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.

Reading the Rapids: An Example of Dodging and Burning by Todd Henson

Reading the Rapids, an example of dodging and burning.

Why should you dodge and burn when processing your photographs? What difference does it make? Is it really worth the effort? And what is dodging and burning, anyway?

The term is one from the film darkroom when using the enlarger to shine light through the negative and expose it onto the light sensitive paper or other media. Dodging is the process of covering parts of the print you want lighter in the finished product. And burning is the process of adding extra light (exposure) to areas of the print you want darker in the finished product. Bruce Barnbaum, in The Art of Photography, says “dodging and burning are essential techniques in making most prints.”

Barnbaum speaks of dodging or burning when working with film in the darkroom. But the technique is just as important in the digital darkroom. We just use different tools, namely software, to accomplish it. In Adobe Lightroom I often use the adjustment brush to dodge (lighten) and burn (darken) portions of an image. In fact, the image above was dodged and burned using this technique.

Guy Tal, in The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop, describes a technique he uses in Adobe Photoshop where he creates a new image layer using the Soft Light blending mode to allow him to selectively dodge and burn any part of the image. Because he uses a separate layer he can easily make adjustments anytime and the changes are non-destructive (meaning they don’t kill pixels in the original image).

The goal is to bring out all the desired detail and mold the light in a way that strengthens the composition wherever possible. Burning or dodging can also be used to add snap to selected areas. There are, of course, any number of reasons for burning or dodging. Use them, but use them sensibly for your goals.
— Bruce Barnbaum, The Art of Photography, page 191
Among other things, dodging can be very effective in recovering shadow details or lightening the main subject so it stands out from its surroundings; burning can be used to tone down highlights or to darken the area around a subject we wish to stand out more.
— Guy Tal, The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop, page 104

The image at the top of this post is the finished photograph after dodging and burning. Below is a slideshow to step you through how dodging and burning changed the look of the photo. The effects are often subtle as you apply them, and can be difficult to see in the slideshow. Look closely as you step through. I slowly darkened and lightened different portions of the water, rocks, and kayaker. Further below is a slideshow of the original and final versions where you can more easily see the differences. I hope this helps convince you of the power of dodging and burning to shape our photographs and help lead the viewer’s eye through the frame.

Click on the photograph, or the arrows on either side, to step through the slideshow.

Below is a slideshow of the before and after images. It's much easier to see what changed in these.

I see no magic to a straight print (i.e., one with no darkroom manipulation, such as dodging or burning) unless the tonal values of the scene miraculously fall into the perfect array of tonalities everywhere. Such perfect alignment rarely occurs, so darkroom manipulation is almost always necessary. Ansel Adams knew this, for nearly all of his prints were burned or dodged, some quite heavily. I know this to be true because I had spoken to him about the printing of several of his images, and he explained the extensive manipulations required for most of his images. Most of my prints are manipulated as well, some quite extensively. I recommend that all photographers recognize this and use the tools available in the darkroom for their creative and artistic needs.
— Bruce Barnbaum, The Art of Photography, page 193

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Books Mentioned in this Post

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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