The Rose Window at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Austin, Texas

rose-window-600pxUpdate: This photo is available for purchase. Send inquiries to the photographer at

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This picture is a composite of 33 separate exposures, assembled by hand in Photoshop. It shows the complete rose window at St. Mary’s in downtown Austin, and is likely the first photo ever to show the whole of the stained-glass design. You can see in the photo below how much of it is normally hidden from view behind wooden beams.

During last year’s restoration of the church’s towers, cracks were found in the stone spokes of the rose window. These spokes, I am told, are not just “window dressing” (har har), but are structural elements. So, in order to avert catastrophe, restoration of the rose window was added to the “to do” list . . .

Here is a picture of the window before any restoration. This was July 22, 2011. The wood is all cracking and rotting, the glass is dirty, and the leading is corroding. Window had issues, aside from the cracks in the exterior stonework.

Rose window at St. Mary's Cathedral

Close-up of some nastiness. Do I see pigeon-droppings? (It could happen. Also from the “unexpected happenings” file: a couple of weeks ago a homeless guy got into the church at night through the rose window—climbed the scaffolding and hopped in through a gap.)

Rose window at St. Mary's CathedralNow the window has been completely cleaned, and all the lead replaced. Not sure if window-makers and conservationists still use lead, or if something more human-life-friendly has been substituted . . . anyway, the stuff looks like grey metal.

The pieces were all stacked up waiting for me this morning.


I hung a white sheet from a background stand and shot an Einstein through it, through the back of the window pieces, for the tiny ones. Added one AlienBees for the 7-foot-wide (or -tall) pieces, for more even coverage. Almost none of these pieces was even or regular enough to be able to rest on its side without holding it, so I had the camera on a tripod and triggered it via infrared remote that I’ve had for 15 years and (so thankfully) works with my 5D Mk 3. I rested each piece on top of a shortish bookcase; the bookcase was centered over a line in the floor, over which line my camera was also aligned. I put masking tape along the edge of the bookcase’s top and marked the center, so each piece would be put in roughly the exact same place (big fan of rough exactness). I called for help with the 7-footers and the center medallion. Rested the center roundel on a small table and both of us held it upright.

Rose window-052

This could have compromised the focus on this piece, but you know what? If you want to know the truth, I know sharp and I know a near-miss, and this one is a lot closer to sharp, no kidding, so I’m not going to go commit suicide or anything (I just finished rereading The Catcher in the Rye and all).

Lightroom Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 9.54.43 PM


Rose window Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 4.57.45 PM

The above picture shows part of my Lightroom 4 catalog. I opened each picture in Photoshop and downsized everything to match the center roundel. Then opened a big document (15,000 x 15,000), threw down some guidelines, and started putting pieces in place. I would rotate and position each piece, and then add a layer mask to get rid of the white background, bookcase top, etc. This “progress” screenshot is from my first go—I had put all the “arms” in in the order I shot them, which ended up looking odd, so I started again from zero, with new guidelines and everything. If you look closely you can see that the arms all have either a blue or a green “dot” separating the main window section from the circular portion at the ends of the arms—except one arm has a red dot and one has an orange dot. So there are 8 greens, 6 blues, 1 red, 1 yellow. In my redone image (see below) I decided to put the orange dot on top, like it’s the sun, the red dot on bottom, like it’s the fires of hell (just making stuff up now . . . I just wanted it opposite the orange), the the blues and greens alternating evenly on each side. Each wooden frame has a number etched into its side, from 1 to 16, but the resulting color patterns appeared random when I arranged the pieces by number. So I just did what I wanted. This is not how the window was previously installed—but just because some workmen 100 years ago installed it that way doesn’t mean they were right. I mean, at the front of the church we’ve got a St. Joseph window that reads in ornate script, “sancjos tuseph.” Oops.

Hope you enjoy the pic and the brief discussion of its making. Here’s a slightly larger version of the pic above.


400-megapixel image of New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church

I’ve been experimenting a little bit with shooting panoramas with my 70-200mm lens, zoomed in to 200mm. The black and white church image above was taken in this manner, requiring 48 shots to obtain complete coverage of the area. (The area extends somewhat on all sides of the above crop.) The same shot done with a 50mm lens takes 12 shots—which is what one might expect, I suppose. 200/50 = 48/12.

It’s black and white because the day was overcast and ugly, and the color version merely serves to underline just how ugly. The final image, as shown above, measures 20,068 pixels square, or about 402 megapixels. But really I’m just glad that it stitched as well as it did. There’s only one spot I could see where it doesn’t seamlessly line up, but it is only visible at the largest size. And it’s on the central roofline, too—not in the trees or some obscure place.


