Photographer Profile: Dracorubio

With Halloween fast approaching, we wanted to highlight the creatively dark and fantastical work of SmugMug customer, Roderique Arisiaman. Roderique’s images take viewers on an imaginative journey, so much so that we couldn’t resist asking him to judge our upcoming SmugMug Halloween Photo Contest (launching soon, very soon!). Please note, some images are NSFW, so please review his website first before sharing with younger photography fans. Read on to discover Roderique in his own words.

Hello, and welcome to my story. My name is Roderique Arisiaman, and I’m a photographer and digital artist known to many as Dracorubio.

I used to be a 3–D animator, motion-graphics artist, and visual-effects artist. Photography crossed my path a few years ago. At first, I was only documenting what I saw, but I soon discovered I could use my skills with Photoshop and other software to actually tell the stories I wanted. Working with a single image, instead of a set of frames, allowed me to work fast and get my idea done.

I will always stay a creative person. I don’t know if I will keep doing photography and photo manipulation. Maybe some new kind of creative art form will emerge from our technical advances, or maybe I’ll pick up wood carving or oil painting after a few years. As long as I can keep telling stories and design worlds, I will.

Being a digital artist.

I have a lively imagination, and being a digital artist allows me to create worlds that are hard to create in real life. Additionally, my ideas are quickly realized. Working digitally is usually a personal effort, where I can dive into my own thoughts and music and shut myself off from the world around me. And best of all, digital mistakes are only a CMD-Z click away.😉

dracorubio ay carambaaaa

Ay Carambaaaa by Dracorubio.

dracorubio esmeralda

Esmeralda by Dracorubio.

About creativity.

I have my ups and downs when it comes to creativity; I never fail in ideas and concepts—my mind is full of them. As are my sketchbooks. I do have times that I can’t get myself to create…sometimes I have too many ideas and have no idea where to start. But I’m learning to work on that, tackling one idea at a time. When I’m not creating, I try to immerse myself with inspiring stimuli like movies, comics, theatre, and museums. And from time to time, it’s also important to just disconnect from the creative whirlwind and be in the everyday moment. Things like going to the gym, spending time with loved ones, and having a good time. It’s a tough balancing act, but I try to make it work.

dracorubio precious

Precious by Dracorubio.

Creating a compelling image.

The photograph acts as my canvas and starting point for my edit. It dictates my main lighting and the color palette. Also, the dynamic of the photo directs the final image. I always try to retain as much of the original photo as possible. I have a few images where there is too much digital and not enough photograph, and they do bother me.

No matter what the subject of the image you’re trying to create is, make sure you have your story to tell. Figure out the narrative of your image and how you can best describe it in one single image. What or who is your main subject? What props are needed? What is your color scheme? If you have these written or sketched down, you can start creating.

dracorubio hellraiser

Hellraiser by Dracorubio.

dracorubio spiderman

Spiderman by Dracorubio.

Also, don’t try to recreate the exact image you have in your head; that will never happen and will leave you unhappy. Allow yourself freedom and room for experimentation. Step out of your comfort zone.

Find what tickles you, what gives you a tingle in your tummy. Follow that path and look for other creatives in your field, see what they are doing, and learn from them. And never get yourself stuck inside this one field. Go out and be inspired by everything around you. Read a book, go to a museum, or have a walk in nature. Be sure to enjoy real life as well.

dracorubio do you believe there is a demimonde mr chandler

Do you believe there is a demimonde, Mr. Chandler? by Dracorubio

dracorubio valentine

Valentine by Dracorubio

Five Reasons I Ditched my Giant DSLR for a Compact Mirrorless Camera

Guest Post by Brent Gilmore, SmugMug customer and subject behind our SmugMug Film ‘Just a Dad with a Camera’.

“The best camera in the world”… we all know the biggest cliché in photography, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Because, as I learned firsthand, if your amazing, bleeding-edge camera stays in your closet, it’s certainly not the best camera in the world, at least not for you.

