The Mont Blanc Massif: Kamil Tamiola's Massive Photograph

Born in Poland, but living and working in the Netherlands, Kamil Tamiola is a commercial adventure photographer specializing in photography and storytelling from remote locations. His main area of interest include alpine climbing and extreme outdoor sports. Aside of artistic curriculum, Kamil works as a doctoral researcher at University of Groningen. Kamil’s multimedia work is represented by America’s leading outdoor photo agency Aurora Photos. His photographic works are widely published in major outdoor magazines including National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Climber Magazine, Koktejl Everest Magazine, Urban Climber and many others. Kamil is a contributing writer for the major Polish Outdoor Magazine: GORY, as well as Seattle Backpacker Magazine.

Kamil Tamiloa: "Recently, I was given an assignment to take a photograph of Mont Blanc for the most prestigious and the oldest Dutch museum, Teylers, in Haarlem. My contractors were very specific, expressing a need for a photograph that could serve as a focal point for scientific exposition about the highest summit in the Alps and its early exploration. I was informed that the required print size was16 feet by 10 feet. Obviously, I devoted a great deal of time researching gear and possibly the most optimal location for taking the photograph.

PLANNING THE SHOT

"Rather than treating the assignment as a purely artistic endeavor, I decided to approach the photograph in a completely scientific and analytical way, considering numerous factors related to the gear, location, and weather conditions for the photograph of Mont Blanc.  The most important aspect to capture was the essence of Mont Blanc, its superiority in height and size with respect to the surrounding mountains. I surveyed numerous photographs of the Mont Blanc Massif, and it was clear that there was a small number of optimal locations that would allow for this type of composition. Only by photographing Mont Blanc in the context of the nearby town of Chamonix with its prominent summits can one clearly demonstrate the enormity of Mont Blanc. With this in mind, I switched to Google Earth and performed several Field of View (FOV) calculations, trying to simulate a field of view from a 70 mm f/2.8 and a 200 mm f/2.8 lens (which are known to have a negligible barrel distortion at the long end). It become very clear that the most optimal location was situated at the end of the Chamonix Valley, next to a well-known skiing resort Argentiere. Furthermore, the optimal line of sight was predicted to be at approximately 10500 feet (3200m). After a quick map survey, combined with a study of helicopter aerials, I decided that the most optimal position to take the photograph was an exposed snow ridge line called Aiguille a Bochard, which is relatively easy to access.

TAKING THE PHOTOGRAPH OF MONT BLANC

"On March 3rd, 2012, all forecasts were suggesting CAVOK (Celling And Visibility OK). The visibility was perfect, and the air temperature of -7C was making the air dry, yielding more than 20 miles of visibility. The conditions were perfect for shooting with a telephoto lens.  After a few hours of glacier traversing, my team and I arrived at the location. It took me five minutes to calibrate my GPS unit (a GARMIN Vista HCx) and mount it on a hot shoe of my Nikon D3s. I have registered the heading of each photograph as reported by the electromagnetic compass of my GPS unit, in order to use it in post-processing. For the final shoot, I used a Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8G and a Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8G VR II lens with B+W circular polarizers.  I always shot at the longest focal lengths of the lenses to minimize barrel distortion. All of the photographs were taken at ISO 200 with the exposure bracketing set to 5 steps with 1/3 of a stop increments. I acquired approximately 34 GB of photographs, among which processing and further inspection yielded a final selection of eighty-five 14 megapixel HDR images.

COMBINING IN POST-PROCESSING

"Planning and acquisition of the photographs were only one part of the story. The difficult part was combining the photographs. To do that, I used an open source software Hugin, for which I wrote my own extensions for pattern matching, geometrical distortion correction, and exposure compensation. I relied heavily on statistical methods which I have developed for my PhD dissertation, which won several awards in the scientific community and were published in the Journal of American Chemical Society. I used Singular Value Decomposition heavily, a method which allowed me to capture the essence of a photograph with few numbers and which is heavily used in pattern detection, weather forecast modeling, and medical CT scanning. The final processing required a 12 CPU micro-supercomputer with 32GB of RAM memory. The photograph is available in a 4 x compressed form (bandwidth limitation) at my photo portfolio under the following link http://www.alpine-photography.com/mt-blanc/. The file does have 1.4 gigapixel resolution and consumes 7.44 GB of disk space as a Photoshop Large Format document.  The massive photograph is also available as wallpaper.

FUTURE OF THE MASSIF PROJECT

"At this point, I have sent the final image of Mont Blanc to my contractor, Teylers Museum, and it is now being prepared for a large format print. I can't wait to see it. Obviously, a project of this type and scale attracts attention. I decided to contact Discovery Channel International and suggest a documentary program about the making of this visual. I am very happy to announce I am right now putting together a script and a budget plan for a documentary for Discovery Channel and if everything goes according to the plan, we should start shooting the footage in Chamonix very soon about the project.

"My intention is to show, how cutting edge science, which is normally believed to be a domain of a very specific group of people, can greatly benefit the art, and in this case, photography. We are surrounded by software and hardware solutions, which come from completely different backgrounds. Yet, many of these fancy devices have found their applications in photography. My goal is to encourage people to learn more about the fundamental knowledge behind photographic devices and techniques, so they ccan push their creativity even further!"

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