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on Jan 17, 2012 in Aviation

Warbirdimages Cockpit Panos


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For better or worse, my whole photographic career has been based on taking the viewer into a world I am so damn fortunate to explore with my camera. The last 6 months my son Brent & I took this quest to a whole new level. VR Panos are not new, I surely didn’t invent them but when I got this idea I sure did feel like I had. The goal was real simple, put YOU in the cockpit of an aircraft! You walk around an airshow, a museum and typically you’re staring up at the plane. Those that you get to walk through have huge lines and the vast majority of the time, it’s just to see the cockpit. So the question hit me, how can I as a photographer bring that cockpit experience to you? In the beginning, I wish I hadn’t asked that question of myself.

When it comes to wacky stuff, I’m very fortunate to have the perfect expert to ask, Russell Brown. He never fails to amaze me because while he had done one VR Pano, he said he was by no means an expert but he knew who is. He sent me to Scott Highton, a very smart and very generous photographer who literally wrote the book on the topic. Scott was incredibly kind and encouraged me to go for it and provided a couple of ideas so I went for it. His book really laid out the path, the challenge was to follow it. It started in a Cessna 172RG one weekend in Wichita with my shooting bud Kevin. It actually turned out which was encouraging enough to continue.

What you see above is a screen capture of a finished VR Pano of a T-50 Bamboo Bomber. I’ve now posted a number of our cockpit panos on my Warbirdimages.com site for your enjoyment. What you’re seeing on the site (requires Qtime 7.0 or higher) are the low res versions. What we deliver to clients is a 155MB .mov and what you’re seeing is about a 5MB version.

The creation of these panos the first time out seems worse then pulling teeth. The first one took hours to photograph and then over 26hrs to assemble (we’ve got both down to a little bit less time now). That’s because 136 images are required (they way we do it) to create the Pano. I shoot with a D3x so you can zoom in and read the smallest print in the High Res version. It’s all shot with a 16fish, yeap, this is a Fisheye photo and it’s assembled in a program called PTGui (not making that name up, really).

Here’s the one big issue with this process, I have not figured out a way to teach it. It’s just not cut and dry and every time I do one, I learn something new that makes it just a little bit easier. I can tell you that I use the D3x, 16Fish with The Box shooting 5 image HDR, flash fill and that Brent (not me) assembles the finished pano in PTGui. But after that….yikes! For example the T-50 pano above, the first thing I hope you notice is the lighting on the dash (not bad for a wildlife shooter). That took me about 45min to dial in because between lighting the panel, the seats, not seeing the flash in the windscreen and matching it up to the sunset I knew we’d be placing on the outside, it took some time. Oh yeah, none of the lighting gear doing all of this can be seen in the photograph. Doing that in the tight space of a cockpit (the plane was in its hangar) is just something I can’t provide a recipe for. But I sure can at the very least entertain you with the finished results and at most hopefully encourage you to push your photography a little further. Have fun playing with the panos!

In the Case
D3x
16Fish
SB-900
Lexar 32GB UDMA
PocketWizard MiniTT1 with AC3 and FlexTT5
The Box
Really Right Stuff Ground-Level Tripod