For this year's steelhead trout exhibit, I couldn't find many stock photos that showed the San Gabriel river, let alone ones that were large enough to cover the 40' x 4' space that I needed to cover for our steelhead mural. The initial concept from Bowman Design Group has the mural covering the journey of steelhead trout from the ocean all the way to the their freshwater homes in the upper watersheds. Since our exhibit speaks about our local southern California steelhead trout, the mural was designed to reflect that.
So, since I couldn't find any appropriate photos, I decided to take a few of my own. I visited several locations along the upper San Gabriel River and also around Malibu to take several panoramics that became part of the final image. The interesting takeaway for me is that you can never have too many photos. A lot of what wasn't used for the main part of the image was used in smaller sections of the final image, or pieces to transition from one scene to another.
The final section, from the estuaries to the ocean, was made of stock photos since I couldn't find any locations nearby that reflected what we were looking for. Making a composite image of stock photos of various sizes presented its own challenge, especially since that section was 10' tall.
Here is a short .gif showing the different layers of the final image for the section between the upper river and the estuary. It doesn't show how much work was put in to blend those layers together, but it does give you a bit of a glimpse of how many images are there to make a cohesive whole.
Here is the final image, though we did add more ocean to the left of it later. What surprised me about the final was that a lot of things I worried about, namely where transitions seemed to be glaringly obvious, were not as apparent on the actual printed mural. The 4' section goes behind the live trout exhibit, while the 10' section acts more like a backdrop for the rest of the exhibit. The total number of photos that make up this image is over 100. The final length is almost 100' wide.
One the ways you know it's a job well done is that no one really notices it and just accepts it as part of the exhibit. Mission accomplished.