How Big Can You Print ?

This is a question I'm often asked and I'm normally thinking that a 40"-45" print would be acceptably sharp and detailed.  So when I was asked if I had a photograph that could be printed 50ft wide (yup 50 feet, not 50 inches) by 9ft tall it got me thinking;

Problem 1: How could I produce a photo that would be over 12 times larger than anything I have printed before ?
Solution 1: A panoramic photo - several photos taken in sequence then stitched together to produce one long image.  Applying a bit of mathematics, I found that I would need about 12 images in portrait mode (long side vertical) all stitched together to get enough pixels to produce a 50ft print.  This is ideal since it would be long and narrow and would fit the 50/9ft aspect ratio perfectly.

Problem 2: Using a wide angle lens would mean that I'd have to spin the camera over 360 degrees to take the 12 frames required.  This is just not possible.
Solution 2: I'd have to use a longer lens, say 70mm minimum.  That would mean that I'd only have to spin the camera about 90 degrees and I'd have a better chance of getting a good composition.

Problem 3: The photo has to be taken in a forest.  That means I'd have to keep the foreground (and closer trees) in focus in addition to those in the background.  Longer lenses have a shallower depth of field (i.e. the range of subject that is in focus is short) so if I focus on a close tree, the one in the background will be out of focus.  It is possible to counteract this by reducing the aperture which in turn increases the focus range but that has two drawbacks;
a) The forest is already dark for shooting and reducing the aperture will mean that I need a long exposure time.  long exposure time with branches moving = blur.  
b)  Lenses loose sharpness when reducing the aperture = soft images.
Solution 3: Focus stacking.  This involves focusing on a near subject, take a photo.  without moving the camera, focus on a subject a little further away, take another photo.  Focus further away again... and so on.   These images can then be blended together by taking the sharpest part from each frame and merging them together.  Helicon software has a great application called Helicon Focus that will do this automatically.  So I reckon I'd need a stack of about 8 photos to get the image sharp front to back.

Problem 4: To image stack, the camera must be perfectly stable - any movement or vibration would throw the stack out of alignment resulting in a blurred image.
Solution 4:  There is 2 parts to this solution.  a) use a very stable tripod (I'd do this as a matter of course since I still have a long 0.5 second exposure).  The tripod I use also allows me to release the horizontal pan while locking vertical movement which is great for panoramic shots as the camera stays perfectly level.  b) don't touch the camera to refocus.  For this I would shoot tethered - meaning that the camera is wired to my laptop and the laptop controls the focusing and all other controls.  Again Helicon has an application that allows you to control the camera from a laptop.

Problem 5: I have a laptop and it's pouring with rain in the middle of a damp forest.
Solution 5:  An umbrella (although I think next time I'll rig up a tarp or bring a small tent shelter to give me a bit more space.

Here's the final set up:

Nikon D800 tethered to a Macbook Pro.

Nikon D800 tethered to a Macbook Pro.

So for the one photo, I ended up taking 103 frames all stacked and stitched together and it took about 1 hour to physically take the shot.

It took a further 3 hours to process all the frames and create the single panoramic image.  Another 2 hours to edit in Photoshop.   The file is so large that it takes a long time to work with, so a tip here is to work with a smaller version of the original to get the recipe correct then apply it to the original full size file.  

I left it processing the full size version overnight and in the morning was presented with an image over 70,000 pixels wide (most cameras produce about 4,000 pixels).  It is pin sharp with every frond of lichen visible in the foreground to the pattern of tree bark and individual needles visible in the furthest trees. 

Copy of final image (at about 1.8% of the size)

Copy of final image (at about 1.8% of the size)

So next time someone asks me what size can I print a photo - the answer is; how big would you like it ?


They say diversity gives a break from the norm and expands your creativity.  So last weekend, I switched from being on or in the water to what might seem like the opposite of the sporting spectrum - Chess.

A whole different approach to photography.

