Two lights in the vault
It's safe to say you've become rather obsessive when you pack a tripod and camera bag first and then quickly assemble some clothes haphazardly when heading for the airport. It is perhaps another thing entirely when you first fill your suitcase halfway with an enormous panoramic tripod head before opening the wardrobe. But just this I did a few weeks ago - all to bring you a handful of ultra-high-resolution images of The University of Chicago's gloomy and beautiful campus.
I say gloomy because, although it compares favorably for somber, serious and academic mood to Stanford, one quickly acclimates to bright, sunny arcades and cherry blossoms during months when the Midwest is still struggling to shrug off the death of a long winter. I found myself captivated all over again with the little Gothic spaces all over campus: a coffee shop filled with hipsterish students, cheap candy bars and a fireplace that would make Citizen Kane proud; an a la carte dining hall that is part study hall, part social club and all Hogwarts; and a foyer to a Theological Seminary that mixes the Gothic and Art Decco, the light and the gloom so successfully, you forget for a moment that this is, to some people, just the entryway to one of the last, great independent bookshops.
Today's image is just one example of why I lugged 10 pounds of powder-coated steel in my checked luggage from the San Francisco bay to the shores of Mishigami to collect "only" five or so photographs. I wanted to create an image that did these stones justice. I wanted to share with you the electrifying shadows cast by the brightly burning orange lamps upon the gray of the vault, the cobwebs upon the mantle of the seminary's post lamp, the roughly-hewn limbs of the crucifix, the intricate icons wrought in steel along the banister and, most of all, the mood inherent to a stone temple, pregnant with over a century of collected memory.
Some of you, who followed me back in the days of The Windy Pixel, may recognize this room from the following photographs (still some favorites of mine).
And just through the door via the portico on the right of the frame is this view:
"So," you might ask, "what have you gained by taking enormous pains to re-make that image as an enormous, large-format-digital-like panorama?" I might answer by saying, "Resolution, color balance, and the ability to explore an alternate geometry." To give you an idea of the enormous resolution gain (0.25.3 gigapixels vs. 12.1 megapixels), I submit this 100% crop of the post lantern, you can see the cobwebs enveloping it and the little art-decco, goggled figures carved into the metal at its base followed by a 100% crop of the older, single-capture photograph:
Imagine now the effect of seeing, from a distance of ten feet or so, an enormous print of the first image hung on the wall, and then discovering that it only opens up and becomes more intricate and detailed as you walk closer.
The color balance I was able to achieve here should be obviously different between the two images, and it should be noted, isn't strictly limited to these large panoramas. As for alternate geometry - notice the single-frame, older image renders lines as lines throughout, but the first image has a wider angle of view, accommodated by a bending of horizontal lines into curves near the edges. This image is a result of over 50 individual frames which were stitched in a program called Hugin (cross-platform, free - how cool is that?!) and then remapped to conform to the "Mercator" projection. Named, of course, after the famous cartographer. Again, strictly-speaking, it would be possible to take a single-frame image and remap from the rectilinear (the name for the geometry of image projection by all lenses save fisheyes) to the Mercator, but those projections (due to the relatively paltry resolution of a single image) wouldn't have the smooth, surreal look of a large panoramic image. Another advantage of these non-rectilinear projections is the way the image geometry stretches the "poles" to be infinitely long and gives these regions a cool "stretched-out" look that leads the eye into the frame.
I found the placement of the crucifix between the two lights symbolic. Here are a few more details from the larger image.