I like to think of myself as a “just a dad with a camera.” But for a stretch of 18 months I was just a dad with a camera in the closet. Then I “moved down” from a pro-style DSLR to a mirrorless compact. And I am over-the-moon, blown-away happy.


Predictably, when my wife was pregnant with our first child I upgraded my Nikon DSLR, which I had been shooting with casually for almost 12 years, for the just released Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 24-70mm. Yes, I spent the equivalent of our new baby daughter’s first year of college tuition on a huge pro DSLR and lens combo.

And for me it was love at first sight—both baby and camera. Neither one left my side. Every day was a formal portrait session. Almost hour-by-hour I documented our daughter’s life for the next 18 months. Until our second child, a son, was born.

Suddenly, my setup seemed way too cumbersome and photography became no fun, for three main reasons:

  1. Carrying or pushing a stroller with two very young, active children while attempting to use my almost six-pound camera with one hand was impossible.
  2. Waiting for those massive 36MP files to process was maddening, straining both my MacBook Pro and my patience.
  3. Storing all those files was becoming unsustainable.  A casual afternoon in the park might leave me with 8-10GB of photos. Even with today’s cheaper online storage solutions (like SmugMug), I just don’t want to have to deal with another terabyte of family photos every year.

So, the beast of a camera went on the top shelf in our junk closet. Eighteen months and two family vacations later, I realized I hadn’t touched the beast even once. I either passed up opportunities to document our life as a young family, or I haphazardly tried to capture fleeting moments with my iPhone.

Either way, I wasn’t having fun. I missed shooting. I missed capturing more than just iPhone moments. But not enough to haul the DSLR beast down from the closet.

What I needed was a camera to fill the gap between my iPhone and my DSLR, something with better quality than the former, and way better portability than the latter.

Armed with zero knowledge of any brand but Nikon I went to my local camera store. Based on my must-have list, they introduced me to the Fuji X-T10. Quite simply, I fell in love, and fast. It seemed to meet every requirement and then some.

Never mind my original quest for a “gap” camera. This compact mirrorless wound up completely replacing my DSLR, and I couldn’t be happier. I am shooting, processing and posting every day again. I’m loving the results, and, most importantly, I AM HAVING FUN AGAIN.

The five reasons I am in love with my new mirrorless:

  1. It shoots JPG and RAW. This gives me the option to edit in Lightroom or use processed JPGs right from the camera OR both! This is a perfect scenario for photos I just can’t wait to share on Instagram or with grandparents, but allows me the flexibility to edit RAW files in Lightroom later. This fits my workflow perfectly — share in the moment, then perfect my favorite photos to showcase on SmugMug later.
  2. Always Connected. The Fuji has built in Wi-Fi with an amazing mobile app! Using the mobile app is the simplest, fastest, and most reliable way I have found to immediately transfer and share photos. Half of the fun of photography, for me, is sharing and now I find myself doing that twice as much.
  3. Faster editing. My Lightroom time has been cut from hours to minutes. That’s not hyperbole, I literally mean minutes. Because the sensor is smaller, file size is relatively tiny while not sacrificing any of the image quality I actually need. I spend time massaging the photos I love to perfection — not staring at the Lightroom ‘processing’ bar. Happiness and productivity up! Frustration way down!
  4. It’s compact. The X-T10 is small, OK, it isn’t pocketable but it’s tiny in comparison to the DSLR.  The camera has become an extension of me and literally travels everywhere with me with NO hassle.  Embarrassingly (or not) it is literally on my shoulder even when I take the trash out!
  5. It’s affordable. Remember, I’m just a dad with a camera, not a rock star, so the price was incredibly attractive. Body and lens set back my childrens’ college fund (kidding!) exactly $1,000.  With the proceeds from the sale of my DSLR I actually made back a chunk of change. Change that I can later use on some really amazing, really affordable Fujinon lenses.

The first real test was a family vacation to Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts this summer. It was the most fun and effortless shooting I’ve ever experienced. And the photos I took are some of my favorite, ever.

