Jeffrey Martin has been making panoramic maps for 10 years now. His perspective pre-dates—and produces results comparable to, in some cases better than—Google Street View. It’s certainly bigger. He produced a picture of London, for example, that some say is the largest photograph (320 gigapixels) ever made.
Now Martin, the founder of 360Cities, a platform for larger-than-life international photography, has unveiled a 150-gigapixel panorama of Tokyo, of both a scale and a fidelity to detail that will melt your brain. If you think you can comprehend the size of it, consider this: Months after beginning the composition, Martin has himself yet to inspect every part of the image.
The panorama was shot from the top of Tokyo Tower, the highly identifiable communications structure that looms over the Minato ward. From here, Martin marshalled excellent views of the city’s chaotic and eclectic downtown. For two days last September, he holed up at the peak of the tower with a high-res 7D SLR, a 400mm lens, and something he calls a "camera robot." The latter controls the shutter function, which it fires at intervals to capture thousands of images, making for extremely precise and consistent photography over large sites. The panorama was completed by fusing two separate photo composites:
"The first attempt took four hours and the second attempt took two hours," Martin tells Co.Design. He adds that Tokyo Tower management would not let him exceed their time limit, which effectively forced him to work twice as fast as is his norm. "In the end I had to use some photos from both attempts to get a full, seamless, final 360° image."
Of course, the on-site photography is only one component of the months-long process. Post-production takes up a considerable chunk of time when you’re working with an image 600,000 pixels wide—double the maximum image size Photoshop can handle. Martin collated the 8,000 individual shots he captured in Tokyo on his supercomputer, a Fujitsu Celsius R920 workstation with 192GB of RAM. (By comparison, your laptop is probably pushing 16GB.) Even so, the computer needed some 12 weeks to process the entire panorama.
But for Martin and the 360Cities’ community, the intensive process is just part of what makes panoramas exceptional. "The medium seemed, from the beginning, inherently geographic," says Martin, about the pairing of his photographic specialty with cityscapes. "A spherical image describes one point in space only, whereas a normal photo of a building could perhaps have been shot from any number of places nearer or farther away," he explains. By combining panoramic images, the reach of his camera is expanded into "a kind of virtual tour of a whole city."
With this Tokyo image, Martin realized a long-standing dream of photographing a city that he finds fascinating, complex, and almost endless. "The dense urban areas extend beyond the horizon, even when you’re looking from the top of a skyscraper," he says. "At the same time, there are lots of little streets with small houses, narrow alleys, and so on. It’s a city where regular people are still living among the huge buildings, so it’s quite special in this respect."
If printed, the final image would be 328 feet wide and 164 feet tall. Exploring it in your browser, however, allows you to zoom in on rooftops, office buildings, street-crossing pedestrians, and other sights up to 25 km (15.5 miles) away. Go ahead and try it. Just don’t expect to get any work done for the rest of the afternoon.