it is a stunning piece of architecture and construction, as good as any you will find in the world because of it’s fit with the local landscape and cultural history.

Question was, could I make panoramas that captured and interpreted some of this collage? Sadly the answer was no. I thought it might be useful to show some rejects with a short explanation of why these photographs don’t work for me and a discussion of how I might correct the mistakes.

The maze

The wall round the site is quite distinctive and imposing, and I wanted to make it more inviting to enter the site. The composition aimed to create a visual maze through a few of the walls and walkways, layering them up so that rather than them blocking the viewers eye, instead they would lead the eye sideways, left to right, right to left through the walls before settling on one of the main buildings. It just doesn’t work, the wall is too imposing. Perhaps capturing many people as they walk along the paths, or a higher viewpoint to create separation between the walls would have worked.

The staircase

This one almost works. The morning light, the sweeping staircase leading you down to the “grand ballroom” of politics, the sense of the structures fitting in to the shape of the hill as I described in the introduction. But without a nodal point head, the parallax of steps on the staircase prevents the image stitching properly, and even the powerful and configurable PTGui struggles. The easy answer is to buy a panoramic head, I might also have made it work by shooting a single stitch frame that covered the whole of the staircase, rather than having a join between photos cutting through the middle of the stairs.

The helix

This point on an external walkway has a complicated series of lines, both straight and curved, that all seem to come together at a point in space. The overhead walkway in particular creates a very strong line, coupled with the distortion from a wide angle that might create a compositional helix that echoes both the natural design of the architecture and the DNA helix that underpins life, both of parliament and the Scottish landscape (as well as everywhere else!) Again this one is quite close, but it needs a little more height on the walkway to create more of the helix, and perhaps a bit more foreground with the strong leading lines to give another compositional layout. Overall I just need to overshoot the space around my main composition to give me more image to work with.

Technical notes

Shot with a Hasselblad X1D II 50C and a variety of lenses, all stitchers are HDR from +/- 2EV bracketed exposures. I was stitching with PTGui on a 2018 Mac Mini (i7, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, AMD Radeon RX 560 eGPU). I’ve just bought the Mac Mini and was interested to see how it would handle HDR stitchers from a medium format camera. The easy answer is easily, stitching happens in 2-3 minutes which is more that acceptable for 1-1.5GB TIFF files.

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