News And Field Notes: Panoramic Photography With The Fujifilm GFX 100 - November 22, 2019

When Fujifilm asked if I would like to take their newest medium format camera, the GFX 100, on my Grand Canyon river trip, I immediately said, "Yes!" One of the first things that came to mind when I began to imagine how I could take advantage of this camera was shooting in-camera panoramic photos.

The GFX 100 is a medium format digital camera that has a 102-megapixel sensor, meaning it's capable of capturing incredible levels of detail. In its panoramic crop mode, the camera would allow me to shoot panos in a single frame and still have a 50-megapixel image, meaning I could still make big prints even after cropping. Shooting panos in a single frame opens up all sorts of creative possibilities, including doing long-exposures and also taking advantage of the Focus Bracketing feature in the camera to achieve incredible levels of detail. I was looking forward to creating images of rapids rushing by, intimate details in rocks and sand, grand vistas, and the many waterfalls in Grand Canyon.

Storm Clouds over the North Rim
Storm clouds move across Vishnu Temple and the North Rim as the first rays of light of a new day paint the cliffs in fiery hues. From Cardenas Camp on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. © Adam Schallau, All Rights Reserved.

If you're new to my work, my site, or blog, one thing you may notice is that I don't do technical reviews of cameras, lenses, or any other photographic gear. My goal is to share how a particular piece of camera gear can allow me to be more creative or productive in the field. When I teach workshops, one of my goals is to help my students establish a technical workflow that allows them to become comfortable with the camera so that the camera gets out of the way and is no longer a hindrance to being creative.

Solitude in North Canyon
The twisted and sculpted walls of North Canyon, a side canyon to Marble Canyon within Grand Canyon National Park. © Adam Schallau, All Rights Reserved.

So how does this relate to creating panoramic images? The modern technique of creating a pano is to shoot several photos as you pan the camera from left to right across the scene. The photos are then later "stitched" together in Adobe Lightroom to create one seamless image that is of very high quality.

This process works great for static scenes where nothing is moving, and this includes light. The catch for a landscape photographer is that light changes, and often faster than what you may realize. If my exposure for each photo is even 2-seconds long, and I need to shoot nine frames to cover the scene, and it takes me a few seconds to move the camera in between each image as I pan across the scene, the result is that it may take me 45 seconds to a minute to complete the process. During that time, the light has changed, shadows moved, clouds moved, and now come together the way I envisioned it.

Twilight on the Palisades
Comanche Point and the Palisades of the Desert tower above the Colorado River. From Hilltop Ruin in Grand Canyon National Park. © Adam Schallau, All Rights Reserved.

This image above is an excellent example of this challenge. I photographed this scene at twilight, and the last light of the day was fading away very quickly. The exposure for this photo was 13-seconds long, and I captured it in a single exposure. If I had been photographing this scene using the process of stitching multiple images, and each image was 13 seconds long, then the light would have changed too much between the beginning and the end of the process.

Twisted Driftwood
Details of driftwood found on a beach in Marble Canyon within Grand Canyon National Park. © Adam Schallau, All Rights Reserved.

Another idea I had was to combine the 'Focus Bracketing' feature of the GFX 100 with the panoramic crop mode. To create this photo of a piece of driftwood, I had the camera on a tripod about 18 inches above the subject. The driftwood looks relatively flat in this image, but in reality, the edges were much closer to the camera than the middle, which cause a depth-of-field challenge. The only way to achieve total sharpness from the nearest part of the driftwood to the furthest part was to capture several image frames changing the focus with each subsequent image. The 10 or so images were then merged in Photoshop using a technique known as focus stacking so that I could capture the level of detail that I wanted to represent in the final photograph.

Pink Granite Rush
Granite Rapid at mile 93.9 on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. © Adam Schallau, All Rights Reserved.

The image above of the Colorado River rushing through Granite Rapid is yet another example of a photo that couldn't have been created by stitching multiple frames together. The texture and lines in the water would never have lined-up properly between the frames. The scene was photographed using a single 5-second exposure.

One of my primary goals with the GFX 100 was to create vertical panoramic images of several of the waterfalls in Grand Canyon. Doing this was a simple as selecting the 65:24 aspect ratio in the Quick menu and composing as needed.

This photograph of the waterfalls in the narrows of Deer Creek at river mile 137 represented a unique challenge in that the rocks in the foreground in the lower right corner of the image were very close to the camera requiring me to use an aperture value of f/32 to get it kind of in focus. The catch with using a small aperture like f/32 is that while the depth-of-field is increasing, you are also sacrificing some image quality due to diffraction. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of diffraction and why it's detrimental to your images, but if you want to improve the technical aspects of your images, then I suggest reading up on diffraction and how to avoid it.

Like the image of the driftwood above, I was able to leverage the GFX 100's Focus Bracketing feature and shoot at a lower aperture value to avoid diffraction and maintain detail while shooting series of images as the camera moved the focus from the foreground to the background with each subsequent shot. I later merged this series of images using Focus Stacking in Photoshop to achieve the high level of detail that this camera is capable of delivering.

Being able to compose my panoramic images in-camera has been perhaps the most creatively liberating aspect of using the GFX 100, and I'm now having more fun shooting panos. I invite you to take a look at the full gallery images I created while using the Fujifilm GFX 100 on my 18-day rafting expedition on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

Let me know if you have any questions about my experiences with the GFX 100, rafting the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

And lastly, thanks again to Fujifilm for supporting my creative vision.

Checkout the 'Fujifilm GFX 100 in Grand Canyon' Image Gallery