Maybe the old cliché is right after all: the best camera in the world is the one you have with you. Provided that that camera makes photography effortless and fun — and helps you create images that are part of an enjoyable, sustainable process.

Check out some of the first images I captured with the new camera and judge for yourself. I credit all of the photos and the amazing shooting experience to my new Fuji X-T10 and the tiny 18mm pancake lens.

Cerie and Xavier flying east into the rising sun.




See the full gallery here.

Find Brent at:


Instagram: @lbrentgilmore

The dark art of concert photography.

By Sarah Arnold, QA

I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. I grew up in a family of musicians, one of whom toured the world in the sixties. Being drawn to concert photography was only natural for me as music was such a vital part of our family. I loved feeling the music through my feet and eventually through my fingertips while photographing the musicians on stage. Starting at the age of 14, concert photography has become a large part of my photography business. I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years through huge amounts of trial and error. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that can be useful to anyone just getting started in concert photography.

Getting in

Don’t be shy. The majority of the concerts I’ve shot, I’ve walked straight up to the band and asked them directly, “Would you mind if I take photos?” 99% of the time, they are excited a photographer is interested and have absolutely no problem saying yes. You have to be a bit of reporter when trying to track down the band. I usually find where they’re located backstage or wait until they are on stage setting up and simply approach them. In many cases, I’ve ended up becoming friends with the band members and am given stage passes as well as put on the guest list for future shows. Stage passes are key for great shots of the crowd and band interaction. These shots are usually the ones bands use for marketing purposes, which in turn can bring a lot of traffic to your site when the band gives you proper credit. This brings up a very important rule: ALWAYS make sure the band is giving you credit when they post your photos. ALWAYS. This can be a verbal or written agreement via email. You can also draft a quick and simple photo session agreement before releasing photos to the band.


Want this shot? You’re gonna need a stage pass!

Plan ahead. Some concert venues require permission from the venue as well as the band, sometimes as much as three weeks prior to the event. In such cases, reaching out to the location on social media is a good way to start. Mention that you’re a photographer, share some previous concert galleries you’ve photographed, and tell them you would love their permission to photograph at their venue. Persistence is key in this case. Follow up with them if you don’t hear back. Not hearing back from the band manager? Try reaching out to individual members of the band. Still not hearing anything? Reach out to other bands in the line-up. Ask if they would like your photography services. Even if you don’t get approval from the headliner, you can still shoot for the opening bands. They can report their experience back to the headliner and, in the future, you’re more likely to get approval once they’ve seen what you’re made of!
Get official. When shooting for festivals, the best approach is to start at their official website. They usually have a “media” section where you can request to be part of their media team. This process can be a bit more picky. You must have a concert portfolio and usually they require a list of all the gear you own and plan to bring. Most of the time you’re signing a contract saying they have full rights or “own” your work, but you’ll get attribution for the shots you’ve taken. The bigger the band, the more likely they are to take full rights from you — meaning you can’t sell the photos. If this is the case, make sure you’re being compensated properly. Keep in mind you won’t be making money selling prints and digital downloads. Calculate this into your final price so you’re walking away happy and not feeling taken advantage of.

Gear up, Buttercup

The bare necessities.

Concert halls by nature are dark, making low-light lenses a necessity. The lower the aperture, the better (f/2.8 and below) because the lens opens up wider, allowing more light to reach the sensor. This means you can get away with using lower ISOs, minimizing the graininess of your photos. You’ll still need a faster ISO setting given the lighting, approximately 1000 to 2000 in order to not get too much movement. A shutter speed of 1/50 of a second is the lowest you should set your camera to when shooting drummers and other band members who are likely moving very quickly.

IMG_1218 (1)

Don’t let graininess overshadow the emotion you’re capturing.

Don’t get flashy, kid.

Whether it’s natural spot lighting or a colorful light show, concerts have unique lighting systems. Usually the stage lighting used produces a much more natural capture, while flash can distract the musicians during their performance and can interfere with the experience for those involved. A good rule of thumb is to refrain from using a flash. It won’t add anything to your photos that the stage lighting isn’t already providing for you.


Say yes to starbursts and no to flash.

Beware the spots.

When relying on stage lighting, you have to be careful that your shutter speed isn’t TOO fast. Lights pulsate in a way that the eye can’t see, but the camera can. So you don’t end up with spotted lighting, a slightly longer exposure will allow the sensor to have full light on the entire band. When I shoot concerts, I tend to have my camera set to aperture priority. This way I ensure I stay at the lowest aperture and don’t miss capturing key moments while adjusting the manual settings thanks to constantly changing light.


Streaking is only fun in college, not in concert photography.

Get the shot!


Details, details, details. Bands love getting close-up shots of each member working their craft and playing their instrument like a pro. One shot I love to capture is where you can see every single band member’s face. This can be tough given all the equipment on stage, the placement of the drums, band member movements, etc. But getting a full shot of the entire band is a money maker. Some of my favorite shots are when the band members interact with each other. It shows a bit of fun and the relationship that the band has with each other.


Forget cowbell, 2016 is the year of the tambourine.


I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.


Moving around is key. You want to get entire venue shots showing the band and the concert attendees from behind, as well as those awesome detail shots taken from the front of the stage. The bigger the band, the more likely the front of the stage will be crowded and difficult to navigate. Staying in one place is easier, but you’ll miss some great shots. Usually if you show concert-goers your camera, they’ll move out of your way to allow you to change location. This is another example where having a stage pass comes in handy. You can skip the crowds by being directly on the stage.


Sold-out crowd = visual bragging rights.

Nail that action!

Overshooting is better than undershooting. Capturing those hair tossing, spit-screaming moments can be tough, so I have my camera on multi-shot mode when I anticipate some action is about to happen. Within four or five shots, there’s usually that golden moment that results in a perfect action shot. Watch the musicians and their mannerisms. Is the singer highly animated? Does the bassist toss their hair around? Capture that! They make for great photos. I love watching drummers because they usually have great facial expressions and use every muscle in their body to keep beat. Watch for band members jumping around. Air shots are fun to capture and fans love buying them.


All about that bass.


Capturing character and the beat.

When the curtain closes.

Fix it in post!

Since you’ll be using higher ISOs, graininess will be inevitable. When editing with Lightroom, I use a tad bit of “Noise Reduction” > “Luminance.” This makes a surprisingly huge difference in the amount of grain that appears within your images without making the image look too doctored.


The only noise in the photo should be the band.

Don’t sell yourself short.

I get paid for my work in a variety of ways. Sometimes the band and I have agreed to a price before the concert (which is usually an hourly rate since one set is typically an hour). However, a lot of the time, I’m showing up to a concert where the band doesn’t know me and I’m trying to get my foot in the door and need to show them what I’m made of. In this case, I bring business cards and let them know their photos will be available for purchase on my website.

Share the wealth!

This is where the beauty of SmugMug comes into play. With SmugMug, I can set up a gallery to show up on a map. Band members can use this map to locate their event and view their galleries. It’s also where they can purchase downloads or prints, and share the gallery on social media for their fans to purchase from as well. Using watermarks and a right-click message, I make sure my work is protected from theft. These features have helped my business grow in such an unexpected way. Thanks to SmugMug, I can shoot for strangers and sell my work without having to meet them or get any of their information in advance.


No “Where’s Waldo” here!


The dark art of concert photography can truly be a vividly beautiful experience. Whether you’re photographing a large festival or just checking out your local band, you can learn so much about your camera, how to interact with big clients, and how to market your business. Follow my tips and you’ll drastically improve your results and how you connect with the artists on stage. What are some of your experiences in concert photography? What bands would you like to shoot? I would love to hear in the comments below!

Check out more concert photos by Sarah Arnold here.


Play us out, Sam.




SmugMug rescues nearly 200 million priceless memories from Picturelife.

