8 Attempts, 260kms Travel, 9 Hours of Standing in the Snow and Rain…. The Story Behind my Shot

8 Attempts, 260kms Travel, 9 Hours of Standing in the Snow and Rain…. The Story Behind my Shot

A Guest Post by Adi Chiru

Although I never focused exclusively on making money out of photography I am still affected by this idea that many people have that photography has become easy and photographers, in general, are not really needed anymore.

It sounds stupid, I know, and, I probably shouldn’t be thinking about it too much. But since a lot of photography equipment is now more accessible than ever to the general public, many people consider themselves photographers just because they have a fancy, relatively expensive camera that does everything for them.

I am amazed by how many people consider the equipment to be the most important element in creating a good photograph. Many people think that they could have made a fantastic photograph if only they had that very fancy, expensive camera at the right moment.

This is a misconception, as I will try to explain using this panorama photograph I made of Vancouver (BC, Canada). Although being in the right place at the right moment with the appropriate equipment is a huge part of a successful photograph, let’s set these things aside for the moment and look at the other considerations at play.

I live near Vancouver, and it is a great place for many types of photography. I took this photograph from one of the most well-known places in the city, so the location itself is not a secret—I didn’t need to get special access to it.

Click on the image for a larger size. I hope you have a good, calibrated monitor!


I chose to make a night photograph, as the first time I visited this location, the sun was setting and the city was starting to sparkle. I went back for a day light capture too, a few weeks later, but that’s a different story.

Here’s the equipment I used:

The technique I used was to stitch together, in Photoshop, eight different photographs made with exposures between 20 and 30 seconds at f/8, ISO 100 and EV +0.3.

So, what does it take to make an image like this?

First, it took eight different trips to that location, six of which I made specifically to take this image.

  • The first time I went there was in December, and it was raining. I unpacked my tripod and camera, but the images I took were useless.
  • The second time there were a few kids running around, and the wooden deck I was standing on was vibrating a lot. I can’t ask people to keep their children still. It was a touristic location and the place was a little crowded.
  • The third time there was no rain and the sky looked great; however there was enough humidity in the air to ruin all my photos. Humidity means there’s water in the air. This diffuses the light, so the images were blurry at full size. I could have used them, probably, for relatively small prints, but I am never comfortable with such compromises. My aim with this project was to create a panorama that could be printed at large or even huge sizes.
  • The fourth time I got there the weather looked fine, but snow started to fall as soon as I finished unpacking—really frustrating…
  • The fifth time there was fog, like a huge cloud over the water, blocking the view. I suppose there could have been a good image there—with very low contrast as if the city was swallowed by mist—if the fog had been more even, and less dense…
  • The sixth time, I got rain and wind! That’s why they call it “Raincouver” sometimes… Also, huge cargo vessels were parked right in the middle of the water, blocking much of the view.
  • The seventh time, I thought there were no cargo vessels or big boats, as I couldn’t see them from the street while passing by. They were there, however, just in a different spot—but they still in the way. That was quite disappointing, as the sky was very interesting that day, with a very nice pattern made by the clouds and high altitude wind. Also, the sun was setting almost behind the city. I was expecting an orange-red sky ending in a dark, rich blue at the upper side of the image. I was right! Too bad the view of the city was ruined by those ships!
  • The eighth time was finally the moment when pretty much all the elements fell into place. The view was great, the city lights ware just bright enough relative to the brightness of the sky. The sky was not as spectacular at first, and definitely not as dramatic as the previous time. Still, eight photographs were made and all of them were sharp and correctly exposed.

And I was lucky to get it from only eight attempts!

Eight attempts at this photo meant over 260 kilometers in travel for me, and around nine hours standing in rain or snow or the cold. It took me about six weeks in total. I also spent about four hours post-processing some of the photos I took, including the last set.

All that for one single image!

And this was a relatively easy shoot: I was just 100 meters from my car, I was in a city—not in the middle of a desert somewhere or in a jungle or other more hostile environment—and this was not an assignment, so there was less pressure, etc. I like nature more than any city in the world and I would always prefer to be in the wild than in a city, but I do know that those locations are a lot less comfortable for the photographer.

Second, I had to calculate sunset time for each of these attempts, as they were not made on consecutive days. There are very good applications for this kind of timing on Android; I use Sun Surveyor, the full version. I do not use iPhone so I cannot recommend iPhone apps for this purpose.

Also, I had to be at the location on January 1st, as the schedule for the Seabus (the main public transportation from Vancouver, Downtown to the North shore) was on a reduced schedule that day. It would cross the view only once every 30 minutes, instead of every 15 minutes as usual, and I hoped this would give me a better chance of capturing some reflections on the water. Unfortunately, there were other problems on that day, as described above.

