Chimney Pond, Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park

Last weekend I hiked up to Chimney Pond on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park with some friends. I took the tripod, panning head, Nikon D700, and two lenses (14-24mm & 24-70mm) in hopes of getting a really good 360° panorama and a few large rectilinear panoramas. It was raining when I got up at 4 AM and it rained pretty heavy most of the drive in. The forecast said 100% chance of rain and the skies didn’t look very promising when we arrived at Roaring Brook campground. It was very discouraging to put on a 32lb pack of camera gear and start out on a very wet 3.3 mile hike uphill with no prospect of good photography conditions along the way. Still, I had been up here almost 20 times and dreamed of taking a 360° panorama of Mount Katahdin from Chimney Pond for many years. It was near impossible to do in the day of film and only in recent years have I had the digital equipment, ultra wide lens, and panning head to pull it off. I had done 180° panoramas and other ultra wide landscapes up here, but never managed a complete 360° x 180° spherical photo. I knew the weather probably would prevent a good spherical photo with the skies being a boring gray and rain getting on the lens when pointed up, but many other subjects look better on overcast days–particularly wet rocks, deeply saturated fall colors, macros of leaves, flowers and plants, longer shutter speeds for moving water, etc. I figured I’d still get a few good photos along the way and if the weather really did clear up and I’d left my tripod and panning head in the car, I’d be far more disappointed than bringing it all up for nothing!

It was too warm to wear the rain jacket on the way up, so we were pretty soaked by the time we got to Chimney Pond. We didn’t set any land speed records on the way up, it took us almost two hours. My knees aren’t in the shape they used to be when I ran track! Still, I felt pretty good considering the amount of weight I’d carried up and we weren’t heading to the peak anyway, which was completely shrouded in clouds and mist when we arrived. The hikers in better shape that had gone on ahead of us weren’t going to get many good views today. I started setting up the tripod and leveling the panning head when it started drizzling again. This would never do, I really wanted the pond to look smooth like a mirror. We hung out for about an hour, eating an early lunch snack and waiting out the rain. We put our jackets back on because now we felt cold being wet and just sitting around. About 10:30 AM the rain finally stopped, the pond became still as glass, and the clouds started rising off some of the peaks. I quickly setup the camera and started shooting. It took a little over 5 minutes to take 168 photos for the panorama. I took 7 exposures at 24mm every 30° vertically and at -55°, 0°, and +55° horizontally to cover the entire sphere and exposure range of the scene. I took one more handheld 7 exposure bracket of the ground without the tripod to use as the nadir. One of the scenes on my photography “bucket list” could finally be crossed off, and I tried to put it out of mind for the rest of the day, with silly thoughts nagging me like–was the exposure range good? Was the focus point and depth of field good? Did I get every angle in the scene? Somehow it just seemed far too quick and easy to capture something so big that had eluded me for years!

I needn’t have worried, it turned out to be the easiest stitch I’ve ever done with next to no issues with control points, blending, or seams, even on the gray sky. I converted the RAW files to 16-bit TIFFs with Capture NX2, fused the seven exposures into one with Photomatix, and assembled the final images into a 360° sphere with PTGui. I was very happy with the end result, and I was honored that it got selected as an “Editor’s Pick” for 360 Cities front page! The clouds help give the mountain depth and height, which is difficult to appreciate without actually standing there in person. The overcast sky might be a little boring, but the diffuse lighting really made the wet rocks and early fall foliage pop with saturated colors. Bright sunlight would have given the scene a completely different mood, and I rather like the darker atmosphere better. From Chimney Pond’s vantage point you can clearly see Baxter and Pamola Peaks with Knife Edge connecting them to the middle and left. You can also see Hamlin Peak to the right and the edge of Howe Peak off in the distance with a hint of a blue sky over there. All around the pond is some very interesting grass and vegetation. Zoom in, pan around, and have fun exploring! The map feature on the left of the screen is pretty cool too.

 

On the way back down Chimney Pond Trail we stopped by Basin Pond and took a few more panoramas.

I also found a beautiful brook that made for one of my favorite photos of the day. I don’t have a neutral density filter yet for my newer lenses (70mm filter thread instead of 55mm), and I really wanted smooth, flowing water for this shot. I lowered my ISO to 100, raised my aperture to f/22, and the longest shutter I could get was 1” without exposing the scene more than I wanted to (I purposely wanted it 2/3 stop underexposed). I tried out the multiple exposure option in the camera menu to blend 10 photos, giving me a pseudo 10” exposure and it looked better, so I figured I was on the right track. In the end, I repeated that 18 times and then combined the 18 shots in Photoshop with the median stack tool to get a combined 180 second exposure (3 minutes). The resulting photo had the look I was going for without overexposing and without a super expensive 10 stop neutral density filter. 🙂

 

Gallery

These images can be purchased here:
http://galleries.aaronpriestphoto.com/Landscapes/2011-09-24/

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