I was back in Galway this weekend for the finale of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12 which finished in the city with an In-Port Race just off Salthill on Saturday afternoon. I had put in quite a bit of leg work in advance to get a media pass which would once again allow me to photograph the event unhindered, and in particular photograph the in-port race from a media boat on the water. More important than that, though, for this visit to “the Volvo” (as it is known these days in Galway) I wanted to re-take a photograph that has become my most recognized, used (and indeed mis-used) images – the fisheye shot of the Race Village from the 2009 event that I posted last week (and that was subsequently “borrowed” by Guinness for their Facebook page). The only problem is that I no longer own a fisheye lens, and quickly figured out that I couldn’t easily rent one. And much as I wanted to re-photograph the entire docks area in one image, it wasn’t worth the €800+ spend a new lens would cost. So instead I turned my 24-70 mm Nikon lens into a pseudo fisheye, by taking not one image from my vantage point on a nearby roof, but by taking 21 images. A little bit of Photoshop (Elements) magic later, and I’ve been rewarded with a ~100 Megapixel 6 foot by 3 foot image that exceeded my expectations. And with the success of the last attempt in 2009, those expectations were high. Click on for an embed of the full res image where you can zoom in a bit further and explore, and for the low down on capturing it.
The success of the image lay entirely within the preparation, not the actual process of capturing it – that relied on luck, backed up with the preparation that took up much of my late afternoon on Saturday. I knew where I needed to be to take the shot, and I knew that if I couldn’t get there at just the right time there would be no shot. I wanted a dusky sky, so needed (at this time of year) to defer the image as long as was possible, but also knew that the event down around the docks was to wrap up at 10.30 pm sharp. So my plan was to make my way to the vantage point at 10.15. The only hiccup was that the roof I needed to access, while publicly accessible, is privately owned (it’s a multi-level carpark, but that’s another story! Ba-dum tschhhh…..).
At 3.30 I paid a visit to the car park and spoke to an attendant about getting access. In my back pocket (literally and figuratively) was the media pass I had picked up earlier in the day and this helped me get to talk to the right person. Or at least the right person on duty then. That chat revealed that there would be security limiting access to the roof at 10.15pm, but having explained my goal, shown my pass, and also the image from 2009 on my phone (which the guy recognized), I got the name of the security lead, and was told he was starting at 4pm. I arrived back at 4.30, found him on the roof, and had a chat to clear my return later that night.
An Indian takeaway and a drink or two later, it was 10.15pm and Sharon Shannon and her band were getting close to the end of the set. I left friends momentarily and made my way to the roof. As soon as I stepped foot on it, I was stopped by two rather more burly security guards – contractors in use just for the week, judging by their uniforms, who halted any further progress abruptly. I showed my pass: no luck. I wasn’t allowed up there and would have to leave straight away.
I mentioned having talked to the security lead to earlier, and upon mentioning him I noticed a different reaction from the two guards. Before figuring out exactly what that reaction was, the afore-mentioned supervisor came over, recognized me and OK’d me to take the shot. In return I promised I’d be no more than 5 minutes.
I had established a general composition earlier that would require three rows of 7 photos, making a total of 21 captures. For consistency I turned my focus to manual and my exposure to manual, focusing and exposing for the average in both cases, and ended up at ISO 1600, f/3.2, 1/60s. I was hand-holding so I needed that shutter speed up, hence the high ISO and wide aperture. But the distance and the wide angle lens would, I knew, be a bit more forgiving of depth of field.
21 exposures later I had my scene in the bag (I hoped) and took a couple of individual frames of areas of the spectacular scene. And before my five minutes was up I left and rejoined the party.
Upon my return to Dublin I pulled the 21 frames into Photoshop Elements and got it to do a merge overnight. It did this well (albeit slowly), and the next morning I was presented with pretty much the image you see above. I watermarked it a little more heavily this time (once bitten…. ) but not obtrusively… you can’t go through life catering to the lowest common denominator in society, after all.
PSE threw out a 1.7 GB 100 Megapixel file using parts of all 21 source images, and a little bit of local dodging and burning later and I had the photo you see above.
The image above (even clicked larger) doesn’t do the scene nor the photo much justice. I really need to get it printed to see it in all its glory, and who knows? Maybe it’d make a nice poster for Galweigans to buy. This time next year Rodney…
I’m obviously not going to post the full res, but using Gigapan I can post a version that you can zoom in more on. You might spot a flaw or two if you look closely enough at this, but they’ll be fixed before print time anyway. So take a look around and enjoy.
Incidentally, if anyone would indeed be interested in a poster of this let me know via the comments (I won’t publish the comment if you wish) and I can suss out pricing and delivery costs and so on and see if it makes sense for me and you.