#1068. Hornet at rest

By Leonard Norwitz | How-To

Dec 05

Following distinguished service for all of one year during WWII, not least as the base for Lt Colonel James Dolittle’s desperate raid on Tokyo four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that gave the U.S. a needed moral boost, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.  

It remained on the ocean floor when it was finally located by a research vessel in 2019.  The ship lies there still under some 17,500 feet of ocean.  Her name, however, was revived in 1944 and transferred to another carrier of similar class, and ultimately docked as a permanent museum at the Alameda Naval Air Station since 1998.

The 90 frame panorama

The Hornet and the surrounding area has intrigued my photographic yearnings for some years, but only recently have I attempted to compose a series of panoramic shots from a single point just a stone’s throw from the leading edge of the ship.  The default composition of the carrier on one side and three smaller ships “tied” together on the other seems to be how things are laid out every time I visit the dock, even though the three ships might be differently ordered.  Alas, there is always another large ship docked starboard to the carrier on the other side of a service pier to interfere with my wishes.

A superwide angle lens could capture the entire scene with one go if such were my objective, but it such was far from my objective.  The angle of view is dramatic, something on the order of 150° or so I should think, and I was clear that I wanted no perspective distortion.  The obvious choice was a 50 mm lens (shot at 1/1000 sec, f/4.0 @ ISO 125) though the result calls out for something closer to 75 mm in order for the ships to appear a bit larger than life, as it were.

This is a good point to add my personal exasperation with bloggers and others (Photoshop included) who indicate that a lens designed for a full frame [35 mm] camera attached to a cropped sensor camera yields certain “35 mm equivalencies.”  In fact, they do no such thing.  For some reason, we forget that a lens is responsible for perspective as well as angle of view, and that the choice of focal length can and ought to be made on the basis of how that lens represents perspective.  Since all of the information from a given lens makes its way to the sensor, and a crop sensor merely allows the outer portions of that information to fall to the side, it stands to reason — and experiment — that the combination of lens and crop sensor has no effect whatever on the perspective properties of the lens as it hits the sensor.  That said, the shorter the focal length, combined with increasingly cropped sensors, the more the dramatic aspects of perspective are eliminated. What remains, however, has exactly the same perspective qualities as having shot the scene with said lens from the same vantage point, and cropped the output with your software of choice.

So, when I use a 50 mm lens on my 1.3 cropped sensor Quattro-H, it offers the same angle of view as a theoretical 65 mm lens, and also the same perspective properties of that 50 mm lens.  The advantage being that the crop sensor eliminates the more questionable performance of the outer third of the obtained image; the disadvantage is that the panorama requires more frames than having shot the scene with a full-frame sensor.  I believe that since the resultant panorama image has the same angle of view and perspective either way, there is no advantage in resolution.

The real challenge is the height of the scene, which is considerable from my vantage point, requiring several passes on top of the other, along with software that could deal with the resultant oddball overlaps. Due to my personal laziness, I choose to handhold the camera, and because I have difficulty securing remotely level shots in vertical mode, I am left to endure one or two additional passes across the horizontal plane than good sense would obtain.  I don’t quite know what got into me here — an attack of photo mania, at the very least. In this case: some 90 frames were employed to ensure sufficient overlap on both axis.  Mind you, this is a huge space and there are all kinds of opportunities for misalignment of ladders and wires.  It took me seven minutes to shoot with my 3-pound Sigma Quattro-H + 50mm Art lens, an experiment I suffered only once.

Much to my surprise the gods were with me; my horizon is just about dead-on, and I was able to manage a semblance of level throughout the shoot.  Photoshop had considerable difficulty merging all this semi-seamlessly, so I converted my 12-bit DNG files to 16-bit TIFFs for Affinity (since that application won’t work with DNG files).  I don’t know if that violated any “rules,” so to speak, but it was the only way I could get Affinity to do what Photoshop couldn’t.  I didn’t time it exactly, but I think the operation took about 12 minutes for what Photoshop struggled with for 90.

