How the Pros Do It: 46-megapixel panorama of Mount Stuart and Lake Ingalls, lit by simultaneous sunrise and moonset

by Scott Rinckenberger

posted Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 6:00 PM EDT


Mount Stuart is one of the iconic mountains of the Cascade Range -- the second highest non-volcanic peak in Washington state -- and its imposing form looms over the other peaks in the region. Lake Ingalls, a short distance to the west is a landscape photographer's dream, a perfect granite reflecting pool for the towering peak above. Images shot from this perspective are commonplace in the photographic vernacular of the Pacific Northwest, but such a scene is always a candidate for a new interpretation, and during the last days of September this year, I set out to do just that.  

Due to the popularity of the location and the stresses of being over-loved, camping has been outlawed at Lake Ingalls. The result is a lack of imagery capturing the scene in its nocturnal glory. While I am more than happy to accommodate the rules of not camping in order to protect the wilderness, I had no issue with sacrificing my sleep and comfort in order to put myself in a position to shoot a different look and feel for this great location in the hours before sunrise. To that end, I hiked the majority of the way to Lake Ingalls and set up a quick camp on a rock ledge in the pass above the lake, well above the restricted area. Having tracked the moon since the previous month when I was fortunate to capture a harvest moonrise and simultaneous sunset on Mount Rainier, I was privy to the fact that it would be in the west, front-lighting the peak in the hours and minutes before dawn.

My alarm woke me promptly at 4 a.m., and the short mile-long hike to the lake was made by the light of a headlamp. Before I was even fully awake, I found myself in the enviable spot of watching the moon shine its last light on Mount Stuart as the sun began to light the scene from behind. I shot many iterations of this scene from the crack of dawn to the early afternoon. I shot single frames, multiple frames, bracketed exposures, moonlit, backlit, you name it. But in the end, once I had downloaded all of the images in my office, the first few captures of the day proved the most effective; which proves, once and for all, the more it hurts, the more beautiful it has the potential to be.


The Details: The final image is a combination of six original images which were stitched together in Photoshop, creating a 46-megapixel image capable of reproduction up to 70-inches wide without any up-resing. I used a tripod to stabilize the camera during the long exposures, then I framed up a single shot of the very left side of the complete landscape. I oriented the camera vertically in order to get the maximum amount of information in the frame and shot a sequence of six vertical images moving the camera clockwise between each capture. Each move was done by selecting a reference point at the frame edge and making sure that point was included in the opposite edge in the next composition.

Camera Settings
Exposure: 30 seconds at f/5.6
ISO: 1250
Focus: Manual at infinity
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm equivalent at 35mm)
Release: 2-second self timer

Photo Gear
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Olympus M. Zuiko 14-150mm f/4.0/5.6
Tripod: Giottos VGR8255-S2N Carbon Fiber Tripod
Camera Bag: Think Tank Digital Holster 10 with Chest Harness

Post Production: The six individual RAW files were opened in Photoshop CS6. I used a script to load all of the files into layers in a new document. Then, after selecting all layers, I used the command Edit>Auto Allign Layers followed by Edit>Auto Blend Layers. The rest of the work was a combination of some slight lens correction and warping of the image with the Free Transform command in order to level the horizon. Once the file was fully assembled, I used various adjustment layers in order to optimize the color, tone and texture, and sharpened selectively using a high pass filter with a selective mask.

To see a full collection of my other high-resolution panoramic images -- captured in a similar fashion -- visit my site here. If you like my images, I've assembled together a collection of them into a 2013 calendar, available for $24.99 here. Even more affordably, a digital version in iPad, PDF, or WebViewer versions is just $7.99. (Ed. Note: Purchasers of the print version also receive the digital version as a free bonus.)