Few weeks ago, I was given an assignment to take a photograph of Mont Blanc for the most prestigious and the oldest Dutch museum, Teylers in Haarlem (the Netherlands). My contractors were very specific, expressing a need for a photograph that could serve as a focal point for  scientific exposition about the highest summit of the Alps, and its early day exploration. I was informed a priori, the required print size is 5m x 3m. Obviously, I devoted a great deal of time researching gear and possibly the most optimal location of taking the photograph.

However, rather than treating the assignment as a purely artistic endeavor, I have decided to approach it in a completely scientific and analytic way, considering numerous factors related to the gear, location and weather conditions of taking the photograph. Based on the expectations, I have created a list of requirements which a photograph must fulfill. The most important was an attempt to capture the essence of Mont Blanc, its superiority in height and size with respect to surrounding mountains. A survey on numerous photographs of Mont Blanc Massif made it clear there is a small number of optimal locations that would allow for this type of framing. Only by photographing Mont Blanc in the context of nearby town of Chamonix with its prominent summits one can clearly demonstrate the sheer size and the might emanating from Mont Blanc. Having this fundamental assumption in mind, I have switched to Google Earth and performed quite a few simple Field of View (FOV) calculations, tying to simulate a field of view from a 70 mm 2.8 and 200 mm 2.8 lenses (which are known to have a negligible barrel distortion and the long end) that I had ready for the assignment. It become very clear that the most optimal locations that would allow to capture the nearby village with its astounding mountains situated at the end of the Chamonix Valley, next to a well-known skiing resort Argentiere. Furthermore, the optimal line of sight was predicted to be at approx. 10,500 ft (3200m). A quick map survey, combined with a study of helicopter aerials has shown, the most optimal position to take the photograph was an exposed snow ridge line of Aiguille a Bochard, which is relatively easy to access.

©Kamil Tamiola

On the 3rd of March, all aviation METAR forecasts were suggesting CAVOK, which can be expanded to: celling and visibility OK.  The perfect conditions for a telephoto shooting. After few hours of glacier traverse, my team and I arrived at the final location. I have registered the heading of each photograph as reported by the electromagnetic compass of my GPS unit, in order to use it in post-processing. For the final shoot I have used 24-70 2.8 and 7-200 2.8 lenses with circular polarizers,  always shooting at the long end to minimize barrel distortions. All photographs were taken at ISO200 with the exposure bracketing set to 5 steps with 0.33EV increments. Finally, I have acquired approx. 34 GB of photos, among which processing and further inspection yielded final selection of 85 images, each 14 megapixel HDR shots.

However, planning and acquisition of photo material is only one part of the story. The real deal was to put all of these photographs together. In order to do that I have used an open source software, for which I wrote my own extensions for pattern matching, geometrical distortion correction and finally exposure compensation. The photograph can be viewed in a 4 x compressed form (bandwidth limitation) at my photo portfolio under the following link http://www.alpine-photography.com/mt-blanc/  . The file does have 1.4 GigaPixel resolution and consumes 7.44 GB of disk space as a Photoshop Large Format document.

©Kamil Tamiola

I have sent it to the museum and it is now being prepared for a large format print. I can’t wait to see it. I have been also asked to give talks about the “behind the scenes” of this particular project. Obviously, project of this type and scale attracts lots of attention. I have already given quite a few interviews and wrote few articles in specialized outdoor and photography press about this work.

My intention is to show how cutting edge science, which is normally believed to be a domain of a very specific group of people, can greatly benefit art. It is not a matter of belief, but a fact: we are surrounded by software and hardware solutions, coming from completely different background. Yet all of these fancy devices found their applications in photography. I want to encourage people to learn more about the fundamental knowledge behind these devices and techniques, so they could push their creativity even further!

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