I am an Oklahoma native, and a retired computer programmer. My wife, Shellee, and I have four grown children and are 30-year Wichita residents. I was inspired in 2002 by Australian photographer Ken Duncan’s book America Wide to pursue photography seriously, concentrating on panoramic landscapes. While much photographic composition involves isolating a subject by removing all that is not visually essential, panoramic photography presents a subject in its context. Often the subject is the context. Learning the rules of composition for this format is sometimes exciting, sometimes painful, and always unfinished.
Contrary to the opinions of some, the Kansas landscape is extremely varied, though it does not shout for attention. Done well, the panoramic format lets the photographer embed the viewer in the landscape. The sweep of the sky and the expanse of the prairie move the viewer’s eye from detail to detail, while the lines of grass, trees, earth forms, and clouds tie the details into one overall experience.
I shoot with a Canon digital SLR and try to manage two photographic day-trips monthly to sites within a few hours of Wichita. I especially enjoy shooting very early or very late in the day, when the colors are more saturated, and when the low sun reveals the contours of the landscape and tints the clouds and the prairie grasses in beautiful, fast-changing ways. I do not hesitate to include man-made features in the landscapes. Roads and fences and power lines are part of our lives, physically and metaphorically, and they need not destroy the God-formed beauty on which they lie.
Each of my landscape panoramas is a composite of many overlapping exposures. With the camera mounted on a tripod, I manually set focus and exposure and use a cable release and mirror lock-up for the sharpest image possible. I then take seven to twelve vertical-format exposures that cover the scene, each exposure overlapping its neighbor by about one-third. Once the resulting individual files are “stitched” together on a computer, the resulting image file is almost identical to one produced by the traditional method of scanning a large-format transparency. Of course, this technique does not work well for subjects in motion. For example, I cannot produce a panoramic image of waves breaking on the beach (an uncommon sight in Kansas).
Using Photoshop, I adjust exposure, contrast and color balance, and dodge and burn in ways analogous to what is done in a chemical darkroom. My goal is to produce a print that recreates (for me) what I experienced at that time and place. If I'm diligent (and fortunate), the print will appeal to others, as well. To view more of my images or inquire about purchases, please visit my Prairie Vistas website.