Go Beyond Full Frame Without Selling The Farm: Shane Ernest

Going Beyond Full Frame Without Selling The Farm.


In this tutorial, I’ll share my reasoning for going beyond full-frame, a few reasons why you shouldn’t, and some simple steps I use to create images that match your vision.

While there are huge differences between a Digital Medium Format system and this panoramic technique, you shouldn’t let that stop you from creating. If you see an image in your head that you can’t create with a 35mm system, well then, you better get crafty.

It’s not the size that counts, it’s what you do with it.

I started shooting with this technique because I was craving the field of view, and spatial relations that I get shooting medium format, but without having to always shoot film or plunk down a house-worth of cash for a digital back.

The detail and resolution of medium format is incredible and beyond stunning when printed larger than 24×36. The depth in the image is scrumptious and gives portraits a very romantic feeling when combined with DMF’s incredible color.

You’re basically viewing a Flemish Renaissance painting as the oil paints are still drying.

(Think van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait. Or anything Titian.)


[Uncropped Frame from IQ180 showing outline of crop in image below]


[100% View from above image]


While digital backs are delicious, they cost more than a home in the rural Midwest and few people probably have a need for that kind of gear! Getting a used digital back is a semi-affordable option, along with renting one.

Even so, we’re still talking thousands of dollars.

What other options do we have to create images that fit our vision?

We’d certainly not let a bit of gear or software hold us back from creating, would we?!


The Technique

Seeing Your Final Image

The most important part of this technique is being able to ‘see photographically,’ knowing what the final image looks like and how you’ll create it.  This takes moving beyond what you see in your viewfinder and instead envisioning the final image as you’d like to create it.

Keep Your Settings the Same

This one seems obvious but it’s easy to miss. For this technique to work smoothly it really helps to keep your camera settings consistent through your image making. Set your ISO, WB, aperture, and lock your focus on the subject.


Create Frames to Build Final Composition

You can build your composition by creating rows of portrait oriented images the same way you’d create a standard panorama, and then merging and blending accordingly. Another way is to make the images in a spiral starting from your subject and working outwards in a simple pattern.

Take a frame, move right. Take another frame, move down. Take another frame. Move left. Etc.

Each subject/composition/camera/person is unique, so experiment and create your frames while being aware of how your sensor is collecting the light.

Be mindful of your plane of focus while making these frames. Any movement you introduce into your camera/sensor will change the plane of focus. That is just physics. You’ll want to be aware of this as you create your image.

Using a solid tripod with a panoramic head that lets you adjust the nodal point will help minimize changes to your focal plane and parallax, but you’re still bound by the Laws of Physics.

Unless you tilt-shift, but that’s for another day.

Review Your Images

Ensuring that you have the images you’d like is essential before moving on, as this method is more complex than shooting a single 35mm or MF frame.

Check, check, double check before moving on from your scene.

There isn’t much worse than realizing you missed a frame in your “grand vision.”


Combining Your Frames

After making global adjustments, you can open these images using Photoshop’s spectacular Photomerge, or use an open source alternative like Hugin. The settings you choose in photomerge will depend on the lens/camera you choose and number of frames. I’ve noticed the best results using “cylindrical” as the mode and turning off ‘blend images’ and ‘fix geometric distortion.

Even with all that automation, you’ll have to watch out for misalignment issues, out of focus areas, and anything else that may detract from your final image.

If you’re system is having trouble creating a large composite, you can merge your frames in ‘batches’ which will help a bit, though you’ll still have some trouble making the final composite.

At least you have plenty of resolution to play with!

Check + Print

This is just a final review of the image to ensure it meets your standards before printing. Check for bad blending, color shifts, or mis. Out of focus areas on the periphery of your frame can be common with low apertures and isn’t always noticeable when you’re in the field.

