Great Falls

First Attempts at Photographing Action Sequence Panoramas by Todd Henson

A 4 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of an 11 megapixel image.

After watching and photographing world class kayakers paddling Great Falls on the Potomac River I wondered if I could assemble any of the images I’d created into a single action sequence image, showing the athlete at various positions all in the same photograph. I hadn’t exactly shot with this end goal in mind, so I wasn’t sure if it would work.

If I had planned for it I might have used a wider angle lens and locked the camera down on the tripod. I would have used a small enough aperture to capture the entire course in focus. Then I would have simply clicked the shutter every so often as the athlete maneuvered downriver. I could have merged these into a single image in Photoshop with minimal difficulty because each image would be of the same part of the scene and the only change from image to image would be the moving subject.

But I didn’t plan ahead this time. I didn’t use a wide angle lens. And I didn’t lock my camera down on the tripod. I used a long telephoto with a large aperture and panned with the kayak. This meant I wasn’t going to create the standard sort of action sequence, but instead an action sequence panorama, where the camera moves between images.

The images below were used to create the stitched action sequence panorama above:

George Lepp wrote a great article about this in 2011 at Outdoor Photographer magazine. It might have been nice if I’d read this article first, but that’s why I’m sharing it with you, in case you want to give this a try. Keep in mind this is an older article so the current version of Photoshop may include features that make this process easier that the method mentioned in the article.

As you can see in Lepp’s article the panoramas he creates show his subjects moving parallel to him. That means the depth of field stays consistent so he can use a large aperture and still easily merge the photos in Photoshop.

A 5 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of a 19 megapixel image.

Unfortunately, in my case the subject was moving towards me. This caused problems with depth of field when stitching the photos together. The shallow depth of field shifted towards me as I followed the kayaker. I think there are likely ways to make this work in Photoshop.

An 8 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of a 37 megapixel image.

Another issue I ran into due to my lack of planning was not knowing if I had enough of the course captured in the images to create a larger multi-frame panorama of the scene. And as it turned out, in at least one of these sequences I hadn’t captured enough. So I tried using Photoshop’s Content Aware features to manufacture the missing pieces. It did a reasonable job in some cases and a not-so-reasonable job in others. But I present them all here for you to see. It gives an idea of some of the capabilities and limitations of that tool. I do believe a more skilled user could make better use of these features, so I keep practicing and learning. I encourage you to do the same.

One feature, or side effect, of creating stitched panorama images, wether they be standard stitched panos or these action sequence panos, is a potential increase in the size of the image. Stitching many photos together can increase the total number of pixels in the image, even when overlapping images to assist the software during the stitching process. These were all shot with an 11 megapixel camera, and you can see in the descriptions the end results varied from 11 to 37 megapixels. More megapixels can be good if you want to create a large print, or it can be bad if you’re limited in hard drive space and computer processing power. But it’s important to realize doing this can result in some very large image files.

A 10 scene action sequence panorama. I didn’t capture enough of the scene to correctly create the final image.

Because I was missing parts of the scene I attempted to use Photoshop to “create” the missing parts. This shows both good and bad examples of Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill feature. This is equivalent to a 26 megapixel image.

Have you ever attempted action sequence panoramas? If not, give them a try, and let me know about your experiences.


Riding the Rapids Below Great Falls on the Potomac River by Todd Henson

A slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec shows the movement of the water, making a more dynamic photograph.

The Potomac River is a popular location for whitewater sports such as kayaking. Between Maryland and Virginia, not too far from Washington, DC, the river narrows and drops in elevation, creating a number of fantastic world class falls.

Riding the wave. A shutter speed of 1/100 sec is a nice balance between slow and fast.

Just below Great Falls the river levels out a bit and provides some nice rapids. This is a great location to ride the waves, with spots where kayakers can maintain their location on the river, as if they were surfing a wave on the ocean but without moving forward.

Slicing through the water. This time the shutter speed was 1/160 sec.

The kayaker in this post was riding in such a location. In one of the photos you can see him smile as he holds his paddle horizontally, riding the crest of the wave. Kayakers were rotating through this location. They would each spend enough time there to get a real workout and enjoy the feel of the river. Then they’d move aside and let another kayaker ride that wave.

Big smiles, enjoying the wave. Shutter speed for this image was 1/200 sec.

For these photos I tried a range of shutter speeds. You can create a number of different looks by changing your shutter speed when photographing fast action like this, especially when water is involved. Use a fast shutter speed and you can freeze the action, showing individual drops of water hanging in mid-air. Use a slower shutter speed and you can really show the motion and action as the water flows around the kayaker, his paddle blurring as he maneuvers it.

A fast shutter speed of 1/1250 sec freezes most of the water, showing individual droplets.

See how dynamic the action can look at a slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec.

If you ever have the opportunity I encourage you to find a location where you can watch and photograph kayakers, then leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences.

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Angular Flow No. 2 by Todd Henson

Angular Flow No. 2

The Story

Angular Flow No. 2 is a photograph of water flowing over a dam above Great Falls on the Potomac River, between Maryland and Virginia. This photograph was created on the Virginia side of the river. A previous image, Angular Flow No. 1, was created on the Maryland side. As with the previous photograph, I had been photographing the falls and some of the various birds that congregate along the river.

At one point I ended up at the dam upriver from the falls. For the previous photograph I was standing upriver from the dam looking downriver. For this photograph I was standing just downriver from the dam looking upriver.

As before, I loved the patterns and tones created by the flowing water as it flowed over the dam. And I wanted to capture the interesting forms created by the churned up water below the dam, so I knew I needed a fast shutter speed.

The Technique

To get a fast shutter speed I just needed to open up the aperture of my lens, which lets in more light allowing the sensor to get a proper exposure in less time. As a side effect this also reduces the depth of field, but I chose such a small portion of the dam, and this was intended to be an abstract image, so the shallow depth of field wasn’t a great concern. You can see the water closest to and furthest from the camera is slightly out of focus due to the large aperture.

Using an aperture of f/5.6 and raising my ISO to 800 let me use a fast shutter speed of 1/2500 second, freezing the foaming water below the dam and letting us see some of the interesting patterns.

The Processing

Below is the raw image before I made any adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. It is a color image, but there isn’t much color and it didn’t contribute anything to the photograph so I knew I would convert to black and white.

The original raw image for Angular Flow No. 2

The exposure was a little darker than I would have preferred so I raised the exposure in Lightroom, lightening up the water. I also brightened the whites and darkened the blacks to add a little more contrast. And finally, I converted the image to black and white and adjusted each color channel to balance the tones. In this case there wasn’t much color in the image so I didn’t tweak much.

Angular Flow No. 2 - The final version in black and white

What do you think, would you have done anything differently? Let me know in the comments below.