Prior to our travels to the Land of the Long White Cloud I had two specific images in mind that I knew I wasn’t leaving the country without bringing to life (better than anyone else had done before!). This vista above Lake Wanaka in New Zealand’s South Island was one of those images. I don’t want to get too spiritual here but if the old wise man says “true fulfilment is found along the path to your destiny” then this alpine panorama is a testament to that because we were getting to this thing on foot (it’s normally only accessible by chopper). That morning we’d left Queenstown bound for Wanaka, I spied a cloudless sky on the forecast (what I’m all about) and made the call. “Babe we’ve got a bit of a climb on this afternoon, just so you know”, I said to my incredibly patient and understanding girlfriend. “There’s this peak that I want to climb, the view is incredible, one of the best in the world maybe, to get there we’ve got to hike 45 minutes up a steep trail, then we’ve got to leave the trail and hike a really steep and difficult section of backcountry, which will take about two and a half to three hours, it’s going to be super cold with snow and ice, oh and we’re coming down in the dark..” My girlfriend looked across at me with a blank stare , “um ok”, god she’s an angel.
Around 1pm we began our ascent, just as I’d assumed it took us around 45 minutes to hike the first several switch backs and reach the rest area where I thought would be the best place to leave the trail and make our way up a ridge to the summit of Coromandel. Nearly as soon as we left the trail the vegetation became super dense, we were up to our waists in thick snow tussock and slipping on the meltwater trickling down from the peak. For the next two and a half hours this was us, and after an extra difficult section 150 metres below the summit we’d climbed the 800 odd metre elevation from the carpark to the top of the mountain.
That view.. Holy shitballs. There is just no other way to phrase it. When you hike Coromandel the way we chose to your summit experience is a real life cinematic reveal of the most impressive landscape I have ever laid eyes on. The final few metres from the top take you up the back of the peak, hidden from the scene that is about to explode in front of you and when those lactic acid filled legs carry you over the final mound your body weight drops out from under your acing torso and your heart flutters with an arhythmic ecstasy not even obtained by the purest of illicit substance. This is why we chose to climb Coromandel by foot and forego the sky high fee of a chopper ride to the summit (which would only allow us 15 minutes in front of this incredible scene anyway!). True fulfilment is undoubtedly found along the path to your destiny.
Thanks to our efforts we experienced about an hour and a half of blue bird conditions on top of Coromandel Peak, the wind was light, the afternoon sun was warm and the jackets came off. Staying all the way until the sun hit those distant peaks we were able to truely absorb the energy of this jaw dropping natural wonder before turning around and saying goodbye to what is undoubtedly the best landscape I have seen in my life to date. Heading back down the route which brought us to the summit my heart ached as I bid farewell to Coromandel Peak, like I was leaving behind an old friend, but somehow I know that we will stand in front of this scene again.
Check out the image in all of it’s high resolution glory here before I run you through the capture process.
The image is an 8 vertical frame panorama. First I set my exposure and composition for the middle frame (the peak) which is the focus of the image. It’s very important with such wide panoramas to ensure you level the camera for the middle frame, the reason being is that to achieve a pleasing composition your camera will most likely be tilted so the pan of the lens from left to right will result in a curvature of the composite image which you will need to correct in Photoshop, the centre of this curve MUST be in the centre of the image. Following on I began shooting from left to right with a 2 second delay timer to avoid camera shake as I let go of the camera before capturing each frame. When I got to the middle frame in which I wanted to have a person (me in this case with a yellow jacket which complimented the foliage) I locked the tripod head pan movement and asked my girlfriend to simply press the shutter button and let go of the camera when I ran down to the peak and stood in position. Following on I ran back up to the camera and took over shooting the rest of the frames off to the right.
*A note on how this could have been executed better. When creating an image composite such as this featuring humans or an animal it’s very important to nail body language. At first I wasn’t happy with the way I was standing in the frame, I thought my body looked slumped because of a result of the backpack and thick jacket I was wearing however now it’s growing on me as the subject (myself) looks relaxed and quite authentic rather than striking some sort of heroic pose, none-the-less I would still have liked to have multiple poses to choose from for the final image composite. So, make that a point in your next multiple image blend featuring a moving subject.
Camera - Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Lens - Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS II USM
ISO speed rating - ISO 400
Shutter speed - 1/160 s
Aperture - f/14
Exposure compensation - N/A
Flash mode - Off, Did not fire
Exposure program - Manual
Exposure mode - Manual
Metering mode - Pattern
Focal length - 115 mm
White balance - Auto
Format - RAW
Dimensions - 5760 x 3840
As always Capture One Pro is where my images are destined when I return to my workstation and it’s the program that absolutely does the heavy lifting when it comes to my post production workflow. If I’m shooting a single exposure (instead of a bracket sequence) as in this case I’ll mostly always expose for the highlights to ensure no detail is lost in the top end which allows me to pull that detail back out of the shadows with Capture One’s HDR tool. You’ll see in the before and after comparisons above that I was actually quite gentle with the processing in this case as the light was relatively even. At this stage all I’ve applied is a lens correction to make sure there’s absolutely no vignetting (important for panorama composites), some contrast, saturation, warmth in the white balance, punch clarity, a GND layer over the sky to drop the brightness slightly and fine sharpening suitable for landscape scenes. The adjustments for this frame are then copied across identically to the other frames before exporting as a full sized and full quality TIFF.
Photoshop then takes the reins with an import through Photomerge checking off the options for Perspective, Blend Images Together, Geometric Distortion Correction and Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas. IF, and this is a big IF, you have composed and levelled your camera correctly you will have minimal distortion to deal with however the nature of captures such as this where a tilt shit lens is not involved means that you’ll most likely have some perspective distortion to deal with which is fixed through the use of the Adaptive Wide Angle filter. Moving forward and I’ll now crop the image to an aspect that I’m satisfied with, in this case cropping out a portion of the right hand side of the image until I felt balance had been achieved with the overall scene. Retouching of any leftover artefacts from the Photomerge, Content Aware Fill and dirt on the lens (my cameras are filthy from travelling like this) is now needed before moving onto final colour adjustments. Reaching this stage we’re getting close to completion which is where I will fine tune my colours using a mixture of individual RGB and LAB Curves adjustments with various blend modes to reach a result that I can finally tell myself “ok Tim, you just need to get up and leave the computer now”.
I could finesse images like these for days but the fact is that at this point with my photography I’ve realised that the most meaningful work is done out in the field. Sure there’s a few pieces of software I could never live without, Capture One Pro and Photoshop for instance but apart from that it is absolutely what you do with your camera and the scene that you build in front of you that makes an epic image. ..and in this case it was climbing a freaking difficult slope by foot in the afternoon just to spend sunset at the most breathtaking mountain summit lookout I have ever seen with my beautiful girlfriend.
If you like this post, want to see more of this or something else give me a shout out in the comments below, I always respond and I’m more than happy to talk shop. Peace!