Lesson Of The Month
Improving Your Scenic Shots

Lesson Of The Month

Photos © 2002, Ben Clay, All Rights Reserved

The panoramic shot above is of a lighthouse at Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Henry Longfellow used to walk out here from Portland for inspiration with his poetry and needless to say, it is a very popular spot among tourists. While photographs of lighthouses tend to fall into the "popular among tourists" category of photography and are often seen as being "clichés" (particularly in New England), it is still possible to create unique-looking images from such highly photographed scenes. By taking the time to figure out the shot you want and knowing what methods to use to get it, you will invariably create results that stand apart from those of the "point-and-click" crowd.

One of the key elements when shooting outdoors is the condition of the sky. An overcast day can be great for minimizing contrast in highlights and shadows, but it can also make for a rather bland sky. And while a cloudless, sunny day can render vibrant colors and sharp detail in high contrast, clear, continuously toned skies can also be relatively boring in many photographic situations. On this particular day, the sky was filled with large, cumulus rain clouds, which typically make for more interesting backdrops. Photographers tend to keep an eye out for days like these.


Setting Up
Once I arrived at the lighthouse, I brought my camera bag and tripod to a patch of ground just south of the lighthouse. I mounted an Olympus C-5050 Zoom digital camera to a Manfrotto tripod and positioned the camera vertically to frame the lighthouse (#1).

Since I was a fair distance away, I zoomed all the way in to fill as much of the lighthouse in the shot as possible. I set the White Balance to Daylight, the resolution to SHQ, the shooting mode to Program, and the metering mode to ESP. I then took a shot (#2).

As you can see from the result, the exposure rendered from this automatic shooting mode was dead-on. The ESP exposure mode in this camera is particularly adept at rendering good exposures in normal lighting situations. Keep in mind though that there are times, as in shooting in backlit situations, when you will want to control your exposure manually. The simplest way to adjust your aperture and shutter speed settings is within the Manual mode.


After reviewing the shot in the LCD of the camera, I realized I wanted to be able to come in a little tighter on the lighthouse. But since I was already at the end of my zoom setting, and the fact that there was a fence and body of water between the lighthouse and me, I was hard pressed to increase the size of the lighthouse with this setup. Fortunately, I had an Olympus Tele Conversion lens attachment with me. Within 30 seconds, I attached the lens, reframed the shot, and took another exposure (#3).

Now the lighthouse fills the frame and you can even make out the details of its upper walkway. As you can see, this accessory lens is invaluable for location shots like these. And since it's so lightweight, it's easy to carry along with the rest of your camera gear.


Panoramic Mode
Next, I wanted to create a simple panoramic image to include the lighthouse, the rocky shore, and the ocean. The C-5050 Zoom has a panoramic shooting mode and comes bundled with Camedia software, which allows you to automatically stitch these images together.
Regardless of the technique you use to stitch images together, it is crucial to first capture images in such a way that they will line up evenly next to each other. And the best tool for ensuring this is a tripod. For these types of shots, I recommend using a tripod that has a level both on the base and on the head of the tripod. By adjusting both of these levels, you will be able to keep the horizon line even throughout each image.

Here, I first made minor adjustments to the tripod legs. While checking the top air bubble, I adjusted the legs of the tripod until the base was precisely level. Once the legs were set, I used the tripod head to position the camera back to a horizontal position and set the tripod head so that it, too, was level.


I then loosened the knob that controls the base rotation and set the rotation point to 0Þ. This would be the starting point for the first of three shots. I made sure the camera was set to Panorama mode and then took my first shot (#4).

When you are shooting in the Panorama mode, you will see gridlines on either side of the frame indicating where you should line up the next shot. I then spun the camera to that point, which happened to be about 30Þ to the left of my original position, and took another shot (#5). Finally, I spun the camera another 30Þ and took shot (#6).


Later that afternoon, I transferred the images from the SmartMedia card to a computer via an Olympus USB Dual Slot Media Reader and started up the Camedia Master software that came with the camera.

Using the Camedia software that came with the camera, I was able to stitch the images together to create a panoramic composite (Final image).

Because of the resolution of the camera and the grouping of three images together, this image would easily print out at 12x36". Large format prints made from a compact digital camera? Times sure have changed since Longfellow looked out on these waters.

Final Image

If you would like to continue your digital step by step education lessons on editing, printing, and e-mailing your photos it will be on the private section of the Web Photo School. To enroll for WPS just go to www.shutterbug.net and click on WPS Free Lessons.

Technical Equipment
Camera/Media: Olympus C-5050 Zoom digital camera; Olympus 1.45x Tele Conversion lens; Olympus 128MB SmartMedia card; Olympus USB Dual Slot Media Reader; Manfrotto 3001PRO tripod with a 3275 head; Apple G4 iMac computer; Camedia software