Brighton beach, Vienna. / by Alex Bamford

 

Last year, I was approached to create a backdrop for the Vienna State Opera's production of Handel's Ariodante by the set and costume designer, Vicki Mortimer.

The brief was simple, she wanted a cloudy sky with a thin strip of sea and pebbled beach. I live two minutes away from Brighton seafront so that was relatively easy. The challenging part was the technical specifications. The image was to be printed at 19x12 metres requiring a 640 megapixel image.  

I generally shoot on a Nikon D800 which has, for most jobs, an oversized 36 megapixel sensor. The only camera that could get even close to creating an image large enough is currently sitting in an observatory and pointing into deep space. The answer had to be stitching. 

To get photographs that blend together involves locking the focus, white balance, shutter speed and aperture and sweeping the camera across the scene taking images with a large amount of overlap. It's like a seamless version of what David Hockney did with his polaroid camera in the early 80's. After much experimenting with different set-ups, I worked out that for this gigapixel image, I needed 6 rows of 11 shots. 

Finding a sky that works at this scale provides its own difficulties, you can't use the viewfinder for framing when it only covers a sixtieth of the shot. With practise I could work out two points on the horizon that would mark the extremes and visualise it from there. 

I ended up creating 10 different version, clouds being such a subjective thing but I was very pleased when they chose this one, even though it was the second one I made.

This is the sort of job I relish with lots of both aesthetic and technical problems to work out. And scale-wise at least, I don't think I'll ever be able to beat it.

 
 
Ariodante_2.jpg
 Credits: Vicki Mortimer

Credits: Vicki Mortimer

 Credit: Vicki Mortimer

Credit: Vicki Mortimer

 Credits: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

Credits: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

 Credits: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

Credits: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn