Sometimes, one image just isn't enough. Photographers have been creating composites and collages since the 19th century, but today's post-capture software allows for the seamless 'stitching' of multiple images to create one incredibly detailed digital file, with the possibility to print at enormous sizes.
Award-winning British landscape photographer David Noton is renowned for creating beautifully-crafted 'stitched' images. He's particularly famed for his 'letterbox-format' panoramic scenes of landscapes around the world. "I've been shooting panoramas since the late 1980s," he says. "I love the shape and I think it suits the way we look at a landscape."
And making prints of those images has got easier: firmware update v3.010 on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer enables you to print panoramic images in a range of new sizes; and Canon's new imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer features a high-quality panoramic printing mode and borderless printing options.
For his first project with the Canon EOS R, David made images that combine more than 20 single photographs, giving incredible resolution and tonal range. "To shoot these images, I had to dig deep and learn to do things I hadn't done before," the Canon Ambassador says. "So it was challenging."
To create these super-high-resolution landscapes, David used the Canon EOS R. "The biggest advantage of the EOS R for a landscape photographer is its size and portability," he explains. "Anyone shooting landscapes will look favourably on a camera that gives you full-frame resolution in a system that is lighter and much more compact.
"The RF lenses are also very good and sharp, so that's a real bonus. The focusing system is great in low light as well. On night shoots I've been able to focus on tiny pin-pricks of light in the darkness, just with the tap of a finger on the screen."
David shot a range of scenes in the picturesque south west of England, including landscapes around the villages of Cerne Abbas and Corton Denham, in addition to both day and night shots of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. He used two lenses for the shoots: the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM, which was attached to the EOS R with an EF-EOS R Mount Adapter.
Because he was shooting lots of images of a scene, each individual photo had to have a narrow angle of view, so he used lenses with longer focal lengths. Together they combined to make wide, hugely detailed landscapes.
Each final image was made up of around 21 different shots – for horizontal images, David would shoot three rows of seven shots and for verticals he'd shoot seven rows of three. One of the challenges of shooting a composite image in this way is the length of time it takes. Photographing a landscape at exactly the right moment, in the ideal lighting conditions, is central to David's work. But when he was shooting multiple images, the light would sometimes change significantly during the time he was shooting the sequence.
"There's always one moment when the light's at its best, so I would get to my location and have it all scouted and know what I was doing," he says. "Then, when the light started getting good, I'd begin working on my sequences, using manual mode and keeping the exposure the same across the frame. I would do quite a few sequences as the light evolved, to make sure I had captured it when the light was at its best."
As well as choosing the best time to shoot, David had to tackle the variation in light across the whole of the frame. "Getting the exposure right is really difficult and you have to meter from the middle of the scene," David says. "But it does help if you've got a camera such as the EOS R that offers good shadow and highlight retention. Then, in post-production, you can bring out detail in the darkest shadows or brightest highlights in the frame."
Variation in light was less of a problem on the night shoot, but photographing in those conditions was even more time-consuming. "The trouble with the night shoot was that the actual exposures were something like 30 seconds each," he says. "So if you're doing 21 frames at 30 seconds each, taking into account the time you're spending re-composing, it takes around 20 minutes for each sequence."
David says the key to shooting successful stitched images, whether a multi-image composite or a letterbox panoramic, is to be methodical in preparation but as quick as possible in execution. "You have to go to the location to do a test run beforehand. Get your tripod so it's rotating dead level, because a wonky horizon will stand out horribly," he advises.
"Then work out your framing based on doing overlapped images. You need to work on the basis that you've got to give yourself more frames than you need. You can always crop the image down. So, although the images I shot for this project were based on something like 21 images stitched together, I was doing more. This allowed me to fine-tune the crop subsequently in post-production using PTGui Pro software.”
When creating panoramic images, the number of images David shoots can range from just two horizontal images up to 24 vertical images, but usually he shoots about 10 vertical images that overlap by about 30%.
"You've got to be meticulous with the way you work, but you've also got to work fast because light is changing as you make the exposures. With all 'stitches' it's all about pre-visualisation because you can't see the finished product through the camera. You need to have the end result in your mind from the outset."
The wealth of detail offered by stitched landscapes is best appreciated in large format prints, such as those produced by Canon's imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer. For the multi-image composites shot with the Canon EOS R, David's files were processed through Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, then further enhanced using Canon's print software solution Professional Print & Layout. It includes the DPRAW print function, which enables high-definition printing, and the HDR print function, which allows for the adjustment of highlight areas in high-contrast images.
"I was able to use this software to pull back highlight information, even blown highlights, and enhance the tonal range of the prints," he says. "The difference between the 'before' and 'after' images was like night and day. The end result was a print that had incredible detail and clarity, partly because of the number of images used to make it, but also because the tonal range is really impressive."
David has printed many of his images himself on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000. "It gives beautiful image quality," he says. "The 12-ink technology gives wonderful gradation of colours and tones, and there's a lovely depth to the blacks."
David says the ability to print larger panoramic images on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 and the CANON IMAGEPROGRAF PRO-300 is a valuable feature on Canon's desktop pro printers. "Panoramic images look lost on an Instagram post or on social media, but they look amazing when seen as big prints," he says. "When you're showing images to clients or an audience, a print makes a statement in a way an image on a screen cannot."
Canon printing expert Suhaib Hussain points out the technical benefits of this panoramic feature. "It allows photographers to print their wide images in larger format, without borders or having to crop, while maintaining the aspect ratio of the original," he says.
"Users can now adjust the printable length under custom settings to a maximum of 990.60mm (CANON IMAGEPROGRAF PRO-300) or 1,200mm (Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000). On previous models, this was capped at 676mm. The printers also support official panoramic size media available from vendors such as Hahnemühle, up to 594mm x 210mm. Having a larger printable length means more images can be nested onto a single page to optimise on ink and other media usage."
David says that when he sees the final product it makes all the effort of creating stitched images worthwhile. "I still think it's magic when you assemble all the images you're going to use, click the button to stitch and they come together on the screen and finally in the print," he says. "That still gives me a kick, after all the years I've been shooting landscapes."