Quick Recap

  • Know what you’re creating in terms of composition before you begin to setup.
  • Use your Photo Yoga/Tai-Chi skills to play with the composition before you shoot.
  • Keep your camera settings the same and lock your focus, otherwise you’ll have all sorts of trouble when putting these frames together in your final image.
  • Have plenty of overlap in your frames, but reduce changes in your focal plane as best you can. Any movement will change your plane of focus, which is especially noticeable at lower apertures.
  • Watch for parallax in your frames and be mindful of any complex geometry like tree branches, fences, etc. Using a solid panoramic tripod will help minimize this, but you’re still blending images which raises the potential for problems.
  • Look for any distortion, misalignments, bad blending Photoshop introduces during your alignment. This is a personal preference, though you may differ and enjoy these aberrations in your image.


A Couple of Caveats

There are also client considerations to bear in mind when deciding whether or not to use this technique. Some clients and publishers will not allow for digitally manipulated images to be used. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

That means REAL graduated ND filters, and no modifications outside of what you could do on film or in the darkroom.

Other times the client will need a higher resolution, color accuracy, and image quality for the final output that could require a medium format image versus this stitched 35mm technique.

Either way, when using this technique the risk of failure is much higher than simple using medium format.

Even when PhaseOne is acting up!

(Takes the battery out. Puts the battery back in.)


Don’t let Resistance get the best of you.

Get out there and make something you love.


Shane Ernest


*In my research of this technique I discovered that fellow photographer Brenizer has used this extensively to create some intense panoramas! Prior to Brenizer, the technique was also referred to as “thinking outside the box” in the earlier days of 10mp DSLRs!

There are also ways to do this technique without depending on Photoshop. If you enjoy Open Source tools, I’m happy to give more information on processing. Just send me an email.




Is available at Blurb if you love the feel of good paper and a quality book.

We are also giving it out as a free PDF for all. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think would be interested.

All images are copyright the photographer, and there is contact information for each photographer included.

Big SHOUT OUT to all who were involved with Project 52 and to the current members… Thanks to all for being involved.

Download the Screen Res version here: PROJECT 52 ANNUAL 2013


The Last Project 52 Assignment for the 2013 Group


“Cooking With Chili” is the name of the faux cookbook. The assignment was to shoot to the layout. The students did a magnificent job with this, and I want to share the work with you all.

You can see the layout, and it was provided as a layered PSD file to the students. They then shot the concept (brief) and put the image together in Photoshop.

We are now working on a book for the end of the year, and it will be amazing. I will post the book (free PDF or purchase hard copy at Blurb) here when it is ready. Believe me, it will be amazing!

See how a lot of different photographers interpreted the same layout.

“I Could’a Been A Contender”

“I Could’a Been A Contender”

The assignment was to illustrate the phrase: “I Could’a Been a Contender”. Taken from the Marlon Brando movie, “On the Waterfront”, the phrase has been used to mean a lot of similar feelings… not making the cut, not being good enough, or being held back.

The P52 Pros came through with some amazing work.

I want to share them with you here.

To see more work from the Project 52 Pro shooters, visit the site at www.project52pros.com.


Tomas Jansson used a large softbox to camera right, and a white fill card to camera left in this still life.


Rasmus Hald wanted a feeling of sadness and introspection. He used a 15 degree grid spot on the main overhead light, and a 30 degree grid on the face of his subject, dialed down well below the exposure of the hands. This gives the image a powerful, selective feeling of isolation.


Anders Eriksson kept the image very dark, and the mystery quite high. A single medium softbox was used on both half of the images which were then assembled in Photoshop.


David Price wanted a feeling of isolation and sadness, so he used the composition and lighting to achieve a feeling of despair.  A single medium softbox from camera left was skillfully blended with the ambient sunlight to present a very cohesive image.


Katherine Gooding used a single small modified flash to make this emotionally heavy image. A fill card to camera right kept a very small amount of detail in his hair on the shadow side, and the light on the rough sweater lets us feel the texture as well as witness the pose of surrender.


David Price also submitted this feeling of loss and despair. A single strobe with a reflector was used high on camera left. The sharpness of the unmodified reflector gives extra detail to the mountain of paperwork that has ‘temporarily we hope’ halted the progress of the subject.



