A good photo portrays how a place looks. A great photo portrays how it feels. The right framing, the proper exposure, and the experienced eye of the photographer all come together to dissolve the boundaries between viewer and subject.
Now, thanks to a slick bit of new technology and a little old-fashioned photographic artistry, the bar has been raised for what makes a great photo. Imagine, you’re not just in a place, seeing what a photographer sees; you’re surrounded by a place, seeing beyond what the eye alone can take in, zooming to infinitesimal detail on a full-fledged world that opens around you.
This digital immersion is created with the help of a robotic tripod fixture called a Gigapan head, which assists in shooting a “grid” of side-by-side high resolution images, captured just seconds apart. Special software then stitches the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photos together into a seamless panoramic shot.
This high-tech photographic artistry is helping Rob Kaufman of Kaufman Photography illustrate the Lowcountry in startling new depth.
“I was blown away when I saw the results of my first test,” Kaufman said. "The detail is incredible."
To see one of these modern tapestries in print, simply head to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, where a massive installation of new art above the baggage carousels highlights a shot Kaufman captured using the Gigapan.
At press time, there were several more shots awaiting installation at the airport, but already a breathtaking view of the 16th hole of the Jack Nicklaus Course at Colleton River Plantation Club was giving passengers something to admire while they await their luggage. The massive 46-foot mural captures a stunning moment as the sun’s first rays bathe tricky sand dunes in gold, with the sparkling waters of the Colleton River beyond. Stand far away and you can soak in the beauty of a Lowcountry sunrise. Stand up close, and you can see that sunrise illuminating nearly every grain of sand in those traps and every blade of grass in between.
"I even spotted a lost golf ball in the sand dunes that I hadn't noticed when shooting," Kaufman said.
"Every photography project seems to present its own set of challenges. The obstacle here was to create a beautiful landscape that would be printed at more than 45 feet wide and still be detailed,” Kaufman said.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and with Gigapan, Kaufman not only delivered a stunning image for the airport, but he’s also unlocked new possibilities for the kinds of shots he can now bring to his clients around the Lowcountry.
"The Gigapan process itself is actually fairly easy. Once you've secured and leveled the head on a tripod, you attach your camera, set a couple of horizon settings so the Gigapan can determine the lens' field of view (zoom), and then you just show it where the top left and the bottom right of your panorama are. The Gigapan does the rest," Kaufman said.
On screen or on very large paper, the finished product will be an incredibly detailed image, utilizing every facet of a photographer’s skill in framing, focusing and lighting, married with technical innovation for a radically heightened sense of detail. The Gigapan website, for example, showcases a fully immersive panoramic photo shot from atop the Freedom Tower. From this vantage point, you can take in all of Manhattan before you, or zoom and see a couple on a park bench in Brooklyn, lines of tourists on Liberty Island and even traffic leaving the Bronx on the George Washington Bridge.
"This Gigapan thing is kind of fun,' Kaufman said. "I'm definitely looking around for some other useful applications."
Check out more examples of Kaufman’s work at www.kaufmanphotography.com.