Shooting Gigapixel Photos

Shooting a big photo of the British Museum’s Great Court is easy. Shooting a big photo of the British Museum’s Great Court that is so detailed you not only feel as though you’re standing there but can actually read the map halfway across the room is much harder.Max Lyons though, has been taking just such detailed photos for more than seven years. He shot the first one gigapixel image in 2003 (a photograph of Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah) and has since created photos that weigh in at around two gigapixels.

To build these massive photos, Max takes multiple, overlapping images of the same scene then seamlessly matches the edges using his own PTAssembler Software. The photographs are printed at 300 pixels per inch on a Lightjet printer producing a high-resolution, wall-sized image packed with detail. He told us:

The software I’ve created to produce these images (originally written in 2003) has no size constraint. From a purely technical standpoint, it would be a trivial matter to produce images of two, 20 or 200 gigapixels.

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Max points out that while his program has now cut the time to assemble a one gigapixel mosaic from several weeks to just two hours, most of which is automated, capturing each photo “tile” with a long focal-length lens can take “a considerable amount of time.” It took Max seventeen minutes with a six megapixel Canon D60 to shoot the 196 separate images that went into the Bryce Canyon panorama. That in turn creates problems with movement, changing light and depth of field, and can limit the range of subjects that can be shot using this method:

In fact, if you look at the works of other high resolution photographers, you’ll see that most really large images (gigapixel and beyond) tend to be either (a) of interior, flat surfaces where depth of field, motion and lighting changes are not such problems, (b) scenes that look OK when viewed at tiny size, but have such a narrow depth of field that most of the image is hopelessly blurry when viewed at full size and/or (c) suffer from obvious misalignments and obvious lighting changes…

[T]he real challenge is to make photographically interesting images that are very large…something that often seems to get overlooked in the technological arms-race!

That certainly sounds tough enough but the real challenge, of course, is to shoot large photographically interesting images and get paid for it. That’s a challenge though that Max seems to have met. His books, which slice the completed photos into individual pages like a street atlas, sell through Lulu from $35.99 to $44.99, and he also markets his prints directly to buyers.

The cost of creating the images is no greater than the cost of shooting any other photo, although the time involved in shooting and post-production might be little longer, so the only thing stopping photographers from following Max’s footsteps — and creating the first ten gigapixel image — is identifying a subject and building the photo one tile at a time.

For more ultra high-resolution photography, check out Andre Gunther’s work and start creating your own giant images with PTAssembler

[tags] PTAssembler, gigapixel photos, andre gunther, max lyons [/tags]

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