Gigapan and the billion-byte work flow


Since I figured out how to use the Gigapan device I have been running full-speed making photos with hundreds of component images, and then stitching them into gigabyte-size panoramas. Yesterday morning I climbed above Morro Rock in Morro Bay, California, to make one. Today I hiked with my friend Tom Stenovec to a place I call Eagle Point to take another.

Yesterday I took one in Mission Plaza, in front of the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, located in the center of my town. Built in 1772, the Mission is a favorite tourist spot and an active Catholic church, where three or four masses are held daily. I took a series of over 800 photos of the Mission from the middle of the plaza, and I was using the telephoto lens for this.

At the beginning of the hour-long gigapan photo session there was a fair for expectant mothers. As the camera slowly worked its way around the image (a full 360 degree pan), the fair had ended, and many of the tents were disassembled and removed from the scene. Tourists, clusters of visiting students wearing FFA jackets, and a delightful seek-and-find competition was being held simultaneously. The sun also went lower in the sky, changing my exposure by one full stop in the time it took the machine to make its rounds.

I haven’t started stitching that photo yet. It will be Monday night’s stitching event. I am sure it will be an interesting photo with all that activity.

I’m stitching the Eagle Point panorama now (late Sunday night) from a set of 888 images taken on the Canon 1ds Mark III which was nestled into the Gigapan while attached to my 100-400 mm Canon telephoto lens set at 300 mm focal length. Stitching can take hours with the Gigapan, and this one has already taken a couple of trips around the clock. This one is going to be breathtaking, and it will be really large, over 15 GB final size.

I’m treating these images both as lovely panoramic photos and as historic documents. I would like to think that 100 years from now someone will carry the Terapan (Petapan?) device up the same mountain with a sturdy tripod and record how the City of San Luis Obispo has changed since way back in 2012.

My panorama from Black Hill in Morro Bay, California. It’s a huge image, delightfully detailed, and capable of being printed over 60 feet in length on my Epson ink-jet printer. The 19:1 aspect ratio is a bit much to take-in, but it will be a fascinating printed piece. Click on the image to view it in the Gigapan web site.

My Morro Bay pano, shown here, is about 9 GB in size, and I have uploaded that to the Gigapan web site so that the world can view it. My print version of that panoramic image will print at almost 70 feet in length when I am ready for its presentation. The curious thing about the Morro Bay panoramic image is the aspect ratio. My preferred ratio of length to height for panoramic images is about 5:1. Morro Bay is more than three times that wide at 19:1, which makes it freakishly long. It’s more interesting when you zoom in, and zoom in, and zoom in.

As I type this blog entry, I’m preparing to print a 44-inch wide version of my Terrace Hill pano (posted in my blog yesterday). That print will have to be printed vertically, because – this is the first time I have ever encountered this – Photoshop will not print a file of that resolution in landscape mode; it must be rotated and printed the other way.

I have been running into little barriers like this all day, a result of pushing the limits of photographic imaging in the common and uncommon applications that I am using to make these ultra-high-resolution panoramas. The idea of assembling 888 individual photos into a single image is thrilling to me, but the process is tedious. I have to sort, rename, convert formats (Camera Raw to TIFF), and then stitch. And wait for hours while these things are happening.

This is the Gigapan Stitch 2.0 software at work on the Terrace Hill photo from Saturday. It went very quickly – about one hour – through the process.

Gigapan Stitch working on my Eagle Point panorama: This one has 888 component images, and is obviously more detailed. I don’t know how many hours it took to stitch (perhaps five?) because I was asleep while it worked. Click on the image above to go to the Gigapan site. It’s an amazing photo!

In yesterday’s two gigapan sessions, I shot about 1,700 photos. I used up all the memory cards I had in my camera case, with just part of one to spare. When I got home, I had to transfer all of these files to my hard drive, and even that took hours. Organizing takes longer, and sometimes you forget where you are. It would be easy to miss a photo in the middle of a gigapan session because you can run out of card space so easily. I was careful though; I did not run out of space on any card, but it required diligence.

Even opening a multi-gigabyte photo into Photoshop takes a long time, so I find myself being very patient as I do this stuff. Even making the reduced resolution images that I am posting here has taken hours of work in Adobe Photoshop. Reducing the 8.69 GB Morro Bay photo to a tiny JPEG of just 72 KB in size took over ten minutes of calculation time.

At some point I plan to print these panoramic images into huge ink-jet reproductions that will be mounted on a gallery wall. The Morro Bay panorama will probably be printed about 30 feet long, and my Eagle Point panorama will probably be printed at about 60 feet in length. I own an Epson 9600 wide-format printer, and I am thinking about a panoramic image printed on that company’s gorgeous Luster paper that uses more than half a roll of material (it comes in 100-foot lengths).

The Eagle Point photo finished stitching in the middle of the night (it’s 4:51 a.m. now) and I’m saving it as a Photoshop Raw file (Gigapan suggests that a TIFF file that large may pose problems for some software). It is over 200,000 pixels on the horizontal and 12,000 on the vertical. That’s exactly what I was looking for in this image – a large enough file that I can zoom in on the second floor windows of my home, which is about one mile from the camera position in the image.

Looks good!

As for the Gigapan rig itself, I will be shipping it back to the rental house today. My week-plus with that gadget is over for now. My overall impression of the Gigapan device is that it is an empowering technology. A couple of stepper motors, an internal control computer – it’s not much, really, but it makes these fabulous panoramas possible. I think it’s a great tool, and I look forward to using it again.

There will be a sequel, I promise.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
This entry was posted in Panoramic Photography, Photography, Photoshop techniques, Software. Bookmark the permalink.

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