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Thursday
Oct042012

I've Moved

I've set up a nice new site at www.jameslwatt.com so go over there for new content.   I won't be keeping this up to date from now on.

See you over there!

James

Wednesday
Feb082012

Travels

So, here is a map with our journey through Asia on it!

The markers are places we stayed for one night or more.   The blue lines are bus journeys, the red is buses and the yellow is flights.

Its been a mad trip and a lot of fun!

Wednesday
Nov022011

Street Photography

So, I've been shooting street photography for the last year and have finally got a group of photos together to show.

Street Photography Gallery

I love the process of shooting on the street.   Its always a balance how close you get to people, how obvious you make it that you are taking someones photo and it is a continual hunt to find interesting moments that last for a millisecond then are gone.   

The process is an interesting one, which normally just gives you 1 photo each day you spend walking around.   Other days a few moments will just appear from nowhere.   Thats a great feeling when these things just work!   So, go and have a look at the gallery and tell me what you think...

Tuesday
Oct112011

Poland

I've finally uploaded some new photos that I've taken in Poland a couple of months ago!

Each time I go to Poland, I think that I get a better idea and feel for the country.   It really has a distinct flavour thats different from anywhere else.   I think I'm starting to understand this and hope I get this across in the photos.

Click here to go to the gallery

Tuesday
Jun282011

Panoramas with the Fuji x100

Over the last 3 months I've been shooting panoramas with the x100 and have just been to Scotland where I went as far as to shoot most of my photos in pano mode.

The panorama feature of the x100 is often overlooked as a gimmick but I would say that it is a fantastic feature which can easily be used in certain situations.   All of the panoramas I shot in this post and of Scotland are unedited and uncropped.

The camera allows you to shoot a panorama by rotating the camera around a predefined angle.   The camera grabs slices of the view and stitches them together into one image.   It also works out the distortion and instantly shows you a finished panorama!   I always shoot handheld and with a bit of practice you can produce seamless panoramas in seconds.

Problems 

Now obviously with this method there are a few problems.   First, if there is any moving objects in the scene, the camera can slice these up, make objects partly disappear or show multiple versions of the object.   Secondly since you are moving the camera, any significantly wrong movements can introduce errors in the image, where the image slices.   With a bit of practice you can reduce errors in both situations and produce quality results.

Advantages

So, many people may ask, why shoot a panorama in this way when you could shoot the old way of taking multiple photos and stitch them together in photoshop?   There are a few advantages.  
First is immediacy.   Straight away you will know if your shot is working or not, you can adjust your positions and reshoot.   
Secondly, you start to learn the 120 degree frame and you will get better at shooting panos.   Due to repeated practice at shooting panos, you can start seeing the frame and learn to compose your shots faster and will also learn how the shot will distort in the frame.   Because it produces faster output and feedback you can also get better at panoramas faster.
Third, you don't need to stitch in photoshop.   Now, the tools to stitch are quite easy nowadays.   You can just point photoshop and a bunch of photos and they will stitch together well.   But this still takes a lot of time if you want to shoot a lot of panoramas.   If you have shot hundreds of panoramas over the course of a holiday, it will take ages to stitch them together.   In the past, I've wasted time stitching badly composed shots together.   If you wanted to stitch in Photoshop you could actually use the pano mode to plan and set your composition, then take your shots to stitch together once you are happy. 
Finally, you can play with panoramas!   I've shot quite a few panoramas in places that I don't know if a pano will work.   You can use the function in many situations that you never considered doing a pano shot, and if it doesn't work, no problem, you've wasted no time!

Settings

When shooting in panoramic mode, first find a view that you think will work as a pano.   By putting the camera to your eye and rotating around a point, you can start planning out the panorama and choosing focal points etc.   By using the same angle range for the pano, you can soon start to compose before you press the button by imagining the frame size in your head.
I set all of my panos to the same angle of 120 degrees.   This gives a viewable frame that works as a photo.    I think that 180 degrees is simply too long and thin to be useable.      It is also very hard to control subject matter in such a long, thin panorama.
Next, depending on the subject, I choose either a vertical or horizontal format for the image.   You need to make the call if the scene in front of you will work better horizontal or vertical.   If shooting vertical you often need to have interesting stuff in the frame from above the horizon to directly in front of your feet, for the shot to work.   Also, you can sometimes end up shooting your own feet, so you might want to put on your best shoes!
The next decision is what direction to shoot the pano in.   By default the camera is set up to shoot left to right, but in some cases you will want to change this.   I want to have strong framing in the panorama in at least one side, whereas the other side can run longer.   So, I would choose to start the frame from the side with the strongest feature then run long on the other side.    Another situation is if you want to position a key feature at a specific position in the frame.   By keeping the position of the feature closer to the side you start from, you have more chance of positioning the feature where you want.

