During a recent weekend photo workshop in Washington, D.C., I asked my students to meet me 30 minutes before sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial. On this particular morning, it was cloudy and the sky was a nice blue color; I realized we were not going to see the sunrise. Just when I had given up hope for a colorful picture, the horizon turned red and the sky took on a purple hue. I rushed around to tell my students to act quickly because it wouldn’t last long. Then, finding the wonderful colors impossible to ignore, I took a picture .
I wasn’t planning to take many photos so I only brought one camera and lens. Unfortunately that lens was not a wide angle so the entire scene didn’t appear when I looked through my viewfinder. I didn’t have much time before the sky turned to back to gray so I turned the camera vertical and shot a sequence of five photographs. By slowly panning left to right between exposures, I could photograph the whole scene with my normal perspective lens. Later, using Photoshop’s Photomerge feature, I combined the five photos into one. The resulting photo is often called a stitched panorama, but I use the technique for pictures like this one that are not particularly panoramic in format. One thing to keep in mind when taking pictures for a stitch is to leave enough overlap between the frames. I sometimes err on the side of too much overlap. This five-picture stitch could have been done with four. Luckily, Photomerge is smart enough to blend the results seamlessly most of the time.
Photo Tip: Although there are specialized tripods for shooting panoramic shots, I rarely use one. In this case, I wouldn’t have had time to set up the tripod anyway because I didn’t take the picture until the moment the sky lit up. It’s also worth noting that this picture was taken with the camera set to auto everything: autofocus, Program auto exposure, and Auto ISO. The Fuji X-Pro1 camera that I’ve used recently had a firmware upgrade to make Auto ISO useful. I’ve been experimenting with this feature which increases the ISO automatically when the shutter speed drops. As you can see in the photo above, it worked wonderfully.
Final exposure values were 1/25 sec. at f1.4, 1600 ISO. Those values indicate that there was very little light on the scene and hint at the real trick to taking this picture. I was standing on this spot at the only time during the day when the lights on the white marble would blend with the lightening sky. This gave the typically boring white scene a surprising variety of bright colors.