Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mente Turbata in Mosque Magnam...

What the hell was going on with me in the past two weeks is something I wouldn't understand, ever. Stress, fatigue, injuries and finally, personal issues; feels like being dead and alive in the same time. Ah well, what's the difference after all... wasn't it like that most of the time?
I feel like nothing is left for me now except of my camera. I guess I will put it beside me on bed and hug it instead of getting a teddy bear myself. I spent this week somehow trying to test and use my new toy, the 8mm Rokinon fisheye lens and trying to adapt it to my panorama workflow.
For the time being, I'm still not so sure that I will adapt this new lens for my workflow. It is a double-edged sword. In the same time that it lowers down the number of shots and effort (and time), but on the other hand, in the same time, it reduces the resolution drastically. Although my usual size for panoramas ranges between 8,000-10,000 pixels in width, but with Canon's 15mm fisheye lens you would have the choice to expand beyond up to 20,000 pixels in width, while with Rokinon's 8mm fisheye, you are limited to 13,000. The depth of field and the sharpness are still under the scope for more testing. Setting the VR-head with Rokinon's 8mm was also a struggle and it pronounced the tripod legs and the VR-head itself more often and makes it pronounced more; talk about hardships in removing them. I need to try more and see if I can get comfortable with this for real.

Test image with Rokinon's 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens. Mom didn't like to move so I blurred her!

I didn't care much about tone-mapping the HDR here. I just had the urge to play around. Not an image for the stocks after all. As you can see, such shot would require maybe 2 or 3 (and maybe more a bit) with Canon's 15mm fisheye lens, but here it's all taken with one shot. Well, 3 bracketed for HDR processing of course. The tripod was elevated to around 2 meters high.

My joy in the past week was with some shots taken here and there with my photography class. I had to work in a haste little bit to prepare the images for this post. It was so much of a headache to work on these photos specially now, on Wednesday, after a really sick long day.
Anyway, our class went first to Al-Babtain's Library for Arabic Poetry (Let's call it BLAP for now). On Tuesday however, and unexpectedly, I got a phone call almost one hour before I leave work saying that we have a session today with the class in The Grand Mosque; a great mosque in the capital and beside BLAP building. It was a real hassle, as my tools were at home because I thought we won't go to a second location after BLAP. It was an exhaustive day.

BLAP was an interesting place, not for its construction only, but also because it is the first time I hear of it. The interior design was nice but unfortunately I went there without my VR-head. The architecture in the place is generally modern-type, but maybe with bits (only tiny bits) of antique-like structures, like the pillars for example.


The pillars here were outside and on the side of the main "yard" if I should say. It is a bit like an open corridor. This shot was my first in that session (and here you see the tone-mapped HDR, but the RAW is also good). To take this shot I've spent almost 5 to 10 minutes trying to adjust my tripod and the tripod head (Velbon panhead) to make the perfect center. However, seems after all it is still inclined a bit (or is it an illusion?). I've having some hard time with keeping things straight (specially when it comes to panorama making). At such moments it would be useful to have a tripod with central lock like I used to have before, but on the other hand you lose some flexibility after all. My current tripod is nice, but also can be light that you might knock it off and shake it before you put the camera. Talk about clumsy movements; welcome to the story of my life.
The occasion was also a good one to give my new Rokinon 8mm another trial. In fact, I'm less impressed for the time being in putting this lens into my panorama workflow, but nevertheless, it gives some really nice shots in singles. I have my own doubts about the claimed sharpness though; could it be I'm doing something wrong?

Reading Hall
Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens

One thing was for sure though; a simple tilt in the center means a severely tilted image as a whole. This is true with this fisheye lens. Although in this picture above, I've spent also around 5 minutes adjusting and leveling the tripod and the camera accordingly with the vertical straight line of the door, I've just found out when I got back home and after merging into HDR that the whole image was quite apparently tilted; it is mostly apparent in the sides, while the center was a little bit off. I'm not sure how to solve this problem further.
And there is that one shot that I "stole" from my teacher. He was taking it and I told him I can do the same, so he said go ahead! It's weird how I didn't remember such point: the most interesting views are those taken above or below us. It is a true statement, and was stated as well by George Barr in his book,Take Your Photography to The Next Level: From Inspiration to Image.

City of Mirrors II
or maybe I should call it Zenith.

