Central Otago, New Zealand High Country.

Large rock tors on Central Otago high country plain

Middle Earth, or so it has been dubbed since the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies, is really in New Zealand.

During December and January I spent a few weeks at home for the holidays. While I was there I spent some time with my brother-in-law exploring some fascinating high country landscapes in Central Otago. Growing up in the Cardrona Valley and Wanaka imbued in me an appreciation for these vast and seemingly desolate areas.

The sun rises over the spear grass covered hills of Central Otago
Early morning sunrise over the tussock and spear grass hills of Central Otago, New Zealand

Leaving Lake Wanaka before dawn on two occasions we drove up through arid farmland and then on to the tops of some ranges as the sun broke over the horizon. The sunrise sent spectacular rays of light penetrating patches of fog that blew up the valleys.

Fog rolls around photographer
Wispy tendrils of fog curl up the valleys and soften the early morning lighting.
Spear Grass with fog formed dew drops in the morning light.
Spear Grass with fog formed dew drops in the morning light.

Large format image paradise.

This area lent itself perfectly to expansive panoramic images.  So I created a lot of large format images made up of multiple frames stitched together. There is not a lot of obvious detail in many of the scenes but with this photographic technique it allowed me to capture the essence of the landscape perfectly.  Wide expansive vistas combined with the ability to look closely at the images and see detail that is easily missed.

Fragments of schist are all that remain after eons of erosion.
Fragments of schist are all that remain after eons of erosion.

On our first foray we left town in shorts as it was the middle of summer after all. As we reached an altitude of sixteen hundred meters the temperature dropped to one degree celsius. Another couple hundred meters and it started snowing and we wished we had dressed a little warmer.  Shooting moonlike landscapes in the summer while snow blew sideways made for quite a contrast.

Hiking along the moonscape like terrain at 1800 meters above sea level.
Hiking along the moonscape like terrain at 1800 meters above sea level.
Summer snow storm in Central Otago High country
Sideways blowing snow and monolthic rock formations made for interesting shooting conditions.

The diversity of life and subtle beauty can easily be over-looked with a quick glance. By spending time in this alpine environment one can witness bird life and many varieties of unique plants.

A surprising snow and sleet storm coats alpine plants with ice.
A surprising snow and sleet storm coats alpine plants with ice.
Hardy New Zealand alpine flowers can withstand the occasional summer snowstorm.
Hardy New Zealand alpine flowers can withstand the occasional summer snowstorm.

Pied Oyster Catcher in New Zealand alpine countryTypically a seabird, this Pied Oyster Catcher seems out of place in the alpine environment.

Hardy alpine plants can withstand drought and cold.
Hardy alpine plants can withstand drought and cold.
Mounds of alpine plants in New Zealand high country.
Mounds of mossy like plants that take hundreds of years to develop. They look soft but are surprisingly hard.

Geography.

The most striking topographical feature in these areas is the Tors. These are Mica Schist rock formations that seemingly rise up out of the ground and are weather beaten and dramatic. Many years of wind and freezing temperatures have shaped these rocks into fantastical shapes. As time wears on the relentless forces of erosion break them down into ever smaller pieces.  Due to the mystical looking landscape the area has consequently been used as location for many movies over the years.

Tussock, Spear grass and rock Tors.
Tussock, Spear grass and rock Tors.
Endless miles of flat and rolling hills above 1500 meters.
Endless miles of flat and rolling hills above 1500 meters.

To see the full gallery of these and other large panoramic images from New Zealand go to www.largeformatimages.com/image-galleries/scenes-of-new-zealand

 

Wildlife Panoramics- A New Challenge

high res stitched panoramic wildlife image.

Overcoming the challenges of shooting stitched image wildlife panoramics.

Stitched Landscape Panoramics have been popular for a while now and I have been enjoying the challenge of making epic landscape images with this technique.  On a recent trip to Botswana my mission was to try super high resolution Stitched Wildlife Panoramics.

gathering at the local watering hole.

Large herds of animals at predictable sites like watering holes made it a bit easier to plan my approach. We were always in vehicles, making it a little trying at times. When the scene was on the other side of the vehicle nobody wanted me clambering onto their lap to get the shot. But fifty percent of the time the scene was on my side and I was able to experiment with this approach. I started with single row images, comprising of four to twelve or more images taken from left to right. (making it easier to visualize when loaded into in my photo processing software). I mostly used a gymbal head mounted on a tripod and secured to the open-sided vehicle with a bungee cord.

When the animals were more stationary it made it a bit easier to shoot a sequence without the movement of animals making the stitching process flawed.  Elephants and giraffes standing still were the best subjects.

Technique for taking stitched wildlife panoramic images.

Note how my first and last pictures in the sequence are index marker images. I use my thumb in the pictures to indicate this. Later in my workflow this makes it much easier to see all the images that make up a particular panoramic, especially if I am shooting single frame images at the same time. It also is a good conversation starter when onlookers ask why I always take pics of my thumbs.

herd of elephants captured in a stitched wildlife panoramic image
Final stitched image from above sequence with dimensions of 23 075 x 4615 pixels.
On the move.

When the animals are moving, such as a herd of zebra around a watering hole, the whole process is more difficult. In this case, I had to shoot and look ahead at the same time. Quickly composing the images with overlapping areas in spots that had no animals, or at least more stationary ones, made for better results . As you can imagine this was a very fluid method and it didn’t always work out well. But by taking several sequences I usually got something I was happy with. Of course this wasn’t confirmed until I returned home and started stitching the images together.

A successful stitched wildlife panoramic image of zebra.
A successful stitched image with a herd of zebra. Some of them were on the move but I was still able to stitch this image together well in Adobe Lightroom.
Processing

I mostly use Adobe Lightroom for the stitching process and Adobe Photoshop for final touches. Surprisingly, Lightroom is able to stitch images quite well even when there is some movement, eg a zebra walking.  It intuitively picks the best parts of the overlapping images and creates a good join. Only a couple times did I end up with an animal with five legs.

After I felt comfortable with this technique I started adding double row panoramics.  To do this effectively I had to be careful to not have any animals overlapping into the row above, as the animals would have moved enough by the time I got back to that area in the second row.

Wildlife Stitched panoramic image of elephants at sunset
High resolution double row stitched wildlife panoramic image ( what a mouthful) of elephants at sunset in Botswana.
One animal surprised me.

One animal that was surprisingly easy to photograph in this way was the mighty giraffe. I did not know this but, as gangly as they look, they actually stand stock still at times.  Thus I was able to do some creative images with them, singly and in groups. Some fun images I created were vertical stitched images going up and down their bodies as they stood motionless.

individual images making up a stitched panoramic image.
Here are all the images I took up and down the body of this motionless giraffe.
image showing placement of stitched images to make high res photo
After stitching but before cropping and final editing. As I was shooting hand held I accidentally missed a part of the sky in the top left. Some cloning in Photoshop filled this in later in the editing process.
Extremly high resolution of giraffe.
Finished super high resolution image of a giraffe. Final size is 20 000 x 17 000 pixels.
Detail available in super high resolution stitched wildlife panoramic image.
Close crop of above image showing level of detail available in this super high resolution image.

This was a very fun and rewarding trial and I am very happy with the results. Of course a return trip is in the works to perfect this process!

To see all of these wildlife panoramic images go to

https://largeformatimages.com/image-galleries/african-wildlife/

Side note- After a successful day out on safari we also gathered around a watering hole for some sun-downers.

Letaka Safaris
Letaka Safaris in Botswana were our hosts and did a fine job of catering to our every need.             www.letakasafaris.com