2018 may not have been the year of the gigapixel but it certainly was the year of the gigapixel for me, having been commissioned to shoot to gigapixel images first of trooping the colour, and then of the act of remembrance at the Cenotaph in London.
That I had in many ways turned my back on the printed media (whatever that is these days?), to be asked by the Daily Telegraph, a news organisation which is played such a big part of my photojournalist life, sending me to nearly 50 countries since the 1990’s, was very special indeed. I want to finish the year on a high, living in a small island with thousands of years of history, much of it still living, you don’t actually have to look too far to find something wonderful to photograph.
When the call came to shoot that special end of Year gigapixel it turns out I didn’t have to travel very far from my country base in Frome, Somerset. Every year in the historic Wells Cathedral which dates back nearly 1000 years the choir sings carols by candlelight where the Cathedral is illuminated by candlelight and we’re not just talking one or two candles here we are talking 3500 candles which take the team of virgers hours to light often strapped into safety harnesses for the task.
Shooting the gigapixel took careful planning over some days and I established that a high (10m or so) that a small walkway directly opposite from the nave would give me perfect vantage point.
As with the other gigapixels from 2018 I opted shoot the project on the Fujifilm GFX 50S. Yes, because it does have that wonderful 50mp medium format sensor which gives remarkable resolution. The deal clincher on this occasion was its low light capabilities. As the GFX is the best lowlight camera I have ever used.
I would be pairing this with the excellent GF250 mm f/4 lens.
That’s the camera and lens, that shoots great consistent and accurate gigapixels. Motorised head is essential and my go-to-head-of-choice is the Seitz Roundshot VR head. It is not the cheapest head on the market, but in my view it is the best by considerable margin being compact enough that you can break it down and put it in a coat pocket.
The same could not be said for the tripod which does not break down into my coat pocket, but is totally brilliant as are all the Gitzo 5 series. People tell you that tripods are pretty much the same these days. Believe me they are not and though the Gitzo is a pretty penny, it strikes the perfect balance for rigidity, lightness, strength and longevity – this tripod will outlast you…
When it comes to shooting a gigapixel in lowlight the challenge is to time the movement of the head to the exposure, so the camera is not moving with the shutter open. It is very easy if you dial in huge delays between exposures but the longer the delay the longer the overall exposure will take and even with all the delays worked in precisely each run would take over half an hour.
I chose to shoot the whole thing at f/16 to give great depth of field, but also to give beautiful starbursts on each of the candles – this gave me an exposure time of 1.3 seconds at 3200 iso.
I shot the images and compressed raw and processed them in Capture One Pro, which is really great particularly now that Phase One, the makers of Capture One, support the GFX natively.
The 156 images were then stitched together with Auto Pano giga software giving us two-ish gigapixel.
A nice finishing touch was that the BBC Music Magazine very kindly agreed to let us use part of the audio CD recorded by Wells Cathedral Choir.
What would I change? Very little but it would have been better if the concert had lasted longer as it was so beautiful…