When one of Derek Shapton’s clients called him saying he had seen an article about a robotic panoramic head called the GigaPan and he wanted to use the idea as a basis for a new website, Shapton thought it was a cool idea. What the Toronto photographer didn’t know at the time was that the cool concept would quickly turn into a nightmarish “GigaPain”.
The GigaPan is an automated camera mount that the manufacturer says makes it “easy” to capture epic panoramic landscapes. It generates extremely high resolution gigapixel images that allow viewers to zoom deeper and deeper into a landscape and explore the terrain in minute detail. Shapton’s client was a Toronto based design studio called Castor, who are well known for their lighting and furniture designs. So when they started planning, the concept was to use the GigaPan as it was intended and create some epic landscapes of Toronto, with Castor products stationed in various neighbourhoods throughout the city. Cool, right?
However, what sounded great on paper, quickly evolved into a logistical nightmare. Between choreographing the various sites, obtaining permits on the number of streets involved, and planning for weather and traffic delays, they soon realized it simply wasn’t going to work. The other problem was that the final image would look pretty much like every another Gigapan photo, and that’s not what Shapton or Castor wanted. They wanted to create something new and original.
So they went back to the drawing board and began to realize there is truth in the old axiom “less is more”. Instead of shooting epic landscapes of the largest city in Canada, they would simply shoot some shelves! “The idea was that we would style them with various pertinent — and impertinent — props, and visitors would be able to zoom in and explore the image,” says Shapton. “As a bonus, there seemed to be no precedent for using a Gigapan in a studio-based manner like this, which we found rather appealing.” Unfortunately, he soon discovered there were some very good reasons why no one had ever tried something like this before.
The main problem on the shooting side was the Gigapan itself. First of all, they couldn’t find any in Canada. They did eventually find one and had it shipped it up here, but then they had to figure out how to use it. “Usually when I work with a new piece of gear I consult with assistants or photographers who’ve used it before,” says Shapton. “But nobody I talked to had ever even seen one.” The other main problem was that the Gigapan is simply not designed for shooting anything close-up, and it quickly turned into a huge pain in the ass. At 75000 by 60000 pixels (4500 megapixels / 4.5 gigapixels) the final image is, as best as Shapton can tell, the largest photo of shelves ever taken. The gargantuan file generated was an utter horror to work with. It took fifteen minutes or more to merely open, and then the various perspective, parallax, and stitching errors introduced by the short camera-to-subject distance had to be corrected individually. Even the tiniest edits took up to 20 minutes to render, with more elaborate adjustments taking even longer. As various photoshop layers were added, the file ballooned in size and they had to resort to working on it in sections… and that was just the retouching.
Producing the image was complicated enough, but when it finally came time to incorporate the finished photo into Castor’s website the nightmare continued. The design team at Taxi2, the interactive division of the Taxi ad agency, had signed on to develop the site, and by all accounts it was a titanic development project. Shapton shot the image in July of 2011 and the site has just launched now. So a lot of man-hours were burned up behind the scenes.
The results are really pretty amazing, so please take some time to explore the page on Castor’s site. There are all sorts of Easter eggs hidden and scattered throughout, as well as old cameras and other photo related content to discover. I was checking it out last night and the detail when you zoom in is absolutely incredible. It’s really a lot of fun to just scroll around and explore the epic “landscape” Shapton and his team created on a simple set of shelves.