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Where the Mountains Meet the Sea

Omis is beautiful little town in the heart of Dalmatia, right on the spot where river Cetina flows into the Adriatic sea. Above Omis rise three mountains: Poljicka mountain, Mosor and Omiska Dinara. Omis landscape is a stunning combination of river canyon, sandy beaches and dizzy mountain cliffs. The landscape is just breathtaking there.

I’ve been to Omis many times, but I mostly explored the town centre or spots by the sea. This has been my first occasion to shoot on some of the mountains above Omis and I was really curious how will the photos turn out. Since I’m not that familiar with the area, I didn’t know where hiking trails are, or how long will it take to get to some good off-road landscape spots.  Therefore I decided to go by car, to get to know the surroundings and to scout locations for some future photo shoots.

When you drive up the mountain, view on Omis and the beautiful landscape opens. I hoped the sun position will be more to the right as it might be photographically more interesting – close-up town images with sun in the back, but I guess I’m gonna have to wait for late spring months for that scene. Anyhow, after I arrived above, I took first HDR panorama of the landscape (if you’d like to read few tips about the HDR panoramas, scroll down the post). The scene was very vivid and full of contrast as a result of few days with strong northern wind which cleared the atmosphere up.

Omiška panorama

On the hill on the left side of the panorama a small chapel is located. I couldn’t find out it’s name by googling so for now it’s name and age remains unknown :)  Sunlight reflections in sea surface created nice silhouette, though.

Crkva pored Omisa

The sun setting behind the island of Brac.

Crkva pored Omisa

Here is a detail of the Omis riviera – parts of the Dugi rat nad Duce areas. The coastline is really beautiful there – kilometers of pebble and sandy beaches, in summer full of bars and young people.

Omiska-rivijera

When the night started to fall I decided to take another panorama. This time it’s a bit narrower view on the town of Omis, but I still wanted to keep nice green vegetation in the front and beautiful sunset colors.

Omiška panorama u predvečerje

About the HDR panoramas

The photo above is, in technical words, a HDR panoramia. For those unfamiliar with the expression, but interested in subject matter – HDR (High Dynamic Range) is an image blended out of two or more different exposures of a single image, for achieving bigger dynamic range of the photograph, and panorama is a photo assembled (stitched) from two or more overlapping photographs. It takes some practice while shooting and in post-processing to create such photos.

This particular image is stitched out of 4 vertical shots, and each of the shot is blended out of 3 different exposures (+/- 2 stops). After I published these two panoramas online (this one and the first photo in the post) I got an e-mail with an interesting question, which I’ll answer here so any of you reading can learn if you want.

Q: What comes first, HDR blending or panorama stitching?

Many of you may find this question obsolete, maybe the answer seems logical or understandable by itself. But it’s the question that was bothering me too, once I was beginning to use this technique and I hope the explanation will help to any of you who are new to this. Here is the answer:

A: HDR comes first.

Why? Because successful blending of the HDR (in this case with Photomatix software) requires exposures to match almost perfectly with each other, for a software to do it’s job of blending properly. And if you first stitch 3 different panoramas out of 3 differently exposed image, you risk to have 3 very different photos to blend to HDR. Panorama stitching software uses an algorithm which isn’t flawless and which and does not have to give the same result on all details of all three panoramas (each panorama for a different exposure). Especially if you know that brightest or darkest exposures have many details lost in too dark or in too bright areas. And for HDR blending you need almost identically aligned images, don’t you?

Even if you stitch them manually you always depend on the software ‘decisions’ at one point. You may end up with having three ‘almost-the-same’ images to blend, yet the details in them could be shifted up, down or to the side from photo to photo – even five pixels are just enough to confuse HDR blending software. And in the end, you may get one big mess of a HDR. You don’t want to have a noisy, blurred photo with edges destroyed by chromatic aberration, do you?

The conclusion is:

  • always do the HDR work first,
  • use the same tone mapping parameters for all of them (or at least try not to alter them significantly),
  • do not overdo your images in tone mapping process (that is the general HDR rule), you’ll process them in a later stage
  • stitch HDR images to a panorama,
  • only after you are finished with all that work you go on with usual post processing (colors, contrast, curves, selective processing, etc…)
  • and, need I say, shoot in raw, if you can. JPEGs do not give you processing power or quality you can pull out of a raw image

General advice on panoramas:

Don’t be fooled by the (almost) perfectly horizontal panoramic image(s) you see here or anywhere else. It’s the final result. Raw panoramas (no matter if they’re from HDR or single exposures) always look curved, warped and tilted once they’re stitched. You need to straighten them in Photoshop or in whatever software you’re using to stitch them. Bad news is it takes a lot of practice and patience, and it would be impossible to describe it step-by-step as it’s never the same, depending on the subject you’re shooting, object distances and the equipment you’re using. So, I’ll skip it for now, cause it can’t fit into a post paragraph.

Anyway, before you start stitching your panoramic photo, make sure all photos are as evenly exposed as possible and to have the same white balance (temperature) value on each photo. This will make panorama stitching software’s job easier – you make sure very little things can go wrong without you knowing. You’ll avoid having dark vertical areas in the sky or other uniform areas, or having different white balance on parts of the photo. If you want to make a quality panorama, those are errors which cannot be tolerated.

On my way home I stopped in the center of Omis to take some photos of the dusk colors. My intention was to shoot only tower bell and the river channel, nut the silhouette of the mountain fit in just perfectly.

Crkva pored Omisa