It was taken in front of the entrance portal (or door, or whatever it is). This HDR version in fact doesn't differ much from the RAW version, except of maybe for adding more halos to the light bulbs. My teacher here fixed for me a problem with the tripod as well, which was not being able to point at 90 degrees up. The solution was simply to rotate the camera body itself (unscrewing the base little bit). Might be shaky situation, but it was the only solution I got. I tried hard to keep the space in the middle in the center of the shot.
In case you are wondering why it is City of Mirrors II, well, naturally there is a first one that I didn't mention here.

City of Mirror I

I won't go through all the details here with the tilt in the image as well; I guess you know it by now. However, I had to pick my location carefully in hope my reflection on the glass won't appear (and guess it didn't so far!). The glass translucent, making an interesting pattern from the inside and the outside mixing them together in a surreal look. Maybe this is one of the fewest things I like about the city life; architecture. There were some issues with the clarity of the image as well, but oh well, this is a typical problem with my 18-55mm EF-S lens. Now, thinking about it, could it be that I see things tilted because of some barrel effect? 18-55mm lens DO have a barrel distortion and I've tested it before.
There are other shots that I might keep for myself or add them here later on. But one day after this event, I got that surprising call for a session in the Grand Mosque; a perfect place for a panorama!

II. The Grand Mosque - Mosque Magnam:
Maybe I'm not that so-religious person, but surely the Grand Mosque here is a chance not to be missed. The whole thing was a hassle in the beginning, but rewarding later. Even my teacher was surprised when he got a phone call saying that we were granted a permission, as he said. It was a last moment phone call.
Anyway, because I went to work with no intention of photography work for the rest of the day, I had to sign for a short leave as soon as I got that phone call about the session, just to avoid the apex of the jam here. Went back home, prepared my tools, and then after a one-hour rest I headed to the capital with ALL my tools. What are all my tools?
  • Backpack: containing my camera and all my lenses and filters (with the adapters of course), and also contains my little spiderpod.
  • Tripod and panhead.
  • Lateral extension arm.
  • Manfrotto 303SPH VR-head.
For the time being, I don't want to talk about the weight of these things. It is not a pleasant memory! As I headed there, I was the first one to be there as usual, and remained there till others arrived and my teacher as well, and I, alone, waited for something around one hour in the outside.
As we went inside, the first thing to do was to do the hardest part: the panorama. There will be plenty of time for single shots later on.

Mosque Magnam

It is not the first time to work with people going around; I've already done that in Ireland, in the Ardeaglais Cormaic in Cashel Rock. However, here it was a bit harder with fellow photographers since some of them had to remain in one position for minutes and I have to give them their own time to take their shots.
This image you see above is done in a haste in fact because I wanted to put it here as soon as possible. There were lot of stitching errors (that might be related to the moving bodies in the scene rather than bad alignment), and I might give it one other try and try to fix these stitching errors by using Blending Priority if possible.
In this HDR panorama I preferred to use the (M)anual method and put the basic shutter speed at 2", while ISO was 400. As my teacher stated in earlier classes, and in a humorous tone "... using high ISO with a tripod is an infidelity!". This is true, but in HDR the situation is different a bit. I had to make sure that the +2EV bracket won't exceed 30", and the place was low in light (the workers in the mosque didn't turn the lights on until the dusk time after I finished the panorama). There are other projections on the way, like the vertical and the tunnel-view and the little planet. All will come in time hopefully, with a QTVR.

The dome of the place was a bit problematic. As you can see from the panorama above, there is a glass cabinet which contains a handwritten Quran with some writing tools. It is said that it is a Quran written by hand by the 3rd ruler of Muslims back then. Anyway, this cabinet was exactly in the middle of the hall (where I should place my tripod eventually), and it is exactly at the center of the dome. Although I finished my panorama placing my tripod as close as possible to the cabinet, but that didn't stop me from trying to take the center in exact position. It was the time for my lateral extension arm to be in work.
The bad thing is, I didn't bring my other camera to take a picture of the setting, but anyway, it was simply done by using the later arm to extend my camera with Rokinon's fisheye lens above the glass cabinet. Shaky, and dangerous and I could have been in trouble if the camera fell down on the glass and... break it. In the beginning, as a precaution, I was placing my hand under the camera body as it pointed upward, but Rokinon's fisheye has a really wide view and I have to give my trust to my tools and leave it hanging in the air like that and bow down to avoid capturing my head as well...

Tholus Magnus

Maybe a little bit off the center, but it was rewarding I believe. Would be off with a close up zoom, but the general geometry is fantastic as well.
There were many shots but I don't want to put everything here for the time being. I'm just glad this week is over and hope of a "brighter" week. I feel sick being myself now. Wish if I can sleep, and wake up when the world is over...

Gloriae Campus


  1. great job centering the images, I admire your patience.