I was left with a dozen or so problematic joins that showed themselves mainly as adjacent contrast errors, and which I managed to correct somewhat.  There was only one relatively large area of the water that Photoshop later was called on to make up pixels where none existed.  Since reflections and shadows were involved, the result doesn’t make any dramatic sense, but it kinda works, finalizing in a 1.36 GB Tiff, processed into a mild-HDR B&W with Tonality that reduced nicely to a 300-inch wide jpg.

There are a couple of cable discontuations that are hard to spot.  Here’s a close cropping of a briar patch.  I’m sure you’ll be able to spot errors my tired eyes don’t see.

The San Francisco Bay is not known for interesting skies; moreover, what may be true overhead where I live in San Jose is guaranteed not be the case so by the time I arrive after a 45-minute drive.  I’ve made the trek to Hornet’s berth 8 or 9 times over the years.  This is the first time there was a calm harbor, permitting some lovely reflections.  Made all the difference I think.

I’ve included two additional panos of this scene shot with far fewer frames with the same 50 mm lens and camera, as well as some close-ups and on-top-ofs.  All photos were shot with Foveon sensor cameras, including the DP Merrils, whose loss, now that I revisit these pix, I mourn despite its user difficulties.  Obviously, these images were all post-processed to some degree or more — but what continues to amaze and delight is how well the Foveon images hold their value despite the intrusion.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Love it! Just finished telling Paul Barclay that I err on the side of leaving the tripod behind. And flip headlong into the work of a fellow transgressor! I must admit that I do tend to use the tripod more when doing large panoramas – a gimbal is almost as good as a panorama head, for the most part.

    If you ever feel the urge to go down that path, I’ve just told Pascal that I use the Benro GH2C gimbal. It’s fine, and suits me. But if the Fotopro Eagle had been available when I bought it, I might have chosen the Eagle instead – it looks great.

    BTW, I envy your choice of the Quattro – I keep seeing “SIGMA rumours” of a full frame with the Foveon sensor, I’m hanging out for that – sigh – still hanging, and two years have passed so far.

    FYI the panorama stitch function in both PS and LR is the same, as far as I know – and years out of date & out of touch. OK for up to about half a dozen images. After that it collapses. I suppose I could have tried doing 3 batches, and then only having the master for each batch to join. Tedious – four stage operation. But when I assembled 15 images in PS panorama stitch in one hit (1) it took forever and (2) trees & telegraph poles leaned in all directions – totally WEIRD! So I flicked to Affinity which, as you say, does panoramas for breakfast.

    Meanwhile Pascal put me onto the ultimate panorama program. Brilliant – but owned by a company that was taken over for its other main product, all further work on its panorama program was suspended, and the new owner won’t even let you buy it “as is”, without plastering all your work with their bloody watermark, so it’s now quite useless.

    So back to Affinity. Which I have flogged. And flogged. In the process I have found some unexpected problems. One, this week, where joining four images to form a panoramic view of Prague from the garden at the back of our hotel resulted in “banding” in the sky – quite severe and very problematic. So I’ve cut the number of frames back to two. Still working on it, because that’s thrown up a different problem.

    Not to worry though – because I can work my way round either or both. It’s just that I’m still experimenting with this panorama to test a couple of other programs at the same time.

    Right now, this minute, as far as I’m aware Affinity’s panorama program is “simply the best”, at the moment. Maybe Pascal knows of something else – I haven’t found one.