What else? Well, there are a few very important things to keep in mind while planning and executing a photograph like this:

  • The temperature should be as low as possible. Cold air moves much less than hot air and the shivering effect of hot air moving upwards may not exist at all in colder weather.
  • The humidity of the air is important and hard to predict or seen with our eyes. The distance between the camera and the city skyline was of about 3.5km (1.80 nautical miles) so there’s a lot of room for many elements to affect the shot. Also, I was taking this image across a body of water, and water has a strong influence on the air above it.
  • The lens, although a macro lens, is not necessarily useless in cases like this. I would actually strongly encourage anyone to use a macro lens if the focal length is appropriate. A prime lens is better, as it can provide more sharpness and certainly produce less geometrical distortion. However, a zoom lens can be used very well, as long as you use the focal length that induces the minimum geometric distortion and an f-stop that allows for maximum sharpness for that lens.
  • The tripod is mandatory and a ball-head may be a lot easier to work with. One more thing your tripod should have is a level indicator, so that when you are panning, each photo will be straight and keep the same proportion between sky and land or water.
  • Auto-metering can be used if you really know how to compensate in exposure, or if you can always find a spot to meter on, that has similar brightness in each exposure. I would, however, always recommend manual settings for the exposure while trying to compensate for sun or moon movement, changes in light intensity, and so on. The main problem in this case was the long exposure: while I took the eight photos, about six minutes passed between the first and last exposure. During six minutes at sunset, many, many things can change: color tones in the sky, light direction, light intensity, and more. I have another panorama made from 21 individual photographs, but that was completed in daylight.
  • Mirror-lock and remote triggering is very important, especially while using long focal lengths—even on a sturdy tripod. Also, keep the wind in mind. No matter how low the wind speed, it is usually blowing in blasts, which will affect the image.
  • If you use a time delay, it will not allow you to pause after the mirror locks up, so it will not work as well as a remote control. But it will be better than nothing at all. On many cameras, remote triggering cannot be combined with mirror-lock, which is unfortunate.
  • Live-view and zoom-in focus should be used. During night exposures, this will allow for far more precise focus, and let you get more vertical photos than horizontal ones for the same area; the longer side of the photos will become the width of the final image, giving greater resolution in the end.
  • Overlap 50% of the images for the greatest sharpness and clarity; the center of the current image should became the right/left side of the next image when panning. Depending on the image, you may want to combine focus-stacking with panorama merging, so keep in mind this possibility.
  • Assuming you use Lightroom in post-processing (if you don’t, you should!), use Sync for any global adjustments you make to the first image. Then, go over each one and manually tweak what’s necessary to make them as similar as possible in color tones, exposure, white balance, etc. Photoshop does a great job of compensating for most of these issues, but it will give you perfect results only if you feed it perfect images to work with!

So, this it! That’s what it took for me to make this single image. I am not expecting it to be to everybody’s taste; I don’t want that. The thing is that I like it, and I am proud of it because it was pre-visualized and I worked on it a lot.

If you don’t have a true passion for photography, you will not put enough effort into it. How much “enough” is depends on each of us. It’s easy to say “it’s easy” or that “anyone can do it” as long as you haven’t tried it. This is true with many other tasks, not just photography.

I hope these details exemplify clearly what it may take to produce a good photograph. For those who have the interest to understand and look into the field further, keep in mind that this is just one example from one type of photography, and from one photographer. Other specialties in this art present many other challenges and difficulties that the point-and-shoot photographer may find it hard to face.

Adi Chiru is a photographer currently based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. His focus is on Nature Photography, Fine Art and Family Portraiture. His Portfolio and Photography web-store is at http://www.adichiru.com.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jorge September 28, 2012 09:59 am

    Hi Adi:

    Thank you for taking the time on writing the addition clarification.

    By the way, I didn’t mention it before but your article motivated me to plan some photo sessions in the city in order to get the image I have in mind. You made 7 trips and handle the frustration seeing that you didn’t get what you wanted… until you obtained the photo in you 8th trip. Persistence!

  • Adi September 27, 2012 04:16 am

    jorge: My point was that, besides equipment, there are lots and lots of other things that contribute, many times more than the equipment to a good / great photo. Having said that, let me comment a little bit on you calculations above:
    - I would not list the computer as necessary photo gear. If you don't have a computer today but you do have a digital camera, what exactly do you do with your photos? You don't need an expensive or super fast computer although it would be very useful. I use a 2500 USD laptop with pretty new technology in it but this is NOT photo gear!
    - the Nikon D7000 is a wonderful camera, above anything currently available in APS-C format from Nikon. However, it is not considered professional gear and I do not think it is expensive at all.
    - I am pretty sure you can use Photoshop Elements instead pf PS CS5 for this work and that is much cheaper.

    Photography can be an expensive hobby even if you only do LOMO because expensive/cheap is a relative term. I do not consider my gear to be expensive.

