Multi-camera rig makes trees say cheese


[Nick Nichols] set out to take a photograph of a full redwood tree. Here’s the catch, these redwoods are over 300 feet tall and they’re not just standing in the middle of a vast desert. If the photo is taken from a distance, you will only capture the top part of these majestic beauties. How can you take the shot from close up? Build a custom rig to take multiple shots and stitch them together for a composite photo.

[Nichols] built the rig to hold three cameras focused to the left, middle, and right of the tree. The frame includes a gyroscope to keep the cameras steady. By lowering the cameras from the top to the bottom of the redwood they were able to capture 84 pictures to assemble the final shot. The result is featured in the October edition of National Geographic magazine. We’ve included the final picture and embedded a video of the rig in action after the break.


[via NPR]

[Thanks Kent]


  1. Caleb Kraft says:

    We just got this issue. My wife was quick to point out how much paper they used to show the full tree.

  2. monkeyslayer56 says:

    so how many pixels is the final image…

  3. I Spy says:

    Six people in the tree… Is there more?

  4. John says:

    Awesome photography and awesome application of technology. Very cool!

  5. Chris says:

    @Caleb Kraft: Hang on a second–they wouldn’t be printing the picture on paper if people weren’t buying the magazines.

    You can’t buy a magazine and then complain about how much paper is being used for actual content!

  6. Caleb Kraft says:

    that single picture was a foldout. Something like 5 pages.

    It was noted with mild humor, not highhorsedness.

  7. @CalebKraft: I think that’s pretty funny actually. With all the stigma about saving the Redwoods and saving trees in general. I think it’s funny your wife pointed that out. I LOL’d.

  8. Rebkee says:

    @I Spy: It could be one person.

  9. medix says:

    Are the bicycle wheels the gyroscopic stabilization? (I haven’t read this one yet). I wonder why 6 wireless triggers for the cameras. Redundancy?

  10. aaron says:

    That’s pretty awesome.

  11. bloke_from_ohio says:

    a lot of paper is made from trees in tree farms. The more paper you use the more trees they have to plant. it not like there is a grizzled ax wielding guy running around an old growth forest singing “eff you trees, I need a memo pad” lumber on the other hand may be a different story.

  12. Shadyman says:


    Check out how many PocketWizards there are.

  13. adamziegler says:

    @bloke_from_ohio bwahahahaha!!! That gave me a chuckle!

  14. Taylor Alexander says:

    I love redwoods, they are so beautiful. Lucky for me, I grew up in one of the few areas in the world that actually has them. :)

  15. Nathan says:

    I’ve had the issue for a while. I think about two weeks now. On the last page they show how they did it. I thought it was really cool!

  16. bob says:

    Guess the front guy in the camo gear had been diverted from bambi patrol.

  17. svofski says:

    Finally, something to make a decent photo of the longcat.

  18. jbl_krr9 says:

    Anyone know where I can download a higher resolution copy of the final image?

  19. Guy says:

    Anyone gather how the photo-stitching happened? Microsoft’s PhotoSynth maybe?

  20. spacecoyote says:

    Photosynth is overkill. Stitching the photos together is a trivial task in gimp or photoshop.

  21. sagum says:

    the final image was stitched together using Microsoft ICE.

    As the site suggests, its from microsoft’s research dept.. tech used in programs such as photosynth.. but photosynth isn’t really about creating panoramic/stitched images, you’d be looking more along the lines of windows live photogallery for something intergrated for that use.

    Microsoft’s ICE is dedicated technology to stitch images together.

  22. Austin says:

    Is that the largest tree in the forest? I need a herring

  23. GeneralFault says:

    Am I the only one that was bothered by the stitching of the foreground trees? I think a better solution than a 3 camera rig and stitching would be to use the sensor from a scanner and put a lense in front of it. Then fly that rig up while “snapping the photo”. I think I’ve seen a project like that here before.

  24. Halloway says:

    I’m so glad someone managed finally to photograph a tree. It was worrying me that we had no really good photos of trees.

