Panoramic Photography: Tips and Techniques

October 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Introduction

Photographic images come in various sizes. The popular 35mm format is 1.5x1 (width x height).  Panoramic images typically have aspect ratios of 3x1 or larger, similar in size to that generated by expensive, film-based 6x17 format. 

Why bother with panoramic images?  I find them pleasing to the eye, capturing a wider view of the landscape or cityscape and being able to print the image at large scale; see examples below.

 

Rio de Janeiro, BrazilThis image was featured on National Geographic Traveler "Your Brazil Photos".

Panoramic View of Rio at DuskPanoramic View of Rio at DuskPanoramic composite image taken from Sugar Loaf Mountain. The Copacabana area is on the far left. The Central district is on the far right. In the middle is the Botafogo/Flamengo area.

This image was featured on National Geographic Traveler "Your Brazil Photos".

 

Burano at Twilight, Italy.  I made a beautiful 16x48" canvas print of this pano for my living room.

Burano PanoramaBurano PanoramaThe island of Burano is famous for its pastel-colored houses and lace-making.

 

Delicate Arch, Utah

Delicate Arch Panorama, Arches NPDelicate Arch Panorama, Arches NPTaken shortly after sunset when most visitors had left. There is a photographer on the lower right of the panorama (for scale)

Generating Panoramic Image(s)

Not long ago, generating panoramic images used to be in the domain of those who possessed dedicated panoramic cameras (e.g. Linhof, Horseman, Fuji). They generate high-quality images that are still being in used by the aficionados.
 
Many newer digital cameras now have panoramic sweep modes capable of capturing panoramic images easily; however, I find the overall image quality is not the best.
 
Alternatively, one could simply crop a single image into a panoramic format.  This will suffice for smaller prints/ sizes as you would reduce the image file resolution.
 
I prefer the technique of capturing separate overlapping images hand-held or even better with a tripod, and stitching them into a panoramic image.  This 3-step process is relatively straight-forward (illustrated below) with some practice and a stitching software:
(1) Capturing the Sequential Images, (2) Stitching the Panoramic Image, (3) Cropping & Editing. 
 
 
Step (1) Capturing the Sequential Images
This is perhaps the important step.  Some tips:
  • Keep the camera level: bubble level, tripod & cable release very useful
  • Set focus on main subject of interest, then switch to Manual focus
  • Use Manual settings for camera exposure (expose for brightest scene)
  • Pre-select a White Balance (can adjust later if shot with RAW setting)
  • Recommend shooting in RAW format (and JPEG)
  • Overlap by 30-50%
  • Shoot as quickly as possible

 

Step (2) Stitching the Panoramic Image
  • You may want to process RAW into JPEG files using same white balance, remove dust, etc.
  • Then use a stitching software, e.g. Photoshop, Elements, autostitch, PTGui, etc.  I have been using PTGui for several years.
 
Step (3) Final Editing
  • Import the stitched panoramic image into your favorite editor.  Do final editing, dust removal and cropping.
 
 

 

 

Duomo Piazza, Milan

Duomo Piazza and Cathedral, MilanDuomo Piazza and Cathedral, MilanPanoramic composite of the Duomo Piazza, including the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II (middle) and the Cathedral (right).

 

Texas Wildflowers

Wildflowers Panorama at Old Baylor ParkWildflowers Panorama at Old Baylor ParkPanoramic composite of a field of colorful wildflowers near Old Baylor Park, Independence, Texas. These images were taken from the bottom of a "slope" and at a low view position to accentuate the wildflowers.

 

Mykonos Sunset, Greece.  I used a 3-stop graduated ND filter with each of the overlapping images.

Mykonos Sunset PanoramaMykonos Sunset PanoramaAn abandoned windmill overlooking Mykonos during sunset. Several overlapping images were taken with a 3-stop graduated neutral density filter on a tripod and stitched into a panorama.

This image is also part of NationalGeographicStock.com (Picture ID: 1432942).

 

Other Considerations

  • Panoramic composite images work best for “static” (e.g. landscape) conditions and mid-to-longer lens scenes.
  • Watch out for movements in/out of frames (e.g. people, vehicles) – can mitigate with long exposures (low-light or ND filter).
  • Scenes taken at wide angle (<28 mm) that includes dominant foreground objects generally will be more difficult to align properly in panoramas and will have more distortion.
  • High-contrast scenes, e.g. bright sky and shaded areas, are more difficult to handle (may need to use graduated ND filter or use of HDR/multiple exposures for each image).
  • Do not use polarizer; otherwise, you could end up with uneven lighting in the images and they look odd in the stitched panorama.
  • Other tip: for highest resolution, shoot in vertical/portrait mode to generate a horizontal/landscape panoramic format.
 
 
I hope you enjoy capturing and creating panoramic images.  You can see more panoramic images in my photo site.

 


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