The Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Strip high resolution panorama
View this one large to appreciate it.
I just got back from a shooting trip in Death Valley California, Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, and Las Vegas. One of the highlights of the trip was the very unique opportunity to shoot from the rooftop of the Tropicana Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, which I did last night during the blue hour.
The challenge with this shooting opportunity was the unusual low wall that surrounds the roof. This waste-high wall has funny shaped triangular features that jut out and up about every five feet in a similar way to the top of a castle wall. This means that it was next to impossible to shoot a panorama without moving the tripod half way through the shots. To work around this problem I had to extend the camera horizontally out past the edge of the wall. As in, the camera needed to hang out out in space. This was not an easy feat to make happen. I extended one leg of the tripod that would sit on the rooftop. The other two legs were shortened and would sit on the edge of the low wall. The middle post of the Manfrotto tripod was flipped out horizontally and the camera ultimately sat about a foot out past the edge of the wall. I secured the camera with a safety line just in case, and weighed down the tripod with my camera bag because the weight of the camera cantilevered way out there was pulling the tripod over. This setup meant I couldn’t look through the viewfinder and had to complete the shoot using the LCD screen, which I am not crazy about.
As the sun set the nice blue hour light did its thing. I love that light! I took about 20 series of eight shots at various light levels and with various zoom settings. The final image is about 16,000 pixels across and the detail is amazing when zoomed up close.
This is not an HDR photo. This panorama was created using single images, but it speaks to the amazing dynamic range of the Nikon D800.
Here is how to take a panorama image in Las Vegas:
But first, the three things to avoid are:
1. Blown out highlights – Horrid!
2. Image noise – Evil!
3. Image blur – Pure evil!
Use a very solid tripod. Slow shutter speeds mean the slightest shake will kill your final image.
Use a wired or wireless shutter release. Don’t touch your camera or you will get blur. If you don’t have an external shutter release, then use your self timer. Remember, blurred photos are pure evil. There is nothing worse than having a great series of eight photos, but the one shot in the middle is blurred. That series is now useless.
Use your lowest ISO if you want a large print of the final image. Low ISO means low noise, and noise is slightly less than blur on the pure evil scale.
Don’t use overly long exposures. The light changes so fast and you don’t want two or three minutes between your first and last shot because the lighting of the sky will change over that time. This means you often cannot use very small aperture openings (higher F stop numbers) when the light is getting low because each exposure could be 30 seconds each X 8 shots = 4 minutes plus time to move the camera between shots means 5 minutes to take one series. Too long.
Check and recheck all your settings. Is bracketing off? Is the +- EVO setting at zero? Is ISO set to 100? Are the images set to RAW?
Set your camera to manual mode. You can’t have the camera changing its settings mid way through your series of photos or the lighting in the sky will vary throughout the final image.
Use your histogram! Trust it more than you trust your by-guess-and-by-golly eyeballing of the image you just shot on the back of your camera. I always take a test shot in the direction of the brightest sky, and then adjust the shutter speed until the histogram indicates there will be no blown out and overexposed highlights.
Often, I also use manual focus for most setups. At times your camera will have trouble focusing in the middle of a series. I avoid this by allowing the auto focus to set the focus, then clicking the lens to manual focus before taking the series of shots. This can be especially important if you have a foreground that is close up. You don’t want your focus changing part way through a series.
Any other points I am missing about panorama do’s and don’ts? I have made so many mistakes with my panoramas of the past. Every point I just made above is the result of a pano turned useless because of a mistake I have made in the field. Hard lessons learned through mistakes are often unforgettable.
If you have additional points that I missed, please comment with them. Your comments are appreciated.