Gigapanographer Visits Iquitos
By Mike Collis


The Gigapan camera and equipment


Australian photographer Glen Short recently visited Iquitos to document the city via the emerging field of gigapanography. Gigapans are large panoramic photographs, made up of tens, hundreds or even thousands of individual photographs, 'stitched' together by special software that matches adjoining images seamlessly. The resulting image is too large to be printed on anything smaller than a garage wall, but almost no gigapans are ever produced to be printed and viewed as a poster; instead they are viewed via the internet, where gigapan.com, run under the auspices of Carnegie Mellon University in the US, hosts the huge image files on dedicated servers. With a fast internet connection, people at home can zoom in and explore panoramic vistas, in many cases more easily than if they were there in person, using a pair of binoculars.

"I have visited Iquitos several times in the past, and was surprised to see Iquitos was not represented in the gigapan database. When I saw the huge abandoned blue Es Salud building overlooking the Plaza de Armas, I knew right there existed a wonderful location for shooting a gigapan of Iquitos" said Glen.

Glen on top of the abandoned Es Salud building.


While anyone with a pocket digital camera and home computer can create a gigapan using free software, getting good results requires a lot of patience: just getting a permit to ascend the abandoned edifice took several days. Also, Glen came prepared with some heavy-duty equipment: a Pentax DSLR and 300mm lens, and a Gigapan robotic camera head, which moves the camera with exacting precision to create a mosaic of images in rows and columns, with enough overlap so the software can assemble the final 'big picture'. However, even with the right tools, the weather plays a big part in capturing a consistent gigapan or not: wind rocks telephoto lenses, and broken clouds play havoc, creating alternating dark and bright images which are unsuitable to stitching; completely cloudy or entirely cloudless days are best for overall uniformity. Glen said "You have to keep in mind that a gigapan of around 200 photographs might take half an hour to photograph, so by the time the robotic camera holder returns to the beginning of a new row, it may snap when the cloud cover is darker, which makes for an undesirable chequerboard effect".

Glen shot small gigapans of the Iron House and several other historic buildings, including some interesting "tone-mapped" panoramas, but his crowning gigapan is of the Plaza de Armas, assembled from scores of individual images, which took several days of laptop time to process. You can view these gigapans by going to Gigapan.com and searching for "Iquitos".
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