SmugMug has always embraced the mission of being Heroes for our customers—leaping tall buildings to make sure their photos are safe, beautiful and accessible. So, when we heard that Picturelife, a photo/video storage company, ended their service without a way for their customers to preserve their photos, we knew we had to do something (and fast) to help reunite the Picturelife community with their memories.


The SmugMug team offered its services to Picturelife and worked tirelessly over several weeks to develop and implement a plan to reconnect Picturelife files with their owners. As a service to Picturelife and its customers, SmugMug is now offering a zero-cost solution for Picturelife customers to access and download their photos and videos.

Our number one concern is putting as many Picturelife photos and videos as we can into the hands of their rightful owners. We’re making their photos available to them at no charge and no obligation.  If some of Picturelife’s former customers want to become a part of SmugMug’s family of photographers, we’ll welcome them with open arms, but that’s not our primary goal.  Helping Picturelife’s customers preserve their priceless memories is our goal and just another example of our mission and passion in action: providing a safe, beautiful home for everyone’s photos.

If you’re a former Picturelife customer looking to retrieve your photos and videos please visit our Picturelife FAQ page to get the process started.

Latest “gallery” hanging at SmugMug HQ – Bella Kotak!

The SmugMug headquarters can sometimes feel less like an office and more like an art gallery as you wander the halls and corridors. We have hundreds of photographs from our customers and employees hanging on our walls and are adding more all the time. Recently, we had the opportunity to hang some new images from Bella Kotak, whose unique style has earned her renown in the photography world. Blending her incredible portraits with editing and retouching mastery, Bella produces otherworldly images that can transport the viewer into a fantasy world of imagination and color.

untitled-8-2The photos ready for hanging!

untitled-16-2Sneak peeks of the gallery hanging.

IMG_1854No crooked photos on Brent’s (Facilities) watch!

untitled-27-2Straight as an arrow.

untitled-70Smuggy tape measure FTW!

untitled-68Bella’s gallery looks stunning!

Any time we get a new selection of photographs to hang, we like to make a little celebration of it and include folks from the office who want to have a chance to learn more about the artist and their work. Bella creates mystical worlds in her photographs. Playing with light and color, she weaves visual daydreams with evocative portraits of strong females submerged in incredible scenes and settings. Her images take you away, creating a story in your mind of the subjects or at least leave you with questions, wondering where the subject came from and what circumstances might have brought her here.

untitled-48It didn’t take long for the new gallery to gain attention.

IMG_1875The Bella Kotak Gallery is open for visitors!

IMG_1895The photos are a huge hit at HQ.

IMG_1909Mobile Apps Guy, Ian, plays docent.

untitled-22Director of Operations Shandrew takes it all in.

unspecified Haley from QA and Designer Chris are inspired to begin a career in modeling.

untitled-138The complete Bella Kotak Gallery at SmugMug HQ

Our passion for photography is what fuels our fire, and we’re incredibly proud to display inspiring images like Bella’s in our Mountain View headquarters. Visit Bella’s SmugMug site to see more of her work. If you’re not a SmugMug customer, Bella even has a sign-up special that will give new customers 15% off their subscription.


How I re-processed our famous San Francisco panorama.

by Head of Product, Aaron Meyers

It may be a 45-mile drive between SmugMug headquarters in Mountain View, California, and San Francisco, but when you walk into our headquarters you find yourself surrounded by sites of the city. The Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge all envelope you. You stare at a storm burning in the sky in front of you. But the sky isn’t really on fire: it’s a giant panoramic photo in our Media Room taken by SmugMug co-founder Chris MacAskill.

Over 23 attempts, Chris took 336 photos with a long, telephoto lens (the Canon 300mm f/2.8L for those lens junkies out there!) and his trusty Canon 5D Mark II, and he turned those two evenings into one of the most-visited photos on display in Silicon Valley. Featured in the San Jose Business Insider and the Huffington Post, this amazing wraparound print attracts visitors each week to see it and many more stunning photos at our headquarters.