    However, as I stated above, having an expensive gear does not make the image at all. It may make the image better if there is someone pre-visualizing it, work for it, show perseverance, passion, technical skill, sometime sacrifice etc.

    I know no camera to take pictures by itself no matter how expensive it is and even if it is used by someone, it does not mean that the images it will produce will be at least above average.

    Because my work in photography comes from passion, I take pride in it and so I am easily offended by superficial people pretending to know things about which they have no idea. I certainly hope I am not one of them in respect to other domains...

  • Jorge September 26, 2012 02:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing your article. It showed that sometimes is luck to be at the right place at the right time, but we can also be pursuing it: 8 trips trying to get it.

    The photograph is just great, it worth all the effort you made.

    I just don’t have a clear understanding on the following:
    “Many people think that they could have made a fantastic photograph if only they had that very fancy, expensive camera at the right moment”
    And you might be confirming them that tough with your gear, which is not a cheap one, being around $3,611.46
    Nikon D7000 $996.95
    Nikkor 105mm $899.00
    Nikon IR $ 18.30
    ManfrotoTripod $126.26
    Photoshop CS5 $570.96
    Computer $999.99

  • Linda Rogoff September 24, 2012 06:04 am

    Wow, it was worth it. Wish I had your persistence gene.

  • dave mitchell September 22, 2012 12:57 pm

    Hi Adi: re: Atlanta visit is open 24/7 for the next couple of years. Just kidding about learning all you know in three hours! I'm still having trouble getting off page 1 of the CS5 book!! Best regards and keep on shooting those great shots.

  • Adi September 22, 2012 08:26 am

    ian bell: I am sorry to dissapoint you. It is true that I should learn more about the weather and it may have indeed saved me so trouble. However, the weather on the North shore of Vancouver is quite different from the rest of the area. I remember that the day that starting snowing was not supposed to snow and it started just after I got to hte location. Also I am sure you know that meteorologists don't get it right all the time in Vancouver weather is quite tricky to anticipate as far as I know. I would suggest you write an article or maybe even a book dealing with this problem specifically for photographers. I don't recall finding such a resource till now. Or at least let us have some liks or some resources on how to understand the weather for the next 60-120 minutes. A daily forecast is not really helpful for a photographer especially in an area like Vancouver...

    dave mitchell: were you kidding about the invitation or only about the 3 hours condensed info session? :)

    marius2die4: thanks for your comment. I have some more such panoramas on my website: http://www.adichiru.com but not a story written for all of them. :)

  • marius2die4 September 21, 2012 04:39 pm

    Nice picture and good explanation about the story of her.Good look!

  • dave mitchell September 21, 2012 07:38 am

    Hey Adi! Great photo and an outstanding story to go along with it. Enjoyed it immensely and if you are ever in the Atlanta (GA) area, you have an open invitation for a couple of days of free food, lodgings, a city tour and more good old home cooking! All you have to do is tell me everything you know about photography in less than three hours. (Just kidding!! ) Dave Mitchell

  • Ian Bell September 21, 2012 06:33 am

    This is a beautiful image. It's a pity you had to take so many trips to get it. As a meteorologist (living in Australia, not Vancouver) I'm disappointed that you didn't avail yourself of some of the many opportunities to learn about the weather - forecasts, looking at radar, webcams, etc. You may have avoided some driving.

  • Adi September 18, 2012 08:18 am

    pj: a ultra wide lens does not produce this result. Such a lens will "compress" everything in a single photograph so everything would small and for this reason much of the details would be lost. Further more I would have to crop quite heavily such an image to eliminate too much sky and too much water so I will end up with a very low resolution image. Another problem would have been the distorsions specific to ultra wide lenses.

    My image, the way I did it can be printed at a size of 89x20 inch or 226 x 50 cm and will still have the sharpness, clarity and details that you can see on the monitor, or probably even better.

    Have a look here to how I imagine this image to be used:

    I am working to open my web store;l this a preview to my work in progress... :)

    Also, ultra wide lenses are not always for landscapes - quite the opposite actually - in my experience an ultra wide lens is far more useful for subjects that are relatively close to you, interiors, real estate, architectural maybe etc.

    I do not think is was the location either, because eve if I would have been closer I would still have used a prime lens to do this as it should provide sharper images, less distorsions and stitching many of these together would create a very high resolution final image.

  • Glenn September 17, 2012 02:02 am

    Hi Adi,

    Thanks for the compliment, the photo was stiched from 5 shots that I stiched together in photoshop. The lens is a Pentax Asahi Super Takumar 85mm f/1.9 circa 1964 attached with an m42 adapter to my Canon camera.

  • pj September 16, 2012 11:48 pm

    Just a curious question and I am just a amateur, why can't u use a ultra wide lens instead or was it the location that u had to use this focal length?

