This week I continued technical photographic experiments with panoramas. So far the biggest technical problem with making a linear panorama has been the occurrence of parallax error, which in this case, ends up as the copying of background information across multiple images. This has confused the software I’ve used to make these panoramas, and in order to continue working this way with any hope of automation, I needed to figure out how to create an image with less background oversampling.
One way to reduce the parallax is to use a longer, or more telephoto, lens. Using a longer lens reduces the angle of view, and creates less of a parallax shift from one image to another, because we are looking at a thinner angle of the world. I grabbed an old 500mm Minolta-mount mirror lens from the photography department, and using an adapter, I attached it to a Nikon D800e digital camera (figure 1).
I started with a simple single-point panorama to assess the lens and camera set up. I found that the lens is not perfect, and due to its low potential for sharpness and the slight breeze that was vibrating the camera and tripod, the results are not sharp even though I used an electronic cable release. Nonetheless, they were usable.
The images were taken from a distance of around 700 feet from the edge of the woods (figure 2), and as a result, look—and more importantly—feel very distant from the viewer. I knew this was one possible outcome, as telephoto images look “flatter” than our normal vision, but what I did not anticipate fully was that the distance also keeps the viewer from entering the forest in the image.
As you can see in figure 3, the total effect of the combined images does not necessarily create an image of the forest that provides for a view of the whole and its parts, but rather an image of the whole of the edge of the forest emerges. This flatness is undesirable for the effects that Aaron and I have been conversing about, so for next time, I plan to use a 200mm lens, which will allow me to get closer, and perhaps end up with a more “Goldilocks” version of an image that shows the trees and the forest equally.
The days are noticeably shorter now here in Massachusetts; sunrise today was at 06:45 and sunset at 16:15, so it’s still dark at breakfast and it’s long been dark before the end of the workday. Most of the trees are bare of leaves, even in parking lots warmed by heat-absorbing asphalt and the generally warmer cities by the coast. It is a good time to contemplate ecological transformations.
Someone lacking in ecological consciousness who walks through a forest at this time of year might feel surrounded by death and dying. Dead leaves crackle underfoot, flies and mosquitoes gave it up with the first frost a few weeks ago, and birds have migrated to warmer climes. Even the trees, which we know will flush new leaves five or six months from now, are mostly “dead”: most of a standing tree consists of non-functioning cells (“heartwood”) that support its thin skin living cells (“sapwood”).
But the forest is neither dead nor dying. Metabolism continues in the sapwood. Bacteria and fungi are hard at work decomposing the leaves and the carcasses of dead animals into their component minerals and eventually transforming them into the nutrient-rich soil that nourishes the herbs, shrubs, and trees when they awaken or sprout next spring. These transformations are happening all the time - if they weren’t, we’d quickly find ourselves up to our armpits in the disintegrating corpses of the plants, animals, and even other humans who have lived out their lives.
Ecologists like me study the dynamic, evolutionary processes, including birth, reproduction, death, decomposition, reuse, and transformation, that lead to the continual rebirth and recreation of the material world. The creative arts capture a single instance in—or in the case of video (for example), a short interval of—in time and space. I return to a fundamental question that Eric and I continue to discuss: how do we use an essentially static medium to make change visible and to reveal what may appear to be gone but is, in fact, transformed and remade?