Get the Whole Picture: Panorama Photography Tips

March 1, 2013 by

Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Panorama photos refer to images that are either very wide or very tall. Panos are an effective way to capture subjects that do not fit well into a normal photo aspect ratio such as landscapes and towers. Even the widest angle lenses can’t capture 270 or even 360 degree photos!

Panorama photo of Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

Panorama of hikers near Snow Canyon State Park, Utah – Click to see bigger

In the olden days (10 years ago or so) panoramas could only be captured with very, very expensive film cameras or by taking a series of photos and sticky taping them together. Neither option was particularly attractive to the average traveler.

These days software has replaced sticky tape and anyone with a digital camera can take amazing panorama photos by simply shooting a group of overlapping images and processing them with some stitching software. The software these days is so smart it corrects for slight tilt and perspective shifting as well as exposure variation. It automatically works out the overlapping parts and blends all the photos into one large image.  It’s simply amazing how easy it is to create beautiful wide angle shots.

Panorama photo of Bondi Beach, Australia

Bondi Beach, Australia – Click to see bigger

It’s interesting that you don’t even need a wide angle lens and in some cases using a telephoto lens is preferable as it can fill the frame vertically with distant features and magnify your subjects whether they are mountains in the distance or bathers on a sunny beach.

It’s a pretty simple 3 step process.

  1. Take the photos
  2. Auto stitch them with software
  3. Crop and edit the results to taste!

Step 1 – Take the photos

This is pretty simple. The goal is to take a series of photos, all overlapping each other by about 30% or so, while keeping the horizon at the same level in all photos. It’s easy to do this hand held as the software will fix up any small mistakes. I find it easier to keep things level by placing the horizon in the center of the frame for all photos. You can take the photos vertically or horizontally. Both work fine. In the following example I shot in portrait orientation to capture the height of the rocky hill.

 

Panorama photography tips

Sample captured images – note the overlap between each one.

Step 2 – Auto Stitch the images

In the not so distant past, stitching photos together digitally was pretty time consuming as you had to pick points in each image that matched and do all sorts of other complicated steps. Luckily for us, some brilliant software engineers out there created software to work this all out automatically (or automagically, I like to say) for us these days.

I use Microsoft’s Photo Gallery for all my panoramas as it works very well and the price is right – free!

To create your panorama, simply select your images and select Create / Panorama.

Panorama Photography tips

You’ll see a progress bar and witness some exciting messages before being presented with a Save As dialog box.  Give your work of art a name and get ready to see the results. Gallery then opens the final image and you’ll see your pano immediately.

Panorama Photography tips

Magic is happening…

Panorama Photography tips

The stitched image which was created from 9 separate images

Step 3 – crop and any other edits you desire.

You can see from the screenshot above that there is a black border which show the edges of the original images. You can see where you may have tilted the camera as well as distortion near the edges due to the lens characteristics and your viewpoint. This can easily be cropped off using the crop tool.

Extra Options For Photoshop Users – If you have Photoshop or other advanced image editing software you can stretch the image out to fill the frame. My favourite approach is Edit/Warp. I also use the Stamp tool to fill in any missing corners or edges when cropping may cut out some part of the image I want to retain.

For this example I’ll just do a simple crop to get rid of the edges. Select the crop tool and stretch the guidelines to get as much image as possible without the black border.

Panorama Photography tips

Select the crop area, then press crop again

And the final panorama image looks like this.

Panorama Photography tips

Final Cropped Image – Click to see bigger

It’s interesting to see that the final image is actually quite large. You can zoom way in and see a lot of detail. In this case, the source images were 2008×3008 pixels and the final cropped image is 7734 x 2342. That’s turned a bunch of 6 megapixel images into one monster 18 megapixel photo. My camera actually shoots 24 megapixels but I’ve resized them to 50% prior to stitching as when I tried with original sized source images the resulting stitched image was too large for Photoshop to open.

Helpful hints

  • If your source images are very large, say 16 megapixels or greater, resize them prior to the stitch so you don’t get an unmanageably large panorama.
  • If cropping the border causes the loss of important image areas, try warping or cloning the image to get a better fit
  • Try and hold the camera level for all the shots
  • Switch to manual exposure to keep the brightness of all photos consistent.
  • Experiment with different lenses and shooting both portrait and landscape orientations. I’ve used lenses from 14mm to 85mm and the software stitched them all perfectly.
  • Still subjects work better as things can’t move between images. Waves and other fast moving subjects may cause glitches in the panorama (see the waves in the beach pano above for an example)
  • Shoot in the city and the country.  Both turn out great.
  • Try and pick a nice high vantage point with a panoramic view – they make great panoramas – big surprise!
  • Include some humans in your landscapes for a sense of scale.
  • Experiment with different numbers of source photos. I’ve tried from 3 all the way up to 24 images for real wide vistas
  • Resize the images before emailing to your friends as they might not be able to open your massively wide, beautiful creations!

Photos courtesy of Jeff Lewis.

Read more about travel photography

 - Jeff Lewis

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One Response to “Get the Whole Picture: Panorama Photography Tips”

  1. Alan Bland Says:

    Nice One Jeff! Very helpful.

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