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City Lights, Thread the Needle #1 | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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City Lights, Thread the Needle #1

This is a small 1600x2400 crop from about 12 images of the final 80,000 pixel-wide panorama. It will be printed 36 feet wide at about 240 DPI at the headquarters of SmugMug! . It is not up yet however. I'll update the status here. I'll try to explain as much as I can below. Also, I have lots of new seascapes and stuff so stay tuned. No HDR and I did not use the Gigapan machine!


Free wallpaper for over 100 of my images in 6 different screen sizes is now available!


See the extra hi-res 1600x2400 pixel version!!


The making of:



Details about the entire panorama.:



112 11-second exposures (they were all 11-seconds to keep the city lights constant)

All shots were taken between 20 and 27 minutes after sunset on several nights over a 2 month period.

The final size is (13,423h x 80,540w, 1x6 ratio)

AutoPano stitching software to start, but 75% was hand-stitched (see the story below)


Canon 5D mark II with live view set to 10x magnification to help with precise focusing

Canon 500L lens with 1.4 extender

3 rows of portrait oriented shots with about 35-40 on each row

25% overlap on each shot

Refocus every 3rd shot with extra care on the towers and hillside to the left

No grad filters

No polarizer.

ISO 200 (to reduce the exposure time a bit but not too much to induce noise)

RAW files processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF files processed with Photoshop

Tripod - 1 home depot bucket with a circular 1-inch thick plywood board rotated on top to create panoramas.



The Story



Well, it seemed like such a harmless request at the time. The owner of a large photo sharing website wanted a mega giant print for his walls and asked me to do it. Of course I said yes and of course I could not do just another gigapixel image shot all during the daylight or nighttime hours. I wanted a picture that would appear as though it were a single exposure taken just at the moment when the city lights turn on and become evenly matched with the soft fading daylight.


This presents some problems because I came to realize that during that perfect time which only lasts about 5 minutes, I could only shoot about 15-25 frames at 11-seconds each before the quality of light changed too much. So, since the entire thing required well over 100 shots, I had to return several times under the exact same conditions to the exact same spot to get it right.


For most of the first two weeks of my attempts, visibilities were perfect but it was hot and the city lights twinkled. Twinkling when viewed through 700mm of lens makes the entire frame wave back and forth as though you are looking into a swimming pool on a windy day! During daylight it is not too bad because you can have an exposure time of 1/100 or less and things may look a bit wavy but they are at least sharp. At night, the 11 seconds make the entire image soft and unuseable.


Eventally the weather cooled and the atmosphere stabilized. So it came down to getting some misty atmosphere on several days to get through the entire panorama with similar qualities of light and mist. It took almost 2 months before I had all of my shots.


As I mentioned before, I used a plastic bucket and a round piece of plywood on top about the size of an extra large pizza. That enabled me to rotate the big lens and the wind did not affect things at all. Even the most stable tripod was not enough. Also, I used thin pieced of wood to move the lens up and down. And I used a 1x4 with a notch cut out to fit under the end of the lens to keep it from rolling around. I leveled the entire thing by eye, making the horizon cut midway through the both towers, which is the same elevation as me.


As mentioned before, the road up here on the Marin Headlands was just rebuilt and just reopened. You used to be able to drive right to this spot (amazingly) and shoot this photo right out of your car door! (Though a 500mm lens would shake too much.) It is an amazing coincidence considering that this spot is over 1 mile to the Golden Gate Bridge and 7 miles to the Transamerica Pyramid Building seen through the opening in the tower. However, there is no place to stop now because of a guardrail and some earth moving work so you have to park below and hike up to this location. I'll include the exact spot on the map.


I can't wait to see the big print!!!


The map shows the exact location.



Other stuff



My pictures are featured on the front page of the

state Government. of California website and the new Governor, Jerry Brown's website too. Have a look! It is Flash with my pics cut into layers for a 3-d slideshow. If you are into building apps, the State has opened up lots of data to the public, so check it out!






Google Earth


Simply the best way to scout out locations that there is. You can see sun angles and pre-visualize light under lots of different conditions. Sometimes you can actually pre-compose your shots! This has saved me many thousands of vertical feet of climbing by avoiding spots with blocked views etc.


Satellite imagery (choose 'National' for a local US region or use your fave website)


Tide charting and preditions: (chose your area in US, other countries have similar websites)


Wave Heights (I choose 'North Pacific from Global')

Or Here:


Photos of every inch of the California coastline from a small plane. Excellent for close in detailed views.


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Taken on January 7, 2011