  • Adi September 16, 2012 11:29 pm

    OsmosisStudios: Although Canada is considered by many a cold or very cold country, Vancouver and a few other cities are not that cold, I know that. However, I stand by my tip about trying to do the shot when it is as cold as possible; human vision compensate for so many things that you think the conditions are right when they are not for the camera.

    raghavendra: Thanks! English is not my native language but I am doing my best and in this particular case I had help from the editor in correcting some grammar and syntax issues I guess.

    Alex: I think I was not very clear indeed. The idea is that if it is possible, I take vertical shots, twice for each angle. Using live-view I can zoom in and then focus precisely on an object in the foreground in the first image and then on an object in the second plane or background in the second image. I stack these two images so that I get the sharpest/in focus areas of each in one single image. Using f/11 or f/166 etc. is not always a good idea depending on the lens you have and the exposure time you would need in this case. Then I do the stitching. Of course, you can do that with horizontal photos but in this case the total number of pixels will probably be less so less details. I do not think there is a certain specific correlation between vertical/horizontal and focus. I did not ment to imply that.

    glenn: that's a great image. Is it a stitched panorama or a crop from one shot? In lenses, the year of production doesn't really matters. I am surprised still that you could use such an old lens on a relatively modern Canon camera. Usually Nikon is known for this compatibility and Canon kept on modifying the mount system...

    Leigh Thomas: I am not really into HDR, probably because most of what I have seen is way too exaggerated. I like a more conservative stile that reflects really more accurate. However it is a good idea. HDR with focus stacking and stitching should be able to produce interesting images. I am currently working on a panorama or 21 photos on 2 rows and HDR would have been a good idea for this one... Maybe I'll redo the shots but the location is 150km away...

  • 1107photography September 16, 2012 11:12 pm

    I think one of the most important lessons here is the spirit of "never give up." Too many of us (I'll include myself here) often "make the best of it" when circumstances don't live up to what we planned. In some cases, where you cannot revisit and try again, that is the right attitude. But in this case, Adi Chiru makes a great point about not compromising on your vision. Great post--instructive and motivational as well.

  • Carl September 16, 2012 09:36 pm

    Most people viewing a photograph don't care what the photographer went through to get it and often just yawn at the story behind it. A photographer sometimes becomes emotionally attached to a less than stellar photograph because of the effort and the experience. That isn't the case here though, as it's an excellent photograph and as a photographer who often puts a lot of effort into getting a special photograph I can appreciate the effort and the result. Good job!


  • Leigh Thomas September 16, 2012 07:46 pm

    Great tips & image. For added complexity why not make each component farm and HDR shot! I took this one about a month ago of Doha Qatar skyline. 5 Frames of 7 bracketed exposures : shooting time 2.5 hrs processing time 8 hours!

  • Glenn September 16, 2012 05:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story and your included tips and also for dispelling the rumor that its only about your equipment.
    I took this panoramic shot of Barcelona last night using a 4 year old Canon Rebel camera with a lens from the 1960's and was mostly happy with the results.

  • steve September 16, 2012 05:46 pm

    If you are photographing wildlife then that needs a lot of patience and many repeated attempts to get the shot:


  • Alex September 16, 2012 03:53 pm

    Thanks for the great and detailed report! One thing I didn't quite get is the connection between horizontal/vertical and the focus. I understand that each (vertical, focus) results in more detail in the final image, but what is their correlation?
    Can you elaborate on this?


  • raghavendra September 16, 2012 12:27 pm

    I like your writings and photograph speaks for itself.


  • OsmosisStudios September 16, 2012 11:57 am

    Adi: "Cold"? In Vancouver? Please :p

    Great shot, and a good writeup

  • Jai Catalano September 16, 2012 09:38 am

    I had a photo session and the client said you know I didn't even think that you did all that you do. I said I am not a photographer I am a Processographer and that is what you are paying for.

  • Adi September 16, 2012 08:27 am

    thom hod: Thank you very much. I have a few more similar shots on my website: http://www.adichiru.com.
    I love Vancouver too for photography opportunities.; and Seattle is not far away.... :)

    thinkeye: thank you for your comment. You are right, that combination is possible and it seems that I never though of that probably because it was simpler to me to use the remote control. Anyway, I am glad to learn something new.

  • Thinkeye September 16, 2012 06:33 am

    This is not correct:

    If you use a time delay, it will not allow you to pause after the mirror locks up, so it will not work as well as a remote control. But it will be better than nothing at all. On many cameras, remote triggering cannot be combined with mirror-lock, which is unfortunate.

    I use d11 (delayed exposure) setting on my D7000 all the time for tripod shots exactly for this reason. It locks up the mirror, waits a second, then exposes. I do not have remote control (yet).

  • Thom Hod September 16, 2012 06:04 am

    Awesome shot! Love Vancouver! Such an awesome city.