There are times when I get to a place and I look around and think “Wow, this place is great! It seems like everywhere I look is something interesting. A single photographic frame can’t convey the sense of space or uniqueness of the place.” It is at times like that when I think of creating a panoramic image.
Panoramic photography has been around just about as long as photography. In fact the earliest 360 degree circuit cameras were developed in the late 1840’s.
Here are some tips for helping you get better panoramic images.
Shoot with your camera in a vertical format-this way you get more pixels per image which results in a higher resolution image file and allows you to make bigger prints.
Shoot in manual mode and don’t change your settings once you have begun your series of exposures. This means that your scene should be close to the same in exposure all the way from the right to the left side (or up to down, depending upon which way you are rotating your panoramic!) This can be one of the trickiest parts of getting a good panoramic image.
Rotate your camera as close to the lens nodal point as possible. If you don’t know exactly where the nodal point is don’t worry-if you are only close that is usually good enough for general landscape photography. Generally the lens nodal point is in the middle to middle-rear of your lens. In order to rotate around this point you will need an “L” bracket and a “Macro-slider” to properly position the camera. Really Right Stuff sells brackets that are designed to rotate around the nodal point of a lens. I use a 4th Generation Design gimbal head and a 4th Generation Design macro slider to get me close enough to where I need to be.
When rotating the camera to shoot your images the camera should remain level throughout all the exposures. To achieve this level the “yoke” of the tripod first (the yoke is where all the legs come together on the tripod, located right below the head of the tripod.) If your tripod does not have a spirit level installed on the yoke carry a small bubble level to achieve this. Once the yoke is level then level the camera in all directions. This takes some futzing but will keep your horizon lines straight in the final image.
One of the advantages of digital is being able to vary how long the panoramic format is based upon the number of images made. This means you can shoot a panoramic of any degree from 90 to 360. Always shoot one more image to the right and one more image to the left of the edge where you visualize the panoramic starts and stops. I do this to make sure that I get all the sky and foreground I want in the final image. During the stitching process you will lose a little in the corners of the left-most and right-most image; shooting an extra frame compensates for this loss and allows you to simply crop out what you don’t want to use.
Before I shoot the first frame I cover the lens with my hand and shoot a blank frame. After I have shot the final frame of the panoramic I cover the lens with my hand and shoot another blank. This way when I am downloading the images I know where my panoramic begins and where it ends. I use this same technique when I shoot an HDR sequence as well.
Overlap the frames of your pan by a minimum of 33%, I overlap closer to 50%. To achieve this simply look in the viewfinder and pick an object that is in the middle of the frame, when rotating the camera for the next exposure place that object on the right edge or left depend which way you are rotating. Make sure you bring plenty of memory card space with you when you go out to shoot panoramic because you will use it up, especially if you get into HDR panoramas.
Next newsletter I will continue this tutorial with step by step instructions for stitching the images together using photoshop.