Hot Springs Panorama

At Hot Springs National Park there is a tower on top of one of the high hills that is not affiliated with the national park as I understand. After following a winding road up the mountain, you can go to the top of the tower via an elevator (if you buy a ticket). On one level there is a historical timeline of the springs and the bath houses and on the top level there is an observation deck. I took the kids up to this to see the view and took a lot of vacation pictures with them. I also took the opportunity to take some panorama attempts since I was up so high.

From the top you can see just about all of Hot Springs as it is not a large city. The historic and tourist area of bath houses is very close to the National Park and you can see this area quite well from the top of the tower. So, facing toward town I took photos to stitch together that would encompass most of town. Below is my panoramic merge of the six photos.

Panorama of Hot Springs Arkansas stitched from six photos
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm; 35mm, f/11, 1/400s, ISO100

In the foreground, making a diagonal line through the middle of the frame is the main row of bath houses, shops, and hotels as well as the visitors center for the National Park. Apparently in this area the spring can be accessed as there are public fountains where you can get hot spring water – just hot enough for a nice bath. There are a couple of bath houses still in operation, though most have closed as this sort of recreation has fallen out of fashion from its height in the early 20th century. I did tour the bath house at the National Park visitors center, which gives you an idea what it was like back in the day.

When taking photos for this panorama, I first made sure that I was at a small aperture (f/11) as lenses tend to suffer from vignette and coma more at wider apertures. With all of the ambient light, f/11 was not a problem for hand-held shutter speed.

  • Vignette is a darkening of the corners of an image because more light from the center of the lens reaches the sensor than light from the edges. This is most noticeable at short focal lengths and the widest aperture settings.
  • Coma is an aberration in which items at the edge of the lens are blurred in a direction away from the center of the lens. This is most noticeable at short focal lengths and the widest aperture settings.

I set the focal length to 35mm, which is the maximum for this lens, to avoid the distortion from wide-angle photos. I also overlapped the photos by about 50% in hopes that the stitching would go well as I have had problems with vignette messing up my panoramas in the past. In hindsight, I now think that this may have been related to my UV filter instead of the lens. In the final stitched image, I don’t think that I have any vignette issues.

I also put the camera in manual mode so that I could maintain even exposure from photo to photo. If you don’t do this in manual mode, the camera will adjust exposure of each shot and the metering may be slightly different depending on where you are pointing resulting in a striped panorama with some parts darker than others. This is hard to correct in post processing. There were also a lot of small clouds which I think made the picture more interesting, but it resulted in a lot of spotty shadows across the landscape, which makes it look a little like a mistake with exposure, but it is the way the scene looked.

I stitched the images together using Lightroom. I applied the lens correction filter first to all six images and then did the photo merge. I managed to keep the horizon pretty level as there was not a lot of cropping due to crooked images. I think that the resulting image is technically good, but probably would have been better if taken later in the day near sunset or at sunrise.

Tell me what you think in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Hot Springs Panorama

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