Whew. The temps were not hospitable in the high desert last weekend, running from the mid 95 F to 110 F. The results, though, were totally worth it.
Friday July 4th, it was over to my daughter’s for a BBQ then up into the Owyhee foothills. My goal was to get a panorama of the entire Treasure Valley doing fireworks. I’d been planning it for a few years and decided this year I was going to “just do it.”
On the way up, I saw a herd of wild horses, about 15 strong. Included in the band was a beautiful paint, a yearling, and a colt from earlier this year. I’ve seen this herd a couple times, usually across the gully or on a distant hillside. This time, though, I was in the right place at the right time as they came to water near the road, no more than 75 feet away. I took a few pictures and watched them for a while before going further up in the hills.
Arriving at the curve just before I turn off the main dirt road, there was a large tractor parked on the side, as close to the drop-off as he could get. There was just enough room to comfortably pass, and as I passed I saw one of the front tires was missing…most likely a flat. Tractors don’t go fast to begin with so it must have been some time just getting up from the valley to that point in the road and that’s not a fun place to get a flat. There’s barely enough room to pass and I’m hoping he was probably being followed by someone and so was able to head out to fix the tire pretty quickly. There’s not that much traffic on that dirt road and no cell service there. I went on to my turn-off and followed the track up to the ridge.
Parking, I had plenty of time to set up my camera, level the tripod, pick the best lens for what I planned, and take a daylight panorama. I hoped to do a bit of astrophotography as well, but the clouds were moving in and the few patches of blue sky were getting ever smaller. Even the moon, still visible, was behind faint whisps of cloud. Looking across the valley, there was quite a bit of haze and I was wondering just how well things would turn out. Nothing to do but wait it out.
The main fireworks started on time in Caldwell, Boise, and Melba. Even before that, though, there were fireworks going off all over the valley. As soon as the fireworks started, I began shooting my panoramas. The big city fireworks were over around half an hour later and I managed to get four panoramas by starting as soon as it got suitably dark enough.
Each shot was 20 seconds and there were 22 images to a panorama. The further issue was that even shooting RAW mode, it still took almost another 20 seconds to store the image to the card and release the camera for shooting the next picture. So, per panorama was 880 seconds, or 15 minutes. I was setting up the next shot’s composition as soon as the viewfinder was released and the camera began processing to the card, so no time was wasted panning. It was a good thing I started early or I’d only have had two panos.
As it was, I had no idea if any of the 4 panos would turn out. I had to wait until Sunday before I would know since I was heading out in the high desert again first thing Saturday morning. For the curious, the camera settings were: 143mm focal length, 20 second exposure, f/11, and ISO 400 using manual mode. I was having to use a light pairing visible in one side of the viewfinder to guide my panning and keep the necessary overlap between images. Landmarks and such were lost in the dark and I had to pay careful attention to the viewfinder to identify where the image edges were. Practice shooting panoramas and familiarity with my camera really paid off here.
I didn’t get a shot of all the major displays, but there was quite bit of private fireworks going on so it still worked out pretty well, overall. I’m reasonably satisfied that my vision worked and as always there’s things that could be improved. For one thing, I’d shoot a few dark frames to try to help clean up the noise. It was hot out there, and I was only shooting 20 seconds at ISO 400, so the amount of noise surprised me. I was able to clean up some of the noise, and with further training I could probably do even better.
The full size panorama is impressively huge: about 15 inches high and 269 inches wide. I don’t have a wall in the house that’s big enough and which my wife will let me put it on. Towards the middle is Lake Lowell and over the right end of it is Nampa with Meridian behind it. Straight back from the center, 34 miles away are the mountains. At the right end, sprouting the white “dandelion” fireworks is Melba, 30 miles away. Over towards the left and up is Ontario, 47 miles away. The large straight string of lights with the two red lights above the middle of the string is the prison outside Ontario. The large string of lights just above the next to last hill on the other side of the panorama is the prison south of Boise. The bright white lights just right of image center is Nampa and Meridian. The palm tree fireworks indicates Caldwell.
It took 4 hours to stitch the final image together. I tried MS ICE first, but it insisted on re-arranging the order of the pictures, completely fouling up the sequence. So, I switched to Hugin and tried that. It let me use them in the proper order, but could not stitch it together. That makes sense when you have a lot of identical white, red, green, blue lights and not much else to align with. As smart as the program might be, even people would have trouble if they weren’t careful. In the end, assigning keypoints manually, I got it done.
There’s a hill on the ridge in the way on the right, the one where the prison is visible just above it. However, just a little further on up the dirt to where I set up road there’s a similar vantage point called Coyote Grade that I want to check out sometime. I bet you can get a better view from there. Plus it’s about 100 feet higher.
I was going to post on both trips but this is already running over 1,000 words so I’ll post the other trip next week.