    And Affinity as you no doubt know offers you four other features that might help you:
    1 – de-haze – BRILLIANT – but you have to reign it in a bit, because otherwise it can do harsh stuff to skies etc. – “less is more” – start the slider from the left, and when you think you’ve bit paydirt, move back a little, towards the left again, because you were probably too far over
    2 – un-sharpen – perhaps – doesn’t do much on my shots, and given that you’re using a Quattro it might not do much on yours either – it’s actually misnamed, and does sharpen images – but mine are generally sharp already
    3 – clarity – again, this one is BRILLIANT – resist the temptation to get carried away though, because it can make a photo look almost like an etching, if you push it too far.
    4 – de-noise – which is also BRILLIANT – and I’ve deliberately left it till last, because anyone using it should leave it till last – it does its best work for you, as a finishing touch before leaving this area and fiddling with other things, like colour/tonal range etc

    OMG – I talk too much – sorry. Love your photos – this is “payment” for the educational portion of your post – really appreciated your comments. One of the great attractions of “photography” is the way different people share – over the years, I noticed it is something of a hallmark of our profession/hobby, and makes it much more pleasant than other ways humans have of killing time.

    • “Talk too much” – Never! Critical, appreciative or helpful. It passes for an “air hug” in these insane times.

      I plan to take advantage of your Affinity tips, which until now, had gone completely under my radar.

  • Jeff Kott says:

    Wow! Great work.

    • Thanks, Jeff. And to Pascal for bringing my pictorial essay to light.

      • pascaljappy says:

        I’m the grateful one, Leonard. And another one to regret the lack of commercial success of the Foveon sensor. What a neglected gem …
        Fantastic work with that panorama. But it has to be said some of the single shots are equally stunning. The last one in your plane series is simply wonderful!

        • Thanks, Pascal, for your encouraging words.

          I have plans to “convert” my Quattro-H to Infra-Red use, just to see what gives in those rarefied realms. Of course, I’ll have to use a tripod. And I can always revert: the process either way takes about 10 seconds and a pair of tweezers. Stay tuned.

          • pascaljappy says:

            Oh wow! Reversible IR conversion! That is truly amazing. Tuned I am 😉

            • Leonard says:

              Right. When we detach the lens, the “IR hot glass”” is exposed. Sigma saw fit to have this glass removable by the user with a simple press of a catch, followed by a grab of a hook by a pair of tweezers. The purpose is twofold: for access to the sensor for cleaning and the deliberate conversion to IR filtering, requiring only a glass in front of the lens to filter visible light.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Foveon is still “hot” – appreciated by connoisseurs, ignored by the mob! – the “haves” love them, and they take fantastic photos. Not best choice for birding or sport, but unbelievable for landscape & architecture.
          And I want one – the only reason I haven’t bought it yet is because SIGMA leaked it a while back that they’re going to release a full frame Foveon, which ought to blast everything except Hassie’s off the map! LOL

          • Leonard says:

            If such a camera becomes actual, I imagine it will still be of modest MP resolution. Sigma’s specs, keep in mind, multiply the advertised resolution by 3, for the 3 layers. Resolution, then, is a matter of something like bit depth, rather than enlargability. Last I heard, that number was slated to be “61,” a killer res by any standard.

    • Leonard says:

      Thanks, Jeff.

      This is one of those places I return to often, sometimes with different photo equipment, sometimes prompted by weather changes. It’s only a 45 minute drive from where I live.

  • philberphoto says:

    Will Gompertz, art critic for the Beeb, wrote: It is rare, in my experience, to encounter art of any type – literature, music, film, painting etc. – that blows you away; that has the power and immediacy to take you completely by surprise and stir your soul. I couldn’t write it any better, this is what your art did to me. And, sorry, I now have to get back to where I was before the great gust of a Nor’itzer blew me away.

  • PaulB says:


    A 90 frame panorama!?! That has to be a challenge with any subject. Your pano of the Ex-Hornet has a huge extra challenge, subject motion. You must be living right and received a very calm day, because ships move, even if you are working fast.

    Nicely done!

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Is it a naval museum? – you seem to have public access, and I can’t even get that for our local harbour, which is simply a commercial port.

    • Leonard says:

      I hadn’t thought of ship movement. Good thing, or I might never have succumbed to the the tempatation.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    a magnificent feat of post processing – 90 frame panorama – stunning subject matter

  • Lani Edwards says:

    Great set of images, Leonard! My favourite is the one of the log in the water an I do love the reflection images…cause that 90 frame panorama is way too intimidating 🙂

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