Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

What do you do when you get a spectacular scenery but your lens is not wide enough?

I was very excited about my new Benro travel tripod.  It is light.  It folds under 19″ so it fits into my carry-on luggage.  It is sturdy, so I know I won’t have to deal with shaking camera for those long exposure night shots.  I took it along with me this week to Japan to test it out.  Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is right next to my hotel; so I set out right after I arrived:  just in time for the sunset.  Despite bringing my widest lens (17-35mm), the best I could do was frame the building only.  Which really wasn’t bad; but there was so much more at the scene that was left uncaptured.  So I decided to experiment with panoramic stitching.

Step 1 – Setup your camera in portrait mode.  You will be rotating the camera horizontally, so you need as much vertical information as possible.

Step 2 – Rotate your camera and take snap shots to be stitched later.  It helps if you can make sure the vertical lines (edges of the buildings) can be completely captured within each frame.

Step 3 – Use “Automate -> Photomerge” feature in Photoshop to stitch them back.  This is actually the most difficult part.  There are several options which you need to experiment with.  It may not come up the way you want the first time.  At this point, the perspective is all distorted.

Step 4 – Use “Free Transform” feature in Photoshop to stretch the picture until it looks more natural.  Do your best, it’s not going to be perfect.

So here it is:

Not so bad for 1st time.  But I am not happy with it because the sky was dull.  This is very typical summer night in Tokyo: cloudy and muggy.  The sky is almost always grey during summer.  The blue tint in the above picture was a result of white balance tweak.

A few days later, it rained the whole day.  Then suddenly, the sky cleared up in the after noon.  I was lucky to wrap up my work early; so I rushed back to the hotel right before sunset (6:30PM).  The best time according to my taste is about 15 minutes after the sun sets.  That’s when the sky turns mysteriously blue, and the ambient lights matches the exposure I want with the sky.  Here is the final image which I am happy with.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Lessons learned:

  • Photomerge is not perfect.  If you look carefully (pixel peep), there are some miss-alignments where the pictures were stitched.  Thanks to clone stamp and healing brush; most of them were taken care of.
  • Go wider and take more shots than you need.  It helps you with cropping later.  Part of the picture (top) was actually made using content-aware fill and cloning.
  • Timing is everything when it comes to city scape.  You have about 10 to 15 minutes of good light.  During this time, every frame you take comes out slightly different.
  •  Summer landscape = mosquitoes.  Be prepared.

Gears used:

  • Nikon D300.
  • 17-35mm lens.
  • Arca-Swiss L-bracket.  This thing lets you setup your camera on the tripod in either orientation (landscape or portrait) without changing the center of weight.  It is adjustable so you can use it with different cameras.
  • Tripod.  In this case Benro C2691TB1.
  • Remote trigger.  I used a cheap wireless trigger from eBay.
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