Given the difficulty of providing a 180 degree view and perspective of the difficulties facing firefighters in a single picture, I figured that five images stitched together might do a better job than just one or two alone. Sitting up on the top of a hill, it is easy to get blown away by how big, how rugged, and how remote this Santa Barbara backcountry really is.
So I decided to put together a panorama of the entire expanse before me, perhaps four air miles of fire line and huge clouds of smoke in the midst of really big country.
Panoramas are actually easy to create and there are just a few rules: overlap the pictures by at least a third, use something in each picture you can use to line up the shots as level as possible (I used a line of shadows), have the sun at your back so lighting is as even as possible and most important of all, shoot in manual mode if possible so your auto focus doesn’t cause problems.
A tripod? Very nice to have if you’re going for perfection but not essential. That’s where using features in one image to line up for the next comes in. Oh yes, one other thing, wide-angle lenses cause a problem because they distort the sides of the image. But don’t let that keep you from trying.
Last is the software that is used to stitch the images together. While I’m sure there is expensive software out there that will stitch your photos together better, the good news is the HP has some very nifty software called “HP Photosmart Stitch” and it comes free with any HP printer, Mac or PC. I’m guessing you can even download it free from their Web site. Just open the software, drag all the images into the pano window and click “Create Pano” – that’s it!
Try opening either of the images below to get a better idea of how difficult it is to fight a wildfire in our backcountry: