Wrangling a billion pixels

Beginning this year I was photographing a student-party in Diepenbeek. Having spent a few years participating in a student organisation I made a lot of friends and gained a lot of contacts that proved to be important as a photographer. However, these days it’s a rarity to meet friends from back then in the active student-life, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Wim guiding the younger generation of his organisation. These days Wim works at Renotec, one of the countries’ biggest contractors specialising in renovating big and important projects.

One of those projects is Brussels biggest UNESCO world heritage site, the Grand Place. With buildings dating back to the 15th century it is one of the most visited places in Brussels, and perhaps even Belgium.

If you are going to cover up an entire side of the famous square for 190 construction days, you might as well do it in style, so that’s where I came into the picture. The question was simple: did I have the knowhow and gear to accurately reproduce the Grand Place in a way that it could be printed life-size? The answer: Yep.

Since Nikon’s D800 has the amazing 36 megapixel sensor, and I am always up for a challenge, I quickly accepted my mission, and headed down to Brussels. Taking 5 to 15 pictures of each building I made sure I had enough overlap to correctly create a large panorama.

Position wise I chose to stand in front of each building separately. This would give me more distortion on each sides, but would make everything look better once reproduced in print.

After taking a few hundred pictures of all buildings, it was time to enter a gruelling Photoshop batch, only to see it fail horrible. The merging gave really odd results, which gave me an extra challenge to overcome to correctly produce each building in a extremely high resolution picture. After merging each building individually, combined with the technical blueprints of the restoration it was time to create InDesign files with everything in the correct sizes. A week later, all printing was done by Blow-up Media, and the week-long process of putting up the pictures was done by the professional team at Renotec.

In the end, the complete picture was printed at 1050 square meters, and was a 2GB Photoshop file. The final megapixel count was 1200, making it a 1.2 Gigapixel image.

Watch the video of the construction here!

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