01 - sf_panoSmugMug’s San Francisco Panorama

Originally printed in 2009, the past seven years haven’t been too kind to the image and it’s seen better days, most notably thanks to a pot of flying coffee. It was time to reprint and reprocess the photo using the latest Photoshop, Lightroom, panoramic stitching, and luminosity-masking techniques. That’s where I come in.

Over the course of one and a half months, I acquired the original RAW files from Chris, imported the photos into Lightroom, reprocessed each individual photo, stitched them into several panoramas, and blended various exposures together. It was a serious undertaking: three different software programs, various Photoshop filters, and many hours spent perfecting it. Let’s dive into how it was done.

Processing with Lightroom

The first step in reprocessing the panorama was importing the photos into Lightroom. Chris had sent me all the files as Canon CR2 RAW files with his edits saved as separate XMP sidecar files. I hate keeping extra XMP files, and I immediately converted the photos to Adobe’s own RAW format — DNG — which combines the RAW and edit information into one file. The XMP sidecar files were then deleted.

03 - lightroom_dngThe CR2 files were imported and converted to Adobe’s DNG format

Now it was time to start editing. The first roadblock I stumbled upon was figuring out how Chris photographed the image. When you create a panoramic photo, you start on one edge of the scene and then slowly move the camera left or right, then up and down. Each photo should overlap the previous one by at least 30% so one can match up the same features between photos. Overall, I had to sift through:

  • Two days of photos.
  • 36 slightly overlapping photos per pass.
  • Multiple passes of the same exposure as he tried to “get it right.”
  • Three different exposures (too dark, normal, and too bright).
  • Changing light as the sun moved closer and closer to the horizon and eventually disappeared.

To get a handle on the 336 photos that I was sorting through, I took advantage of Lightroom’s “stacking” feature. It allows you to group photos together in a stack that can be collapsed and expanded. This allowed me to group each pass of photos together. Each pass was photographed with the same settings (same shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) so they all looked the same. But each pass might be slightly different from the previous; for example, pass one might have used aperture f/5.6 while pass two used aperture f/9. I was going to edit every photo in a given pass the same, then repeat for each pass.

04 - lightroom_groupedThe photos were stacked into groups of 30 – 36, representing each pass.

Now that the photos were stacked into their groupings, it was time to start editing. Lightroom has a nifty feature that allows you to copy and paste your editing settings from one photo to the next. All I needed to do was edit one photo in each pass, then apply it to the rest of the photos in each stack. Canon 5D Mark II files have a hard time capturing really bright scenes and really dark scenes all at once (i.e., dynamic range), so I had to ensure I didn’t push the limits of each of these files. Luckily, Chris took bright and dark versions, which would later enable me to control brightness without pushing the files too much and avoid unnecessary noise in the image.

I left the white balance mostly the same, knowing I’d be cleaning up the color balance, temperature, and tint later. I focused mostly on extracting color and detail from the photo by increasing the contrast, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. I also slightly reduced the highlights to pull out some of the detail in the clouds while also increasing the whites so they still retained the look of clouds. I also brightened the city lights.

05 - edited_photoI edited each photo to bring out detail and color.

This is the point where I ran into my first unexpected bump (though easily surmountable). Chris initially made a common mistake — he photographed the pano in Aperture Priority mode. This means the camera’s sensitivity to light (ISO) and aperture (f-stop) were fixed but the shutter speed changed as the camera tried to guess the exposure. In theory, every photo would come out with the same brightness, but the camera was fooled in a few of the photos. Some of the individual photos in each pass were darker or lighter than others. I had to fix the exposure on each photo before proceeding, trying to get each photo to have almost the same exposure.

06 - different_exposuresThe photo on the left is darker than the right, requiring additional editing to match.

Some of the passes were done (as I would have hoped) in Manual mode, with the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all fixed. The only problem is that taking 30+ photos takes time, and in that time the sun is setting and the sky is getting darker. If Chris started taking photos on the left (the Bay Bridge), by the time he got to the right (the Golden Gate Bridge), the sky would be much darker than when he began. I had to account for this as well and processed the photos so they’d have similar exposure.

