I was curious to try producing a Gigapan image after seeing David Bergman’s image of President Obama’s Inauguration. Armed with a rental Gigapan Epic Pro, I convinced the fine folks at The Oregonian to free me up from our coverage of the Oregon vs. Auburn 2011 BCS football game to try to produce my first image of a large crowd at an event.
The basic idea of building an image is this … You use a long lens (usually about 300mm) and photograph a large grid of images. The Gigapan Epic Pro is a robotic tripod head that automates the capture of the images. The images are then stitched together forming an extremely large file. My arena images have ended up being in the 14-gigabyte range in size. That is huge! The image is then uploaded to a server where it is broken down into thousands of individual tiles. The image is broken down in a way that when a person views the image online, they are only viewing the tiles that are necessary. This process allows a person to explore an image without long download and wait times.
Since the BCS game, I have practiced on a couple Portland Trail Blazer games and even brought the Epic Pro to Hawaii on my vacation. My most recent experience with the imager was at the Portland Timbers home opener. This was the first time the newest Major League Soccer team would play at their new home facility in Portland. What a great opportunity to document an event and allow people to explore the historic scene.
I like to compare the process to setting up remotes. Anyone who has set up remote cameras knows that if something can go wrong … it probably will.
Unfortunately, this is Portland and as everyone knows, it was raining. Raining hard. The rain didn’t make capturing the image any easier. During the capture, which took about 45-minutes, I had to keep my attention focused on the process. It’s not like you can press a button and let the imager do all the work. There are things that can and will go wrong and you have to make sure they don’t. The MLS image is made up of 612 pictures. The imager is programed to fire the camera and then move on to the next frame. It is important to get each of the images in focus. It is important to make sure it doesn’t skip a frame. So, what I am saying is the there are a lot of little details to manage in a short amount of time.
I had time to take 2 passes at the Timbers game – one in the first half and another in the second. The first pass did not turn out very well. The exposure was off – the field looked great, but the fans in the stands were too dark. On the second pass, I changed the exposure depending if I was pointing at the dark parts of the stands or on the bright field. It takes a lot of concentration to keep track of what you are doing while being quick about it. Think of it this way … you have one or two chances to take 600+ pictures that are all in focus and exposed properly. No retakes. Game is over in 90 minutes.
I am trying to put my own creative twist to my images. During the games I am also photographing the action on the field with a separate camera. In the stitching process, I put these individual images into the composite. The individual images are all placed in the exact location that they were photographed. So, the completed image is still an accurate document of what happened, but it didn’t all happen at the same moment. The top left image happened 45-minutes before the bottom right corner everything else happened somewhere in the middle.
The final Timbers image turned out fine. The rain was coming dow pretty hard during parts of the game. There are a couple sections of the image that the amount of rain makes it difficult to make out faces and there is a small section that is simply out of focus. I’m still learning. The image has proved to be popular with the Timbers fans. In the first day it was online we had about 15,000 page views and as I write this there have been almost 1,000 people that have been tagged using Gigapan’s Facebook integration. It will be exciting to explore the future potential applications of this technology.