Recently, my thoughts have turned to panoramas. They seem to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, despite the tools to create them easily appearing in iOS, Windows Phone and Android. I suspect part of the reason for this is that smaller screens rule the roost just now. Even if they are high resolution, there’s still no way to really lose yourself in a large panoramic image unless it’s physically taking up a lot of space in front of your eyes. For the purposes of this post, I’ll define a panorama as a wide image where two or more images are stitched together. Here I’ll discuss some of the finer points of shooting, processing and displaying your panoramic pictures.
Capturing your Panoramas
Capturing panoramas has never really been difficult – the hard part is stitching together, but there are quite a few things to take into consideration.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about how Colin Prior gets his best shots lately and in a lot of cases he uses a special panoramic film camera, a Fuji GX617, which is an impressive beast. It can create photos at a 3:1 aspect ratio (so no need to stitch the pictures), and it has a set of quite long lenses; 90mm, 105mm, 180mm and 300mm. Good luck getting your head around how a long lens and a wide picture appears. However, out here in consumer land, I am using a DSLR so I have a fixed aspect ratio sensor to work with. You need to have a think about the angle that you want to include in your panoramic. You can shoot a very wide angle with either three pictures or even ten depending on how much detail you want and what lens you have. For instance – the image at the top of this post is probably about 150° in real life. I used three shots at 20mm on an APS-C sensor, so at a very rough calculation (there will be overlaps) each frame is about 50° wide.
However, on the image just above (click for a full size), I’ve used a 135mm lens to capture 7 shots, and that’s probably about the same angle, so the angle of each frame is about 21-22°. The image looks less tall, but the original panorama is highly detailed (go on, give it a click!), in fact it’s probably about the 55 megapixel mark. So, you can gain detail by going with a longer lens, but you’ll get a less tall image than if you went with a wide angle lens.
When you’ve got your gear out it’s bag, you’ll almost certainly need a tripod to keep things steady and in line. It’s really difficult to keep everything totally level, even with a spirit level on your camera, because the lens could be angled slightly up or down which could skew your shot. Shoot a few images at various points within your planned panorama until you get an exposure that you’re happy with and manually set your ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed – these cannot change when shooting your panorama, so no auto! You really need the light to be consistent right the way across your picture, so if your last shot is pointed at the sun and your first is 180° in the other direction, you could end up with a massive bright blur at the end of your panorama.
When you’re happy with the exposure, look through your viewfinder and visually pick a point to the right (if you’re panning your camera right) or to the left of your image, and remember what it is. Now take your shot. Now pan your camera in the direction you want until your visual reference point is at the opposite side of the frame, then pick a new point, shoot, and then repeat the process. Once you’ve taken all your shots, take a quick flick through them on your camera screen and check that you are happy with the exposure on all the shots and that everything roughly lines up as you’d expect. If you’re not 100% happy – just go again.
With the advent of Lightroom and Photoshop, this has become a lot easier than it used to be. Photoshop’s panoramic tools are fantastic now, and while I’m sure there are better ones out there, I’m really happy with the results I’ve seen from Photoshop and I cannot even notice the stitch. There are two approaches to this – create the panorama first and then process or do it the other way around. From experience, I can tell you that editing the images first in Lightroom, and then editing them in Photoshop is the way that makes sense for me. I’ve also had to make some tweaks to the exposure after bringing the images back in from photoshop, so it’s not really a one-size-fits-all process. The reasons for editing in Lightroom first are:
- Your images are still in RAW format, so you have better control over the white balance – when you get it back from Photoshop, it’s a TIFF.
- You can fix a blemish or dust spot on your lens and apply it to all the images in the panorama
- Changing exposure on a large image requires a lot more processing than a small one, and we all know how hungry Lightroom and Photoshop are for all your processor’s threads.
The great thing about Lightroom is that you can set the exposure, contrast, clarity and anything else you need in one photo then copy and paste it onto the other image in your series. If one is too bright or dull, then just adjust it and copy and paste the settings again. The next step is to highlight all the images you want to turn into a panorama and hit “Merge to panorama in Photoshop”.
Yep – it really is that simple! Once you’re in Photoshop, I tend to just use the default settings and let it go and do it’s work. You’ll have to crop out the grey bits, but you can always use the content-aware fill if you’re needing to save some sky.
Displaying your work
I’d held off putting up my panoramas for social media scrutiny for the reasons outlined at the top of this page, but to my surprise they were accepted a lot more readily than I had expected. The idea that someone is willing to put in the effort to click on your picture let alone zoom in is hard to get by in these days of flicking past images quickly in your Twitter or Facebook feeds. The best bet is, of course to print them. Quality prints and decent paper will obviously make a difference. I tend to use standard frames for most of my sales, but it costs a bit more to get a frame made up at 3:1, and a mount cut to go along with it. You won’t be disappointed with your results though, and your dinner guests will have something impressive to talk about! Canvases are a decent, and fairly cheap option as well nowadays and sites like RedBubble will print to the size of your original image and not force any drastic crops. Working with panoramas has been a very inspiring start to 2015, and I hope I’ve been able to pass on some of my enthusiasm for this interesting format. Keep Looking, Ross