Alicia Bonterre worked with a friend to make this haunting photograph in Trinidad. A single gridded light and intentional underexposure gave a gritty edginess to the image.



Filipe Martins entry also uses a pool of light to emphasize the loss and pain of not being able to cut it on something you love to do.


Adi Talwar used window light and carefully selected exposure. A lovely, moody portrait of his daughter.


Bob Knill’s entry shows the pain of loss with pools of light and shadows telling the story. The subject’s sense of loss is wonderfully played by his model.


A single gridded softbox from camera axis gives a punchy light to this portrait. Bret Reynoso chose the graphic lines of a strongly backlit window shade to be his canvas.


Irene Liebler’s neighbor is a motocross rider and familiar with the pain that riders meet when they lose. Irene used three softboxes to give this portrait emphasis. and the great edgework of the light adds dimension as well.


Julie Clegg chose a single very large softbox in very close for this “contender”. Great direction and a subject willing to ‘emote’ gives us this strong portrait.


A sense of loss and a style reminiscent of ‘film-noire’ was the impetus for this image by Girish Basavar. Using a hallway and a beauty dish, he was able to make this image of high emotion. Grid spots from left and right behind added additional light to help tell the story.


Peter Dopchev shows us the moment when a competitor realizes it is all over for him this season. A small pool of light and a cinematic approach to using the shadows adds a bit of mystery to this understated portrait.


Russel Harrison reveals the moment when finally alone and away from the crowds, an athlete reflects back on the loss. Strong emotions from the subject and a sense of understatement makes a powerful portrait. A single speedlight, tightly wrapped in plastic to stay dry, is fired from the back of the shower and diffused with additional plastic material.

Project 52 Pros is one of the most fun and important things I have ever done. To see this quality of work coming out of the group is simply stunning.

Thanks to all the P52 members for keeping it real.

Kyle Jones Shoots the Reno Rodeo

Kyle Jones Shoots the Reno Rodeo

Project 52 Member Kyle Jones shot the rodeo in Reno recently. Kyle is a photographer of many interests and talents.

He is working on building a book and getting out in the Reno market by the first of the year. This fun shoot is one of the stories he is working on for his personal pages.

I love rodeos… this work makes me remember how much.

From Kyle:

It’s June in Reno, Nevada. That means one thing, the Reno Rodeo is coming to town. This year (2013) marks the 94th year since its inception. Being from upstate New York, I hadn’t really experienced many rodeos in my life, but, since moving to Reno in August 2009, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend every one. This year marks my fourth straight Reno Rodeo.

A day spent at the rodeo is fun and exciting. I thought this would be the perfect venue to document for my Project52 Pros assignment. There are many areas to photograph; the rides along the midway, vendors who set up shop in the buildings, people walking around the food court, and of course the main attraction, the rodeo itself.

This is a very challenging assignment with varying light conditions throughout the event combined with the fast action of a bareback bronc ride or bull ride. The sun is still high in the sky at 7 p.m. when the rodeo begins, shadows and strong sunlight can wreak havoc on composition. However, it isn’t long before the summer sun is setting on the horizon when the next challenge presents itself, stadium lighting. Time to crank up the ISO setting!

This year we had seats directly across the arena from where the broncs and bulls come out of the gate. I would get my camera positioned on the cowboy that was up next and when the gate was pulled, fire off frames as fast as technology would permit. I try my best to put the focus point on the cowboy’s face or chest. My goal was to document the excitement and family fun that a rodeo brings to a community by mixing up exciting shots of cowboys and cowgirls in action with the master of ceremonies on his horse and other intermission entertainment taking place between rodeo events.

I really enjoyed covering this event. At future rodeos I plan to cover even more by taking the whole day to capture more ‘behind the scenes’ shots of the stockyards and stable workers. I’ve met many people who volunteer their time to the Reno Rodeo each year, so, I’m confident that with persistence and asking, this goal will come to fruition.

– Kyle D. Jones

The Images: