Lensbaby Composer Pro: some rules

Picked up a Lensbaby Composer Pro with the “Sweet 35” optic this afternoon, and took it around the neighborhood to try to initiate myself into its mysteries. After about 15 minutes of pointing and shooting, I feel confident enough to issue my first tentative rules of making interesting shots. Given my 15 minutes of experience, I suspect that these “rules” may better be termed “suspicions,” but here they are anyway:

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Welcome to Historic Algiers

Second-oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, after the French Quarter. Founded 1719. Home (as the billboard announces) of Mardi Gras World! MGW’s billboard could use a facelift.

These photos were taken around 7:30 a.m., facing roughly east-southeast, putting the sun in my eyes and the signs in shadow. So I took three shots, hoping one would be usable by itself.


Thankfully, I noted that the wind was not blowing, and the distant trees were essentially unmoved from shot to shot (moving trees create problems for layering exposures because the dark/light areas between the shots don’t line up right). So I lifted the biker out of frame #1, the billboards from frame #2, and the sky from frame #3, using an adjusted version of frame #3 as the layer mask for the sky. (And of course adjusted the White Balance on everything as well.) Then I cloned out the small triangle of boardwalk in the lower right corner, and cropped to 16×9. For the moment, I’m happy with the result. Sometimes I think the sky might be a little overbaked, but seriously, who wants reality? Not even Dan Rather wants reality.

St. Louis Cathedral ceiling panorama (New Orleans)

A certain type of “artist” (in quotes because I’m not sure straight photography is an art) would not post this picture, because it wasn’t done correctly. The bottom corners were left unphotographed during the panoramic process, and had to be filled in in Photoshop with warped parts of the top corners. The bottom right corner is particularly ugly.

I’m not yet proud enough to suppress an image (or, at least this image) for such an imperfection. Like the medieval craftsman, I’m happy to have those imperfections as mementos of my own imperfections and of the inferiority of all art to the creations of the supreme Creator. Then there’s the practical difficulty . . . I can’t just pop back over to New Orleans to try again . . . Continue reading

New Orleans: Hotel Monteleone panorama

I just got back from four days in New Orleans (and two days on the road), and had the pleasant experience of staying at the beautiful and very hospitably run Hotel Monteleone.

Hotel Monteleone

(ISO 500, f/9, 1/80 – 1/20 sec.)

The facade faces Royal Street, a one-way affair that is about three car-widths wide (i.e., when the cars’ sides are touching each other). No possibility of backing up far enough to capture this much of the structure with a wide-angle lens, at least not without the kind of distortion that comes from a fisheye lens. So I used my favorite lens for panoramas—the Canon 50mm f/1.4. This is wide enough to allow the capture of a large area in relatively few repositionings of the camera, but long enough that one obtains a lot more detail in the final image than if the shot had been captured with a single wide-angle frame.

Uncropped, unwarped frame from the center of the Hotel Monteleone panoramaHere is an uncropped, unwarped frame from the center of the panorama.

Another point perhaps of technical interest is that there are three different exposures in the final image. The top area was shot at 1/80th sec. But the surrounding buildings made the bottom part of the facade considerably darker, so the shots in this area were done at 1/40th sec. The awning further darkened the area beneath itself, so a final shot of just that area was done at 1/20th sec., and blended into the final stitched panorama using Photoshop. I prefer this method to HDR, which I think looks too funky too often. Plus, every time I try to make a tasteful HDR photo, it ends up looking like the HDR shots I don’t like.

Back to the question of distortion: Any shot like this is going to have its share of distortion, especially evident in the smaller platforms jutting out above the two middle flags. But it looks good enough, and the panoramic technique gives a unique view that can’t be obtained through other means.

I wish I had reshot the bottom left image when no people were there. I thought it would be good to include the man crossing the street, but didn’t reckon on his being distorted so as to appear twice as big as the people near the awning.

I also didn’t reckon that I would lose my Powershot S95 on this trip. I may have left it somewhere, as I don’t think there are any thieves among the folks working at the Monteleone. But hey, if you’re reading, and you come across it . . . drop me an e-mail! I’d be glad not to have to buy a new camera.