Shooting the Highest-Resolution Photo Ever Made of Machu Picchu

Photographer Jeff Cremer recently captured the highest-resolution photo ever shot of Machu Picchu, the most popular tourist destination in Peru and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Unlike other gigapixel projects that we’ve shared here in the past, this one is very well documented, offering an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how these gargantuan images are made.

Here are a couple of videos by Cremer and Destin of Smarter Every Day, who accompanied Cremer on the trip (the first video offers a more technical look):

The resulting photograph weighs in at just under 16 gigapixels in resolution, and can be viewed through this online viewer. Just to give you an idea of how massive the photo actually is, here’s the full image along with a 100% crop of a tiny portion in the frame:

Cremer tells us that he used a GigaPan robotic camera mount, a Canon 7D and a Canon 400mm lens for the panorama, which consists of 1,920 individual 18MP RAW photographs. He chose the 7D due to the fact that the crop factor would give it extra reach, effectively turning the 400mm lens into a 640mm one. He used a low ISO but a fast shutter speed of 1/640.

Once he had the nearly 2,000 stills, he processed all the RAW files in Adobe Bridge, and then sent them off to a friend for processing. It took a Mac Pro Hexacore 2.67Ghz computer loaded with 32GB of RAM 1.5 hours to stitch the panorama together, creating a 47GB file. Uploading the photo to GigaPan’s website took 11.5 hours.

Here’s what Destin tells us about planning and executing the shot:

This shot took months to plan. Jeff lives in Peru, so he worked on all the paperwork before we got there. We flew to Cusco, then took a shuttle to a train station from which we travelled to Aguas Calientes. We planned on getting everything in one day and return the second day to play, but we left unsatisfied. On the last day we spent the money we had brought for souveniers to buy another ticket so we could take one last crack at the shot. In the end, we shot the panorama three different times, on three different days.

Jeff Cremer kept fighting software crashes to get the shot. It was almost comical because most people travel to MP to relax, explore, and unwind. For us, it ended up being a stressful mix of trying to secure all the paperwork, manage all our equipment, data storage, and batteries. I’ve taken high speed cameras to very remote areas, and Jeff has lived as a photographer in the Peruvian Rain Forest for years, so we were used to managing high tech equpment in rough locations.

The thing I found most interesting about this image is that Jeff had to adjust the focus every few rows because the city of Machu Picchu was much closer than the mountain, Huayna Picchu in the background. I also found the continually changing clouds and the moving people to be quite interesting as well. In the end, Jeff decided to publish the final Gigapan we took. As an added bonus, we decided to hide out in the photo to add a little “Where’s Waldo” aspect to the game.

Head on over to the photo’s official website to zoom into the scene yourself and to find the “Waldos.”

Image credits: Photographs and videos by Jeff Cremer/Destin S and used with permission

  • TG

    Awesome project!

  • jason
  • destroy_all_humans

    robots and computers make the best photographers

  • Jonathan Maniago

    5,184 × 3,456 x 1920 ≈ 34.4GP, yet the final image image is approximately 16GP.

    I wonder if using a full frame camera (such as the D800) or a medium format camera could yield more details in the final image given that the perimeter of a single shot is smaller relative to its surface area. Maybe fewer pixels would be sacrificed for the stitching process?

    In any case, hats off to these guys for making such an awesome image.

  • tonster

    “they need permission because the camera looks too big’. When thousands of people take thousands of pictures there every day. Like if this is not good advertising for Peru and its turism. No. The authority guy has to go there and check the permission! Sorry, I just can’t understand this phenomenon happening worldwide. All i see is that if I go there as a turist, traveling a few thousand miles, some guy will come to me to check if I have permission to shoot because i use a 100-400mm lens! And if i don’t, he will forbid me to! No thanks. I will choose a more photography-friendly place if I can.

    The picture itself is amazing. Really good work!

  • jscremer

    Glad that you like the image!! Remember that the images overlap each other and we also cropped the final image a little bit. – Jeff

  • Karthi Keyan

    There is an editing mistake at very center of the pic. Half body of a lady is floating on a stair…. Just click on center of the pic.. Zoom in as much as possible and see the fartest stairs.. Notice that black t-shirt lady. Alessandro Aimonetto also mentioned it.

  • Mike

    There is more than one floating head in the image.

  • Chris Popely

    I’m impressed, that 7D didn’t do a bad job, at all.

  • Wouter

    Why do people still make the extra reach mistake. A crop censor croppes the image, it doesn’t make the lens longer. So if you use cropped images to later stitch together you are going in circles. The benefit of the 7D over the 5D3 in this case is resolution. The 7D has a full frame equivalent of an 28MP sensor. This means it has more resolution then a 5D effectivaly if you are stitching lots of pictures together.

    But it still will never make the lens longer. For that you use an 1.4x extender.

  • Chris Popely


  • tonster

    I agree 100% on the first part. But I think the same goes for extenders too. They are just projecting the same image only cropped on the sensor. Only you have more pixels in the crop. Based on what i’ve seen from mine, i don’t see more sharpness when using it and comparing the same pic with and without it. it just makes focusing easier as you can see your target bigger in the viewfinder. I have a tamron x2. I’don’t know if canons work any different, i would be very interested to know.

  • ma_w

    Why are there so many frames heavily out of focus, such as on the path shortly before the central stairs? Was the lens on AF to address the different focus distances?

  • ma_w

    The full frame equivalent of the 7D would be 1.61 * 5184 pixel x 1.61 * 3456 pixel = 46.6 MP; not 28 MP

  • Matt

    Nice, looks like a fun project. I have toyed with the idea of getting a robotic head for this type of thing, most likely not gigapan but at least highly detailed landscapes. I’ve not made the jump, maybe after it matures a little more.

  • Matt

    Yes, some of those are distracting. I wonder if camera shake/wind had anything to do with it.

  • wouter

    I was about to say thats not true, then did some reading. And yes, you are actually correct. I keep learning everyday.

  • jscremer

    The lens was set to manual focus but at 400mm the minimum focus distance of the lens is 1.8 meters. Anything closer than this will be out of focus such as the path before the stairs.

  • Guest

    “[…]1.5 hours to switch the panorama together[…]”

  • not impressed

    Yawn. They bought a gigapan, and stitched the result with the gigapan software.

  • ma_w

    The pixel count is an area, therefore both edges have to be scaled by the crop-factor.

    Your other remarks are true, however. Pixel count, crop factor (sensor size), lens type (EF or EF-S) and focal length have to be considered together to state anything about resolution or “reach”.

  • nismo

    well they were there for longer time than other people remember theres a lot of people behind them waiting so they can take a picture too

  • kendon

    the “lens type (EF or EF-S)” have absolutely nothing to do with it.

  • DontwearaNosestud

    One question: why? Bigger is not always better.

  • Richard

    What I don’t understand is people who think they should always be able to do exactly what they want and when they want to do it. These people never for one second think that there might actually be a very good reason that their every whim doesn’t at times become secondary to some other consideration. Instead they simply assume that nothing could be more important than what they desire.

  • Henrique Konishi

    Awesome image, is interesting to see details that you couldn’t when you are there. Try seeing the structures in the mountain in the center, only a certain amount of people can go there. Nice, by the way, found them in the picture haha