Lastly, I wanted to get as much detail out of the sky as possible. That meant applying a gradient filter to the sky to increase its warmth, darken it, and bring out the midtones and darks in the sky by increasing contrast and clarity. The shapes of the storm clouds became more apparent and the clouds returned to a more natural-looking color.

07 - gradient_filter_appliedTop: the Gradient Filter is applied (in red).

Bottom: Extra details are pulled out in the sky and the purple color reduced.

Stitching with Autopano Giga

Once each stack of photos was processed in Lightroom, it became time to stitch the 30–36 photos into one, long panorama using an amazing piece of software called Autopano Giga. Let’s start by discussing a few key terms that are useful to know when stitching panoramas:

  • Projection: How the software maps a 3–D scene (San Francisco) into a 2–D image (our panoramic photo). Cambridge in Color has a great tutorial that’s worth reading if you want to know more.
  • Control Points: Spots identified on two or more photos that are identical. They’ll exist in different places in each photo, and by identifying where that specific point is on each photo, we can then align the photos. Control points can be the edge of a building, a boat, a tree, a door—anything you can identify as the same point in both photos.
  • Rendering: The final step of running all the mathematical calculations to determine how the pano will look. It performs a number of steps: warping, de-ghosting, exposure blending, color balancing, and much more before finally saving the blended panorama.

Photoshop and Lightroom can stitch panoramas, but there are a few reasons why I prefer Autopano:

  • Autopano lets you specify the number of control points each photo will find. The more control points, the less chance of “ghosting,” where two photos aren’t properly aligned which results in a blurring effect.
  • Autopano lets you manually add or adjust the points in case it guessed slightly wrong, which allows me to improve the accuracy of the stitch.
  • Autopano lets me change the projection on the fly, before rendering. This lets me figure out which projection will give the most realistic-looking photo.

The first step is to let Autopano detect the control points and then align the photo. It will then offer a preview of the stitch, while allowing me to add or edit control points, change the projection type, and more.

08 - autopano_projectionsAutopano lets me preview the stitch and change the projection type before rendering the pano.

Choosing different projection types lets me see which of the projections creates the most realistic-looking photo. Autopano initially suggested “Planar,” but I found that “Spherical” returned the best results. The planar version, which you see below, had too much bowing in the center. You’ll notice that the horizon line tilts downward as you move away from the center of the photo, something I wanted to avoid. The spherical projection had a straight horizon, exactly what I wanted!

09 - autopano_rendering

Autopano will render the image once all your settings are complete.

Once you’ve finalize the settings, Autopano renders the panorama into its final 400-megapixel image. Rendering a 400-megapixel image can take some time, but I borrowed one of SmugMug’s Mac Pro computers, and it whizzed through the calculations and saved the photo to an external hard drive.

Processing in Photoshop

With the photos stitched, it was time to bring them into Photoshop and begin fixing a few issues. The first problem to tackle was removing the purple and orange cast from the buildings. This appearance was due to the white balance of the sky but in reality, the buildings shouldn’t be this purple and lights shouldn’t be this orange. Using color-balance, hue-saturation, and selective-color adjustments, I was able to remove the purple and orange and warm up the buildings.

10 - remove_purple_and_orangeTop: The purple buildings and orange lights seem off.

Bottom: The odd colors are removed using several color adjustments.

Since the sky is a major part of this photo, I instantly noticed an interesting effect: the thickness of the clouds caused them to change in color from blue to purple. Even if this color variation was natural, it looked weird and needed to be corrected.

11 - color_variationSome parts of the sky will need color correction to get the colors to transition more naturally.

On closer inspection, I noticed that the spherical projection wasn’t quite perfect: at the edges of the photo, the horizon and the Golden Gate Bridge were slightly slanted. Using the puppet warp tool in Photoshop, I was able to straighten the edges that had bowed on the corners.

