Panorama Primer

Are you tired of the limited constraints of the standard aspect ratio your camera provides? Are you looking for something to get your creative juices flowing? The solution – make panoramas. Many image editing programs have stitching programs built in and if not, those solely dedicated to making panoramas are inexpensive and easy to use.

There are a number of benefits to making panoramas. Stitching multiple pictures together produces a large file. The resulting image can be blown up to huge print sizes and maintain detail throughout. If you use a DX sized sensor and need to create large files, make a panorama. The final photo will have more pixels than if you captured the scene with a full sized sensor. Another benefit is some subjects simply cry out to be captured with an aspect ratio suitable for a panorama. Anytime you view a scene that doesn’t conform to conventional aspect ratios, make a series of images and stitch them together. A third benefit is it gets you to think outside the box as you begin to look for images in a new and fresh way. So while you’re in the field, think panorama to invigorate your creative juices.

To stitch a great pano, many factors need to be addressed:

Use Manual Exposure: as you pan the camera from left to right or top to bottom, it’s likely the exposures will vary from one capture to the next. This is especially true if there are shadows or silhouettes along with bright highlights scattered throughout the scene. Meter the portion with the brightest highlights in manual mode and use this as your base exposure for the series.

White Balance: use a camera preset such as cloudy or daylight or set the color temperature manually. This will ensure all files have the same color balance. Auto may produce slight variations in the stitched version.

Remove the Polarizer: a polarizer darkens a blue sky to its maximum when aimed 90 degrees from the sun. As you deviate from this point, the effect is lessened. Depending on how much of the sky is included, if you leave a polarizer on the lens, it will create sky blending nightmares on adjacent sky portions.

Don’t Go Super Wide: use a lens with a focal length of at least 35mm to prevent wide angle distortion.

Level the Camera and Tripod: if you’re forced to handhold the camera, make sure the software you use can handle off axis variations. If you get super serious about creating panoramas, specially designed heads are made that use the nodal point to guarantee a smooth blending of images.

Avoid Scenes Where Objects Are Moving: the software that’s available today performs admirably but may have issues with overlapping pieces where subject A exists if it doesn’t exist in the adjacent section.

Be Consistent: use the same aperture to capture all pieces of the pano. Be sure the focus point is set to a spot where depth of field remains the same in all the files. Use a cable release – if one piece of the pano is soft, the image is ruined.

Overlap: overlap the adjacent images by at least 30 percent. Some photographers go as much as 50 percent. Anything less than 30 and you begin to tax the demands of the software.

Avoid Strong Foregrounds: close and prominent foreground objects will take on extreme distortion when incorporated into a panorama. It’s better to avoid them.

Vertical vs Horizontal Capture: While it’s not uncommon to use horizontal captures to piece together a pano, it’s better to use more vertical captures as it provides more head and foot room from which to crop. They also provide less distortion. On the other hand, if the resulting image is to be a long vertical, use a horizontal format to capture the pieces that constitute the vertical image.

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Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is All About The Light and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.