E-Project: Greg Miller's Panoramas of the Hudson

The photographer traveled the length of the Hudson River, shot 4,000 images and stitched thousands of them together to make two breathtaking panoramic prints.

Jan 6, 2010
By Jacqueline Tobin
He shot all horizontals, he says. "I tried to stay at 35mm for the entire river to make the electronic stitching as easy as possible later on, but because of wide angle distortion I really only tried to use the center third of each image. If I had shot vertically, it would have been less of a problem, but instead of having 4,000 final photos I would have had 6,000. That would have just been way too many to deal with."

Shooting was completed in two and a half weeks, when, according to Miller, the really difficult part of the job began. "I now faced the arduous, almost incomprehensible task of electronically 'stitching' the individual images together, one after another, to form one complete panoramic image." For Miller, whose largest stitching project had involved 18 photographs, the Hudson project represented a huge undertaking. He was able to stitch together approximately two miles of panoramic shoreline per hour at his computer; in all, he says, the stitching took 18 hours a day for almost three weeks straight.

In the exhibition, his modern-day panoramas hang on the wall along with G. Willard Shear's vintage photos below them, allowing viewers to see with amazing detail the changes to the River and its shores over the last century.

Miller says that as he photographed, he tried to foresee problems that might arise during the stitching, but he never anticipated how tough shooting New York City with all its buildings would be, or that the Empire State Building can be seen many miles north of Manhattan, and would show up in hundreds of photos. "I was faced with a major decision when stitching: 'Do I have the Empire State Building sticking up 40 times in the final panoramic, or do I clone it out?'" He ended up cloning it out, but the issue came up again around the Catskills where the mountains sit a far distance back from the river so they poked up many, many times as well. "I tried to be more faithful to what a person would actually see," Miller says, "but I couldn't do that 100 percent of the time. If you look really closely in the New York City section, there's a few buildings you'll definitely see more than once."

All his RAW files, work files and the final prints took up 300 gigabytes of memory. "As I was stitching, I tried to maintain full resolution as long as possible. My original plan was to work for an hour and then save my work so I wouldn't be vulnerable to a computer crash." But given the enormous size of his file, he says, saving his work would take 10 to 15 minutes; saving changes every hour would have added hours of work each day. "I ended up not saving my work and taking my chances. I would start working at 5 a.m. till noon and then save my work, which gave me 15 minutes to grab lunch, then come back and start working again and not save it until the end of the day." One day there was a lightning storm and he says he lost about 5 hours of work in a particularly detailed, tedious section. "That darn near killed me," he laughs.

Both 80-foot-long panoramics were printed continuously, without any splices or splits. A local printer output the images on 100-foot rolls of Epson premium luster RC paper using the ColorBurst RIP process.

Next up? Miller says he'd love to get a grant to do similar documentation for the Mississippi River. "It was really special that we had the 100-year-photos to look back at for the Hudson," he says. "Nothing like that exists for anything else; I'm pretty sure there's nothing like that for the Mississippi River. . .but I guess that's me; I have to do it!" And Miller is hoping that 100 years from now someone else uses his images to reference the Hudson again.

The "Panorama of the Hudson River" exhibit returns to the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (http://www.new paltz.edu/museum/exhibitions/exhibitions_7.html) on February 6 and runs through March 28, 2010. The book of the same title is distributed by SUNY Press, a joint undertaking of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art and Open Space Institute, Inc. (http://www.sunypress.edu/p-5021-panorama-of-the-hudson-river.aspx). To see more of Greg Miller's work, go to www.gregmiller photography.com

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