"Could we look into the head of a Chess player, we should see there a whole world of feelings, images, ideas, emotion, and passion."  -  Alfred Binet


is the single most important consideration.  Catching the twitch of an eyebrow, a minute change in body posture or the stifling of a yawn can make the photo.  Chess photography is like street photography with all your subjects trapped in one room.  The comparison I make is to the unpredictability of when the twitch will take place and will you be in position ready to catch it ?  The changes in expression or posture can last a fraction of a second and in that fraction everything must align - you must be ready, exposure set, focus set, depth of field set, composition set, distracting objects out of shot, no spectators blocking the view.  A number of these, exposure,etc. are technical and can be eliminated by pre-setting the camera, the rest are in the hands of the gods.  For that reason, for every one good shot, 20 others have passed by.

Nowadays grandmasters no longer study their opponent's games so much, but they study his character, his behaviour and his temperament in the most thorough fashion.  -  David Bronstein

While the players are intently studying the positions on the board, I am intently studying the players.  

Often the room is large with up to 50 games in progress at one time with the tables arranged in rows.  What surprised me the first time at an event was that after a move the players would get up from their own game and walk freely around the room often pausing to watch other games.  This could be an advantage to my shooting or it could be a hindrance.  I would often see an opportunity unfolding in one game but with no clear line of sight to capture the shot, then someone would get up and walk away leaving an opening that I would leap into (discreetly of course) to capture that finite of moments.  Or I could be standing observing the emotions enfolding and whispering subconsciously to my obstructor, 'move, please move just for a second and let me get this shot'.  As the games progress there are more openings and someone I have been trying to photograph suddenly becomes available, so long as their game does not end before I get there.

There's also the non persona  obstructions, aka  water bottles.  The number of times, I have a perfect shot lined up -  the hand hovering over the decisive move, knight f3 to Queen g5 - or is it Bishop g5 or Pawn g5 - the  camera lens can't see because of a Nalgene water bottle - arghhhh!  I'm so tempted just to step up and say 'excuse me', and move the offending obstruction out the way.   

Technical considerations - Indoors means low light without flash which means slow shutter speed demanding a steady hand.  Often the players are seated next to a concentrated light source such as a lamp which although provides for some moody contrast, can also throw your exposure out of balance ending up with silhouetted faces.  To avoid this, I manually set shutter speed, aperture and ISO based on a few test shots before I begin shooting.  I find that f4.5, 1/50th sec works best.  I am mostly using a 200mm lens which lets me cover a number of games from a distance without disturbing too many players.   Then there are the side games, the fun games such as blitz or bughouse which are played at a furious rate. For these  a 14mm wide angle lens standing on the back of the players chair for an overhead shot or from board height under the players arm often gets good results.

Back in the darkroom, I process the images in black and white which I find concentrates the viewer on the emotion without the distraction of colour.

... and If all goes well, I have a few photos that capture the intensity, emotion and concentration of the game.


Photos from the Grand Pacific Open can be found at


Sidney Island

Mooring pylons at Sidney Spit, Vancouver Island.  Fuji X100, ISO 200 f16 1/2 sec.   

Mooring pylons at Sidney Spit, Vancouver Island.  Fuji X100, ISO 200 f16 1/2 sec.


Click the image above to go to the gallery.

First Light of 2015

On 1st January 2015, I rolled out of bed before a frosty sunrise, set up the camera on the deck to take a few photographs as the sun came up then sat down for a cup of coffee and a slice of toast. Later with a bit of stitching and editing, this is what I ended up with.

Click below for time lapse video

First Light 2015


Mt Finlayson

So I hit the return key and registered for the Kusam Klimb.  Best start with the training, and what better than to start the new year with good intentions and a climb up Mt Finlayson.  We will see if it lasts, but one thing is for sure - it's going to take a lot more Finlaysons to equal Kusam.

The climb.

The climb.

The root to the summit

The root to the summit

The descent through salal and cedar.

The descent through salal and cedar.