Exposure and Focus

So, now you are about ready to shoot.   The next decision is your focus and exposure.  
Due to the nature of panoramas, you will probably want to focus to infinity but that is not necessarily the case.   You can lock the focus on an part of the scene with a half press then move to the start of the pano that you are shooting.   I like to set focus lock up on the AF-L button so I can control focus separately to exposure.
The other consideration which I've found much more important is getting the exposure right.   Due to the fact that the panorama will be stored as a jpg, you will not have the convenience of a RAW files dynamic range, so you really need to get it right in-camera.   Since the panorama mode automatically changes to EVF mode, you can pretty much see your exposure in the viewfinder.   In bright light, I often cover the viewfinder and around my eye with my left hand to block out external light, and make sure that the exposure is correct.   Since the exposure is going to be the same throughout the whole panorama, you really need to decide on what you want to show in the shot and I normally set the exposure on the main point of focus in the shot I'm taking.   Just point to the camera at whatever part of the panorama you want to set the exposure for, change the exposure compensation to really nail it, then half press the shutter.   This will lock the exposure and you can then return the camera to the start of the panorama that you want to shoot.

Stance

So, poised and ready with the camera set up, you now want to ready yourself for shooting the pano.   As I said previously, I never use a tripod, so this adds a few complications.   I have found, to shoot handheld, its best to follow a set of practices.   First, get your feet together on a relatively flat piece of ground.   Putting your feet together allows you to turn your body through the whole panorama easier and being on flat ground stops you falling over!    
I then find a point roughly in the middle of the panorama and I point my feet towards that point.   This is key to creating a level pano.   If your stance is pointing at the start of the panorama, by the end your body will be twisted up and your horizon line will be lost, causing the photo to break into slices.
So, point your feet at the middle of the shot, turn your body to the start of the panorama and push in the shutter. 

Shooting

The panorama will then start taking.   Now, at this point you need to turn the camera steadily and keep the horizon in the same position throughout the shot.   One problem with doing this is the yellow horizon line and the cross that tracks your offset from the horizon.   I have found that this feature is best ignored.   There is about a second delay in the crosses position which means that any shift you compensate for will be probably inaccurate, making you overshoot the compensation.   So, if you see it diverging from the line, its best to just ignore it and concentrate on keeping the camera at what you think is the best horizon position.   If you do start trying to compensate for the cross, I've found that my panorama gets increasingly erratic.
When shooting the 120 degree panorama, you will actually need to pan through a much larger range to about 180 degrees.   This is a bit frustrating since once you can visualise the frame, you will realise when your shot is complete but the camera will keep shooting.   But it is best to keep going or the camera can stop shooting the pano.
Too slow or fast and the camera will stop, so just try to keep a steady pace throughout the entire shot.

If you are brave enough to shoot a pano with moving things in your scene, good luck!   The only way I've found of mitigating problems in this situation is to move the camera as fast as possible so that the slices the camera takes are much bigger.   If you are shooting moving objects, its best if they are in the distance.   Also, you can get away with shooting moving objects more in a vertical pano, since most of the frame will be mainly ground or sky.   If you are shooting people you can obviously ask them to stay still through the course of the panorama.   Just be wary of strained smiles throughout the shot!

Checking

So, at this point, you should have an amazing pano shot, with very little breakup and and awesome composition!   But how do you know?   Maybe there is a tiny break in the middle of the shot that would take ages in post to fix.   So, when in playback mode and viewing your pano. you can press down on the control pad and the pano will scroll through for you to have a quick check.   This will allow you to see any flaws in the shot and any breaks.    If you need more time, you can push down again to stop the scroll-through and use left and right on the pad to pad back and fore through the shot.   If you need to get really close, you can obviously zoom in in the normal way.

Banding

So, that's about as much as I know, up to now.   I'm still working on figuring out why you sometimes get banding through some panoramas and I'm trying to figure out a way to avoid it as much as possible.    Shooting into the sun is a big cause of this problem.   I've got a feeling that at very high shutter speeds, there is discrepancies in the exposure, so trying to reduce the shutter speed would help.   I've not tried it yet, but in this situation the ND filter should help this.   Another thing that definitely causes some banding is flaring on the lens.   You can mitigate flaring a bit by setting higher apertures.   I'm also considering buying the lens hood for removing the flare banding from shots.

If you have any other tips, tricks or ideas about shooting panoramas, give me a shout because I would love to hear them.   Also, if you find this useful and shoot some nice shots, I would like to see them.   

Have a look at my best Scotland panoramas here