12 - fix_spherical_warpingTop: The spherical projection shows signs of warping at the edges.

Bottom: The puppet warp tool fixed the warped edges.

A few other things needed to be cleaned up in the photo: the city lights were brightened a bit, the clouds had extra detail returned in them, and shadows in the city buildings were pulled out in order to make them look less black. Trying to do all this manually would have been a great amount of effort; however, I let Photoshop do this for me automatically. Using luminosity masks, Photoshop can automatically select parts of a photo based on how bright they are, and then only apply changes to areas that have the detected brightness. Below you can see how Photoshop automatically detected the brightest parts of the photo, allowing me easily make changes to the city lights.

13 - luminoscity_mask_city_lights-1A luminosity mask was used to select only the brightest parts of the photo: the city lights.

The final step was to add sharpening to the photo. For this, I use the free plug-in from Nik software called Sharpener Pro 3. I just used the default settings to add a little bit of sharpness.

14 - Screen-Shot-2016-07-28-at-1.19.30-AMNik Sharpener Pro was used to add some extra sharpness to the photo.

The final image

With all the photos reprocessed, stitched, and then edited to perfection in Photoshop, we’re finally done! The final photo came out to a whopping 425.5 megapixels (67,683px wide x 6,288 px tall at 240 ppi).

Compare the original edit:

15 - sf_pano

To our final edit:

16 - IMG_9223_pano09_SphericalThe final San Francisco panorama.

Now, to hang this beauty somewhere where a pot of coffee can’t find it….

Three out-of-the-box uses for watermarks.

Watermarks are one of the most used tools in the photography industry. With today’s digital landscape, watermarking is one way photographers can protect images that often get scattered like the wind around the internet with no connection to the original owner. Making money from photo sales should never be in jeopardy and thanks to watermarks, photographers can share their work online to attract new clients with peace of mind. But watermarks can be much more than a stamp to deter theft. Let’s explore three other uses for watermarks you may not have thought about.

Use watermarks for client drafts.

Show of hands: how many of you have sent a draft to a client only to see it later shared online? Not only was the work unfinished (extra frustrating for perfectionists!), but possibly the client hadn’t paid for the digital copy yet. Using watermarks on drafts not only reinforces to the client the work is still in progress but also assists in unauthorized sharing. To ensure the watermark doesn’t inhibit the client’s ability to view the photo, try a bright, neon color (red, green, yellow) that doesn’t blend into the photo’s background and try an opaqueness of 80%.

IMG_2576-X3No one is sharing this draft!🙂

Try watermarks as a call to action.

Why not use watermark real estate as a call to action? Promote your website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or even a hashtag! It’s a simple way to alert viewers where they can see more of your work, buy prints, or hire you. Have a social campaign you’re working on? Encourage others to share similar content for a cause or event by using a hashtag watermark. It’s a great way to not only encourage viewers to share the work on multiple networks, but it also allows for easy tracking to measure campaign popularity and reach. #Sweet.

14_08_KA_129-X3Photographer Ben Von Wong uses watermarks to share his URL

IMG_4243-X3Cool call to action to encourage concert goers to share their own photos

Turn watermarks into a printmark.

Hired for a fun event, concert, or company function? Use watermarking to printmark all photos! Give your photos the same professional look and feel that amusement parks, ski resorts, and zoos have been doing for years. This kind of custom microbranding is perfect for event photographers who want to highlight the time and place photos were taken for their clients.  Remember though, if you’re allowing your clients to order prints from your site, you might want to consider the printmark tool so your design stays on the photo through the printing process.

july_watermarkWatermarks as printmarks!

Interested in trying one (or all) of these ideas? SmugMug Portfolio or Business account plans include the watermarking tool feature. Don’t worry Basic and Power users — you can use programs (like Lightroom) to apply watermarks to your photos before uploading to SmugMug. You’ll find a handy-dandy step-by-step guide to using our watermarking tool here. Happy stamping!