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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Panoramas: Getting The Big Picture

Stunning panoramas are within your grasp with this step-by-step process

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Camera Settings
When it’s time to shoot, the camera should be on all manual settings. That’s because we’re combining multiple pictures together and want the exposures to match exactly. Manual settings include setting your white balance, aperture, shutter speed and focus. Stay away from any automatic settings as they may change across all your exposures and ruin your panorama.

Correctly exposing a panorama can be tricky, as you may be dealing with a wide range of exposures. You should meter to set one exposure for all the pictures you’ll stitch together. Meter for an “average” shot in your panorama. To do this, set your camera on aperture priority and rotate your camera through your panorama to find a section of your image that’s midway between the lightest and darkest parts of your total image. Check the exposure your camera indicates, switch to manual and set your shutter and aperture to those settings.

To create a top-quality panorama, one needs to plan ahead and work carefully. Using prime lenses, a precision tripod head and shooting with the camera in a vertical “portrait” orientation, Brian Valente and David Skernick have the process down to a science. These images exhibit resolution, proper exposure and compelling composition.
Set the manual white balance for the most uniformity as well. Since you’ll almost always be outside, this usually will be either “Sunny” or “Cloudy.” Remember, you can always tweak the color later in Photoshop. For now, you just want to be as consistent as possible. Be sure that you aren’t on auto white balance, as it will change from shot to shot and ruin your panorama.

Shooting Your Images

Make sure your tripod is completely level. Most tripod heads come with a bubble or you can buy a separate leveling device. Set up your camera in portrait (vertical) orientation. It seems a little counterintuitive, but portrait gives you the best ratio of height vs. width. Remember that you’re shooting a whole series of images that will be stitched together, so it will be plenty wide.

When panning and shooting individual images, try to overlap each image about 25 to 30 percent. It seems like a lot, but it makes stitching almost completely automatic and transparent. We avoid the “click stops” of some panoramic heads. They aren’t calibrated for any particular lens focal length and may not give you the ideal amount of overlap.

Try to avoid shots with wind or movement that would cause blur when combining the multiple shots, such as leaves or flowers in the foreground swaying in the breeze. If you’re shooting waves, you can try shooting at a slower shutter speed and blurring them.

Finally, use a remote release and, if available, your mirror lock-up or delayed shutter release for maximum sharpness.

Quick Fix
Shooting Panoramas
• Make sure your tripod is level
• Use manual settings for white balance, shutter speed, aperture and focus
• Overlap images by 25 to 30 percent
• Use remote release and mirror lock-up, if available

Stitching It All Together
Surprisingly, stitching your images together is the easiest step of all. There are many dedicated programs and plug-ins that do the job—we prefer using the built-in capabilities of Adobe Photoshop CS3.

For Photoshop workflow, first load your images into Adobe Bridge. Next, select all of your panorama images, and from within Bridge select the action Photoshop > Photomerge. Use all the defaults, including Auto-Align for the best results. After a while (and it could be a long while if you have a slow computer or a lot of images), your panorama will come to life in Photoshop. Make sure to crop the outside edges, as even the best panorama will have a few edges that are missing. After inspecting the image to make sure it has stitched together without any seams, we suggest you flatten it to reduce the file size.

That’s it—you now have the big picture!

David Skernick is a professional photographer, owner of PHOTO 24, Inc. stock photo agency and host of Get Lost!, an educational television program on YouTube. Visit www.getlosttv.com. Brian Valente is a professional photographer and the producer of Get Lost! Claims that he’s responsible for getting David to spend all his money on new camera gadgets are highly exaggerated. Visit www.bvalente.smugmug.com.


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