- Posted By: Bryan Chan
- Posted On: 9:05 a.m. | August 6, 2013
By Bryan Chan, Los Angeles Times
Swiss panoramic photographer Dominik Baumann has made spherical images on a bridge 330 feet above an abyss, in a tunnel 1.5 miles below the surface, inside a LaFerrari sports car.
His latest feat was shooting for a series of panoramas in a cramped cockpit of an upside-down Swiss air force aerobatic team Pilatus PC-7 trainer plane while in formation above the Alps. Baumann wanted to show the 360-180-degree perspective of a pilot flying maneuvers. Check them out here as interactive panoramas.
Dominik Baumann shoots a selfie in flight in a PC-7 trainer plane.
The PC-7 Team was on board, and took Baumann on a couple of training flights with Cmdr. Werner Hoffmann so the photographer could test his equipment, technique and, of course, his stomach as the flights would involve aerial maneuvers at 4-5 G-force pressure.
Shooting panoramas on firm ground typically involves taking a series of photos with a super wide-angle lens while pivoting the camera around a fixed point. This point, called the nodal point, must be precise: within about a millimeter for the images to align neatly when stitched together. Panographers use special panorama heads on tripods to assure precision. It’s best if the surroundings are not moving. The digital images are then processed through software to combine them, usually, seamlessly.
In Baumann’s case almost nothing would be ideal for shooting. He was strapped into the cockpit, which was the size of a small bathtub, in a five-point harness. He could not bring a tripod, which would make bailing out in an emergency tricky. He would be wearing a full flight suit with oxygen mask and heavy gloves that made it almost impossible to work the controls on his equipment. The difference in lighting as well as the rapidly changing lighting inside and outside the plane created exposure challenges. He would have only seconds to shoot the images for each panorama attempt.
Baumann during a test flight.
During the test flights Baumann realized rotating his camera for the sections of the panorama image would be difficult, especially on a nose dive at 190 mph or flying upside down, with added G-forces. So he used an automated head Roundshot VR Drive that could make a full rotation in as little as six seconds with the camera firing continuously. Roundshot also made him a special camera release with a large button.
Baumann wanted to have recognizable landmarks in his panoramas, such as the city of Zurich and the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. To do this the plane would need to be somewhat close to these backgrounds. But the closer the camera is to the subject, the more noticeable changes are when the camera moves. With a plane moving 250 mph, the camera would be farther from where the previous photo was taken. If the distance between the photos was too great, he would run the risk that part of the scenery repeated in the other photo could complicate stitching later on. He and the pilot had to find a compromise between the speed of the plane and the altitude. On top of that, there would be another plane in formation just feet from his cockpit.
On the day of the flight, the full formation of nine planes took off from Dubendorf air force base near Zurich with Baumann in the lead plane. They headed first to Zurich and did some practice maneuvers over Lake Zurich. One was the mirror formation where two planes fly parallel with one upright and the other upside down 10 feet over the first. Baumann was in the upside-down plane so he could get a shot of the whole city of Zurich.
The group then headed to central Switzerland and the Alps to see the Aletsch Glacier, the famous Matterhorn and other mountain peaks.
Baumann, left, and PC-7 Team Cmdr. Werner Hoffmann.
Baumann had to be careful that the wing did not obscure these landmarks along the way. So he had to plan each panorama carefully by beginning the sequence of photos by capturing the most important part first.
After the two-hour flight, Baumann climbed out of the plane hoping he had what he needed as there would be no chance to re-shoot.
Back at the Blick office in Zurich, Baumann sifted through the nearly 1,000 shots to find sequences of eight photos he could combine into panoramic images.
He was able to stitch the images together in PTGui but had to do some fine-tuning in Photoshop. The final images were imported into Kolor Panotour for display on the Blick website.
See them here in interactive panoramas at Blick.ch.
By the way, that’s Baumann in the panorama. There’s no way he could have stayed out of his own shot except to step out of the plane.