  25. F. says:

    I can’t see the roots.

  26. lolerskates says:


    The crappy stitching speaks volumes about the wonderful ‘dedicated technology’ from micrsoft used to create the image.

  27. medix says:

    @GeneralFualt & lolerskates: The ‘crappy stitching’ is an artifact that arises from the different perspective of each camera and the relative distance to the tree when the images were shot. To do this correctly, you’d need one camera that rotates around the center of the *first* lens element. This minimizes stitch error. (I am by no means defending Micro$oft either – photo stitching software is nothing new)

  28. nope says:

    @bloke_from_ohio yes too true. i grew up near wausau paper. in some areas many square miles of replanted trees. very dull, no life but linear lines of trees for as far as you can see. truly renewable though…

  29. Phil says:

    after the break, after the jump, etc.
    Over used terms, go look it up in the urban dictionary.

    Stop using the term and where is the video.

  30. wdfowty says:

    @ Austin LOL! NI! NI!

  31. GeneralFault says:

    What I was proposing was using a setup that only captures a single row of pixels. Then “stitch” those rows together into one long photograph. That would remove the perspective problem.
    Using the element from a bed scanner and a camera lense should do the trick. There was a project here some time ago that used this technique to take some very strange and interesting photos.

  32. ricz says:


    Agreed on the crappy M$ technology. They should have used Apple’s image stitching QTVR I have on my Mac I find it much better. They actually probably did, but I bet M$ paid them to say this.

  33. illus says:

    Where can we find the full picture online?

  34. Ken says:

    Besides the parallax issues, the camera platform descended from the canopy on a single rope, which was subject to wind and tree sway. Thus the tree to background perspective shifted slightly through the shoot, causing insurmountable problems for the numerous auto stitching programs that were tested. The final redwood tree was stitched together in Photoshop—it took over 120 hours.

  35. GeneralFault says:

    You could start with something like this panoramic scanner camera and modify it to move vertically rather than rotating.

  36. lamerz says:

    Geez, some of you twats are so zealous over the use of a MS tool (god forbid!) that you can’t just enjoy and comment on what is a pretty cool image? Here’s a clue … the perspective shift would have affected ANY stitching tool, even your beloved Apple tools. Get over yourselves. Maybe get out of the basement and go look at a real tree.

  37. lamerz says:

    ricz – you don’t find the QT tool much better. You just like it because it is Apple. Admit it, you have never even used the MS tool and don’t have a clue what you are talking about. What a twat.

  38. Cbrown says:

    Very nice way to get a high rez shot. Would love to see this via Silverlight’s Deepzoom so we could dive into the detail that should be in this shot.
    And ICE is a very-very good stitching technology notably better than anything Adobe has though I can’t speak to Apple’s tech as I haven’t used it. If you are using Windows Live Photo Gallery, make sure to go to add-ons and download the ICE stitching tech. What Live Gallery uses by defualt is very good (same tech as Adobe)but no where near as good and flexible as ICE.

  39. GT says:

    Simply amazing guys…congratulations on a brilliant idea and a job well executed.

  40. Adam says:

    Great photo, but it has been done before by James Balog, during his pioneering “Trees” project from 1998-2005. He shot the same tree, same perspective, and even used the same tree rigging team. The only difference is that instead of using a mechanical device, James climbed the rope, over 300 feet into the canopy, and shot the images himself as he lowered down the tree.

    The National Geographic team here was just remaking an original and unique photograph of James’. See and to see the true story, and all the other original work that will likely one day be ripped off by the big yellow box.

  41. When i saw the issue and the pull-out of this photo, my jaw just dropped and my mind started thinking of how they did it! Thanks for providing the answer!

  42. Adam wrote that Balog already did this, and with this tree, more or less.

    Would sure like to see a link to this tree by Balog if you happen to know of his photo online.

    I’ve seen Balog’s big aggregate image of the Stratosphere Giant, and what looks like a photostitch of Del Norte titan, but don’t recall seeing this tree. Although I’m pretty certain I read about Balog being at this tree that Nichols did.


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