Evoking a total Pittsburgh state of mind, a new nighttime panoramic photo called “Pittsburgh Nocturne” ranks as the largest ever taken of the Golden Triangle.

Part of the High Point Pittsburgh Project, the zoomable 18.66 gigapixel photo can be seen on The Pittsburgh Gigapanorama project website. It was taken by photographer James Albright and is best viewed on a full screen or large monitor where viewers can zoom in to a point where they can clearly read the traffic signs to the North Shore, see chairs in the Wyndham’s lobby or even (if they really want to) count the lights on the Point’s Christmas tree.

Shot on November 25 from a balcony on the 17th floor of Mt. Washington’s Trimont Condominiums, the photo is 280,520-by-66,504 pixels high—a full scale print would measure 78-by-185-feet, says David Bear, director of the High Point Pittsburgh Project and fellow at the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.

The High Point Pittsburgh Project was created based on studies at the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama Project at the Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU. It involves a group of local photographers who are interested in “gigapanning,” or taking a regular camera and programming it to take a photo of one scene then moving it to take another to eventually create a matrix of photos, explains Bear.

The photos are taken partly for fun and partly for historical record, social media and for potential tourism, he adds.

Taking three and a half hours to shoot, “Pittsburgh Nocturne” was captured with a Nikon D800, a 36.2 megapixel camera with a 600mm lens. The camera sat upon the GigaPan EPIC Pro robotic camera mount on which upper-left and bottom-right corner parameters are programmed. It moves the camera in tiny increments, explains Albright.

It took 13 hours to compile the individual shots using GigaPan Stitch software, developed at CMU by Paul Heckbert.

“There were multiple challenges, mostly from shooting at night. You have to deal with long exposures,” says Albright, the photographer. The biggest challenge was the software’s ability to effectively overlay the 1,240 separate photos that create the final picture.

“At night, it’s severely difficult for the software to find common points to overlap (the individual photos),” he says. Also coming into play, he notes, were atmospheric conditions like humidity and the wind.

“There was no wind that night. That’s really rare on the 17th floor of the Trimont,” he says.

Viewers will notice there appear to be no moving cars among the city’s bright lights. “Because it’s a night shot, we had to leave the shutter open for about four seconds per picture. You see the headlights, but the cars themselves disappear,” says Bear.

There are numerous panoramic views on the site of other cities worldwide posted by fellow shutterbugs. Once they “find their way” around a cityscape, visitors can zoom in and take snapshots of specific locations.

Additional Pittsburgh photos on the site include Albright’s “Light Up Night 2014” and “Fall from the Hill,” of the Allegheny River Valley.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to find more places to shoot more vantage points to give a different perspective,” says Albright.

Laurie Bailey

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.