Milo in Kansas

Like much of the United States, Kansas is in the midst of a drought.  I recently had the opportunity to visit the Rock Chalk state and my first thought was wanting to capture a pano using the Really Right Stuff PCL-1 I just picked up.  Being late in the season most of the corn was gone and what wasn't harvested was getting nuked by the sun.  But on this 100° night outside Wichita there stood this peaceful milo field.  Milo is a sorghum primarily used for grain and fodder (read: cow feed) and can achieve this deep red and become quite robust when properly hydrated.  This field was showing tell-tales of the drought, however.  Milo, I thought, would be the perfect subject since the two prior nights saw sanguin colored sunsets which, with the reddish milo, would play beautifully together.  Of course, as you might guess, the weather did not cooperate in that regard.  On this night the sunset was near textbook normal, with yellows at the base and blues where the light was dying out.

I decided to shoot the field anyway and began to set up, racing the sun.  I won the race by a larger margin than I anticipated and it can get pretty boring sitting there with no shade, surrounded by a field of heat-stressed plants.  To take my mind off the discomfort, I switched out of the Eye-Fi app I use to review images as I shoot and got reacquainted with an old friend, Link from 1986 NES game The Legend of Zelda on the Transformer Prime.

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As the crucial moment approached I double-checked the setup.  For the pano I used a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 17-40mm f4.0L mounted on the front set to 22mm at f22 for 2"5 seconds.  Slid into the Lee Foundation Kit were two filters, a Lee 4x4 Circular Polarizer and a Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 3-stop Reverse Grad Neutral Density filter.  The pano rig consisted of the afformentioned Really Right Stuff PCL-1 panning clamp, an RRS MPR-CL II nodal slide and all resting on an RRS TVC-33 tripod fitted with an RRS TA-3-LC leveling base with clamp.  Note that for this lens (17-40mm f4.0L) the 7.4in MRP-CL II is a touch too long to allow a 4x6 filter to slide down unobstructed.  However, with the camera in portrait orientation, preferred for shooting panos, there is enough clearance to place the start of the graduation right where I want in the scene and not bump up against the nodal slide - but just barely!

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Part of the double-check process is reviewing the camera settings.  When it comes to panos you have to be mindful not to keep your camera in any automated mode.  Normally I live in aperture priority but for a pano, where light can be drastically different as you move across the scene, this will cause a series of uneven exposures that you would have to account for during post.  To eliminate this, set the camera to manual and meter the scene in the center or whereever you intend to have the subject of the image (in this case the sun is the subject of the shot).  Use this exposure for all your shots in the pano.

Also, when dealing with ultra-wide angle lenses like 17-40mm f4.0L, be mindful of light falloff.  Light falloff manifests as a soft vignetting that is pleasing in many cases but can create obvious stitching seams when compiling a pano.  To help mitigate this effect try dividing your pano into smaller, highly overlapping frames.

Milo in Kansas (click for larger)

I intended to create a peaceful scene that invokes a nostalgic "Americana" quality and this parched field of milo out in middle of Kansas strikes that for me.

-JD