Technical Concerns
The reason I’m surprised at the stitching’s not being worse is that I was just guessing as to the “nodal point” of the camera/lens apparatus. To make panoramas that stitch properly, one has to position the camera so that the optical center of the whole rig is placed directly above the vertical axis of the tripod, both left-to-right and also forward-to-back. It’s relatively easy to eyeball the left-to-right positioning—one can see whether the lens is over the tripod’s center. But determining the forward-to-back positioning is a matter of trial and error and close observation. You have to pan the camera back and forth with two fixed objects in view, one near and one far. When you pan left and right you observe the amount of parallax that occurs between the two objects. If they stay in the same place relative to each other, you have no parallax and you have found the right front-to-back positioning for that camera and lens and focal length. Problem is that zoomed in at 200mm, one can only pan about 7.5º before the objects leave the frame . . . and I can’t tell how much parallax is happening. Have only tried this in my apartment so far, though—maybe I need to go outside.

At any rate, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to get good results without buying more equipment. I was planning on buying the Really Right Stuff PG-02 VA with B2 LR II clamp, which is the newer and beefier version of their CRD rail (mine has a panning clamp on it). I thought I would have to hang the camera off the back of the vertical component, as with the standard 3-rail panoramic setup—which, with the 70-200, is too heavy for the old-skool panning clamp on my existing vertical rail—but as it happens, I seem to be able to clamp the 70-200 right into my existing vertical rail and obtain acceptable results. When I get my 600mm lens, I’ll revisit this question . . .


Here’s what the individual shots look like arranged in a grid. I assume that the misalignment of some of the pieces results from my guessing at the positioning of the camera, but don’t know for sure.


Andrew York in concert: panorama

Andrew York, one of my favorite living guitarists and composers, and former member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, played in Austin last night (22 June 2013). He gave us a great show of pieces by himself and some selections from Bach’s fifth cello suite. The Bach was in cello tuning, which was a revelation to me—a much lower pitch than the versions normally heard on guitar.

Normally at classical guitar concerts I try to shoot as discreetly as possible (and as discretely as possible, not being very good at multiple exposures), releasing the shutter only during loud passages or during applause. But this was the first Austin Classical Guitar Society show to take place at GT Austin (the Church of Glad Tidings) and I wanted to capture something out of the ordinary to mark the occasion.

2013-06-22-4929 Panorama

My guest at the show (sitting with legs crossed at bottom left) told me that while I was shooting “I was getting looks” from someone in the crowd. Thankfully, that guy is not looking at me in the final picture . . .

Tech specs: 15 images (5 wide by 3 high) + 1 at a different exposure for the performer. Performer: ISO 3200, f/8, 1/60th. Crowd: ISO 3200, f/8, 1/5th. Then in post I upped the exposure on the crowd by another full stop. With a panorama full of people, even seated people, some of whom may even be sleeping, I don’t like to use too long of shutter times. Plus, as I was reminded after my first shot, on the 5D Mark III the “silent shutter” mode is negated when one uses the 2-second timer. So in the dark, my face red from mirror-slap embarrassment, I silently turned off the timer, and did my best to hand-press the shutter for each of the required exposures. The results turned out to be perfectly acceptable, in this case, but touching the camera during a 1/5th-second exposure could easily result in unwanted blur.

Also moved the camera 30º laterally instead of my normal 25º, in hopes of getting this semi-obnoxious business over with more quickly. (If only I had a sound-proof box to shoot from . . . or a mirrorless camera.) I think it saved me perhaps 3 frames . . .

Still pondering the blending on the final image—I am not sure about the way the white curtain looks directly behind Andrew York. Thinking it should be brighter.

BTS: Hamilton Pool panorama

Someone asked how this picture was assembled, so here’s a behind-the-scenes look.

To get detail in every part of the scene, multiple exposures are required. I used three:
—sky and daylight areas
—the dark areas under the lip
—transitional areas between the two extremes

I shot the daylight areas first: 11 frames shot with a 50mm lens. With the 50, I shift horizontally 25º between each frame in a given row, and 20º vertically between each row. This leaves about 35% of overlap between frames, making it easy for PTGui to find control points. One could pivot as much as 37.5º horizontally and still retain a tiny overlap area, but the program gets confused when dealing with such a small overlap area, and in many cases one wants the extra area because there may be few distinguishing features to identify as control points (e.g., in ceilings of buildings, where sprinkler heads, recessed lighting fixtures, etc., may not be grouped very closely together). So approx. 1/3 overlap seems a good rule of thumb to me.

