Construction Panoramas As A Tool For Communication

THE BIG PICTURE

Since 2011, I’ve worked as a project photographer on many private and public construction sites. From my perspective as an outsider, scale always impresses me, especially when projects begin at ground level, go up and out. For many years it was all time-lapse work for my clientele, then video production was added and lately it’s been a lot of progress stills documentation. This year I’ve taken up shooting panoramas as a way to illustrate scope and scale.

NODAL POINT TOOL

Panoramas are traditionally made by using a tripod head with nodal point capability. This capability allows for mounting a camera so the center of the lens sits directly above the center post of the tripod. This enables the camera to rotate around a precise pivot point, minimizing parallax. The process is slow, methodical and precise.

In this photo the nodal point is identified by the vertical blue line:

MY VERY FIRST TIME

I enjoyed a 20+ year relationship with the Walt Disney company where I photographed thousands of products, dozens of books, (many of them coffee table style) 100’s of employees and many, many group portraits. This photograph was made in two sections for quality reasons. It took a bit of selective masking to get the blend perfect. This was in 2011 and was done using the traditional panorama process, two exposures and using a tripod head with nodal point capabilities.

MADISON SQUARE COMPANY

The next time I made a panorama was for MSG in 2014. I was their project photographer documenting the transformation of the old Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA, into a music and entertainment venue. As the build progressed, and the inside transformed into something beautiful, I felt the urge to shoot a panorama. The first image below is a 16mm wide angle shot of the empty bowl. Sort of looks like a true panorama but is only a single frame, nothing stitched together. The images that follow are a filmstrip of thumbnails showing that seven images were used. The middle image is the panorama without the usual tight crop. (A look I find appealing) The last image is the cropped version and the deliverable.

Stripped down to its essence – 2013 – single shot view
The initial set of exposures – 7 total
The completed image as put together by Photoshop. No crop.
The final panorama photograph cropped to clean edges. Sweet.

NEW: PHOTO – MERGE – PANORAMA COMMAND

I’ve taught photography and related topics on and off throughout my career and it’s mostly been enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot about myself and it’s been a welcome break from the day-to-day grind of running a small business. Early this year I taught an online class in the basics of Lightroom. As part of the class we learned and experimented with the Photo – Merge – Panorama command. The difference is these panorama’s are all done handheld, no tripod and no precise nodal point measurement. I’m rotating my body with camera in hand around an imaginary nodal point below the center of the lens. At least that’s the goal. Experience and practice are keys.

REBAR AND FORM WORK

Right edge, center view and left edge.

The uneven edges are more pronounced than the previous examples do to the nature of the handheld process, individual files are reshaped to fit a long horizontal format that is expected to be severely cropped when all elements are merged. My preference is uneven borders, I find the result more attractive and interesting.

GRADING DITCHES

During the same site visit, I made a 4 exposure panorama a bit east from the one above. This is nearly a 180˚ view of the site but appears slightly compressed to my eye. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

A 4 exposure panorama of a construction job site.

UNDER & OVER

This seven-bagger of a major intersection near LAX. There is a lot of vertical lens distortion do to my subject to camera distance. The nature of the beast. I also employ a diffusion filter to soften the edges around highlights.

A panoramioc view of an intersection near LAX.

Cropped conventionally:

BLOWER ROOM

7 photographs stitched together to form a panorama inside a building

This ones a bit funny in that it tilts in the middle. If you look at the screenshot of the 7 source images, you’ll see that I kept the camera relatively level as I rotated to make the exposures. Shooting handheld and not using a tripod head with nodal point calibration creates this wonky assembly on occasion.

MLK

I’ve been documenting a light rail line being built in Los Angeles since 2017 and the Martin Luther King Jr. station is a favorite subject of mine. Felt it would make a good panorama.

7 photos making up a panorama of MLK station on the Crenshaw line

My goal is to produce a series of finished panoramas during the last shoot for this build. Coming up soon! Both above and under ground. Wish me luck.

CONCLUSION

The handheld process is quite different from the usual way traditional panoramas are produced but by following the critical nodal point rule and working within its limitations can result in beautiful images. You may have noticed that the coloring varies quite a bit from panorama to panorama. That’s by design. I’ve been working on a color and toning palette for years that reflects a nostalgic look. Hope you enjoyed this post.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.
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