2013 Review – Part 1: Pans

I’ve just spent a couple of days looking back at my own work over the year, never an entirely satisfying practice. Its always too easy to see where I’ve been thinking lazily, and I don’t think 2012 has been a vintage year for my work. A lot of decent pictures that I can think I did a pretty good job with, but rather few that really make me sit up and think I’ve managed something different.

Financially it hasn’t been too great either. I keep hoping that Demotix is going to learn how to sell photography, but it has yet to happen, if anything they are getting better at giving it away for peanuts. In cash terms I’d probably do better putting my pictures almost anywhere else, except perhaps in boxes under the bed. But I like being able to publish a decent set of pictures along with a story and the alternatives I’ve looked at – other than my own website, My London Diary, don’t work like that.

One very satisfying thing in 2013 was to have a set of ten of my panoramas included in the exhibition Estuary celebrating 10 years of the Museum of London Docklands from May to the end of September. But these were all works from around ten years ago, and this year I’ve made relatively few panoramic images. But its perhaps a good excuse to start with a selection of those I have made.

I started well, on New Years Day, retaking a panorama from the same spot in Northfleet where I’ve photographed several times in the past, making images of the huge cement works. Now all of that is gone and in its place largely mud:

The following month I was by the Thames again, walking along the riverside path north of Greenwich:

[You should be able to see these panoramas larger by right clicking on them and selecting ‘View Image’]

The images in ‘Estuary’ were all made on film and had a horizontal angle of view of around 120 degrees. Now I’m almost entirely working by stitching digital images, and there are no limits – this is I think around 240 degrees. It also has a great vertical angle of view than those I made on film. I prefer to keep the aspect ratio of the image similar to those I made with film at around 2.5 : 1, as I think anything much higher than this becomes difficult to view.

In June I spent some of a long summer day in Docklands again, and made several panoramas around the Royal Victoria Dock.

This shows at left the Excel Centre and at right the view across the high level bridge which I was standing on to make the image.  Although the two appear almost parallel in the picture they are roughly perpendicular, and the entire horizontal angle of view in the image is a little over 180 degrees.  I’m not sure that I like the way that extreme angles of view like this can distort our perceptions.

Its also possible to produce stitched images that are not in panoramic format but still have a very wide angle of view. The next image, made in the same place as that above, has a similar horizontal angle to the panoramas I made on film, but over twice the vertical coverage, resulting in an almost square format. The upper image has a horizontal angle of view of around 180 degrees and that below around 130 degrees. When I create the panoramas I put the angle of view in degrees and the type of projection into the file name, which for the lower image ends “ved137”; however I often crop the final images a little, so the actual angle of view may be less than the stated figure. The Vedutismo or Panini projection was used by eighteenth century Italian painters including Panini and Canaletto and is particularly suited to this image because it keeps all diagonals through the centre of the image straight.  You can see in the upper image that the rough stitch I’ve made doesn’t quite succeed in the cable at right of centre.

From there I took the DLR from West Silvertown to Stratford and revisited the View Tube on the Greenway overlooking the Olympic site. I first photographed from here in the 1980s and made panoramas from close to this point before the Olympic bid was even announced, and have been going back at intervals since – except when the whole area was closed to the public.

The Olympic site seen in an almost 180 degree view from the furthest corned of the View Tube garden. This uses a cylindrical perspective like the swing lens film cameras I have, but with a greater angle of view both horizontal and vertical.

The view looking over the other side of the Greenway, with a similar horizontal angle of view to the film panoramas I worked with for around 25 years.

The final one I made, before hurrying off to photograph an evening protest shows the View Tube and the Olympic site in a slightly less than 180 degree view.

The following month I had a few minutes to spare when in the City of London, and made an attempt to retake an view I’d photographed before on film, but wasn’t entirely happy with the result below. I could never quite get the colour correct when printing the film version, and while this is truer, it seems a little cold and clinical.  It also shows my tendency to go too wide with digital panoramas

That’s a helicopter in front of the cloud, not a nasty dust spot. I think the image benefits from a crop to something more similar to the version I made with a swing lens camera in the 1990s, like this:

And I’ve made just a slight shift in colour too, which looks better on my screen.

In September I made a few more panoramas, both on a visit to Thames Barrier Park on another day with a fine sky (empty blue or grey can kill a scene when many have wide expanses)

and later in the month on a rather grey day, to the Harrow Road flyover near Paddington.

It hasn’t been a very productive year for me so far as pans are concerned, and going through the little work I have done, I’ve made a few resolutions for next year. Like I did last year! Then I picked up the Hassleblad X-Pan with its 30mm lens on Jan 1. I had it with me when I made the top picture in this post, and did take some images on film, but couldn’t bring myself to keep on using it, or never had it with me when I wanted to do so. It’s been sitting on my desk gathering dust all year.

Film imposes a particular discipline – every picture from a particular camera has the same aspect ratio, the same angle of view, the same projection. In the last few years I took many panoramas I was using two cameras, the rectilinear Hassleblad using the 30mm with a 2.4 : 1 aspect ratio and a horizontal angle of view of just under 90 degrees, and the Horizon with roughly 2.3 :1 aspect ratio, cylindrical perspective and an angle of view of  slightly under 120 degrees (the two other swing lens cameras I own give similar images but slightly wider coverage.) Both cameras have useful if not entirely accurate viewfinders.

Digital stitching  is limited only by the characteristics of the projection you choose, possibly up to 360 degrees horizontal and 180 degrees vertical. You don’t have a viewfinder but simply decide roughly where you want the boundaries to lie and then take images to fill that area – with a fair degree of overlap both inside it and across the edges.

High res scans from the Hassleblad or Horizon negatives give images around 7500 pixels wide. Not greatly different from the 7360 pixel width of the D800E sensor. I started thinking about this as I began writing this post late at night, stopped a little after midnight, and woke up around 6am still turning the problem over in my mind, and think I came up with a solution. Or rather two solutions, one to replace the Hasselblad and the other instead of the Horizon. It would be nice too if I could find the viewfinder from the Horizon I wore out and scrapped, but kept somewhere in case I found a use for it. So perhaps next year I’ll really get back into making panoramic photographs.


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