Here’s the sky area stitched together. There’s a lot of black at the top because, given my starting point on the bottom and my strict 20º vertical shifts, I ended a row with a tiny sliver of sky not accounted for . . . and had to add an extra row on top.

hamilton-pool-sky-layerNext step was to cover the whole area with my “baseline” exposure: 8 wide by 5 high, or 40 images total.

hamilton-pool-baseline-exposure-layerThe final step was to shoot the darkest areas a little brighter. For this step, I could skip the bright areas of the scene altogether. In my very early panoramas, ca. 2009, I would shoot entire scenes with three exposures and 66% overlap, which led to a lot of superfluous frames. I’ve slowly become more economical in my technique. As you can see below, I didn’t save a lot of frames by omitting the sky . . . but I did save a few. (Four, to be exact.)

hamilton-pool-bright-layerThe total number of frames shot, then, was 87. 11 for the sky, 40 for the whole-scene layer, and 36 for the bright.

Then the three layers have to be blended in Photoshop. I dislike the look produced by HDR programs like Photomatix and others, for the most part. I prefer the “natural” look that comes from painting in the layer masks by hand.

hamilton-pool-layer-masksThe middle layer mask has a little grey area painted in to compensate for the bright area that showed up in that exposure. Not sure if that’s part of the coloration of the rock, or if it’s a photographic artifact . . . but I didn’t like it. I also fixed the bottom corners in the final version.

Hamilton Pool

West of Austin about 30 miles. Very nice place—I can’t say anything about it that can’t be found elsewhere online, except that this was my second time there, and I hope not my last visit.

Here’s a panorama of the whole pool, in 3 layers of exposures. I will post separately on my method for creating this pic.
2013-05-08-9880 Panorama-water

This is a shot of the underside of the rim, rotated 180º.
2013-05-08-0092 This pic was made from 4 exposures taken from 3 frames. The sky was hard to deal with, due to the time of day (11 minutes past noon) and the angle I was shooting from. Still not 100% happy with it, sub specie aeternitatis, but can accept it during this life . . .2013-05-08-0100-Edit-1200

Another multiple-exposure composite: for the pathway, ISO 100, f/11, 1/125th, and for the big rock, 1/20th sec.2013-05-08-0105-Edit

The path to the pool is beautiful and sometimes steep. Could be dangerous for someone blindfolded or drunk.2013-05-08-0110-Edit

The restroom building next to the parking lot.2013-05-08-0123 This last pic shows what happens to the flowers when you invert the Curves line for the A and B channels in LAB mode, and then mask off the rest of the picture.2013-05-08-0123-Edit-2

Precision Camera in Austin

Precision Camera panoramaFor many years I have been getting almost all of my prints made at Precision Camera. I think they are the only camera store left in Austin. They offer a good balance between high quality and low price. This is their new location on Anderson Lane just west of Burnet Road. Much bigger than the old place at 38th and Lamar.

I never remember to move my tripod bag out of these 180º panoramas . . .

This is 36 images (9 across by 4 high) done with a 50mm lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/8th sec.


Incredible panoramic tools in Tuscany

Over at Luminous Landscape, photographer Enrico Cinalli has published a very interesting look at how he’s producing landscape panoramas of his native Tuscany.

In short, he’s rigged his SUV with a pneumatic pole that telescopes out to 33 feet high. At the top, a mechanized panoramic head. A tablet computer connected via USB controls the whole business, using a script that he developed himself. Pretty awesome.

This is great for a couple of reasons:

1) Height imparts a special look to landscape photos. 33 feet is pretty high up.

2) Having mechanized the entire thing, Cinalli doesn’t have to risk his own skin by climbing up a huge ladder. E. O. Goldbeck (1892-1986), a photographer from San Antonio who was famous for his panoramas (e.g., of groupings of military personnel), was apparently completely fearless. For the big “insignia” panoramas (the troops would be dressed and arranged so that they would form their group’s insignia), which took days to plan and hours to execute, he would build a small tower from which to shoot the photo. But for other stuff—impromptu landscape panoramas, I guess (that circular platform at the very top is the base for his panoramic camera)—he had a tall ladder attached to his car. I think he must have gone through multiple versions of this ladder: I remember seeing a photo in a book on Goldbeck, in the reading room at the Harry Ransom Center (which owns Goldbeck’s archives as well), that showed a different car-mount setup. And in this other picture he was standing on the top step of this crazy ladder.

I can only imagine that Goldbeck’s car-mount ladder must have been incredibly shaky . . . it’s a testimony to his skill that he was able to make it work at all. I once tried putting PVC pipe on the ends of my tripod legs, which bought me an additional 2 feet of height. But it would wobble if anyone walked past. Okay for shooting alone and indoors, but bad for everything else. Cinnali explains that he deals with wind and wobble by keeping his shutter times very short. I had to do that on the boardwalks in Yellowstone, or give up the idea of panoramas of Mammoth Hot Springs.

In many cases, one doesn’t need to be as high as Goldbeck or Cinalli to get a great image, but my hat is off to both of them for literally taking it to the next level.

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.