Tutorial: How to Photograph a Panorama

October 25, 2010 · 2 comments

in Photoshop,Scapes,Travel,Tutorials,VR Movies

Panoramic photography, also known as wide format photography is a technique using specialised equipment and software to create images with an elongated field of view, greater than that of the human eye. The aspect ratio is usually 2:1 or larger, covering fields of view up to 360 degrees.

Recommended Equipment

Tripod

By using a tripod, you can ensure that the camera stays level, and rotates around a fixed spot. This will also make shooting long exposures easier.

If the camera position does not stay level, you may encounter problems during the stitching phase, and may need to crop your image, which will reduce the vertical field of view.

Panoramic Head

A panoramic head is an additional attachment that fits on top of the tripod, and makes it easier to rotate the camera smoothly. All quality panoramic heads will include click stops, a spirit level, and the option of how many degrees that will be between each image.

When the camera is attached, the centre of the lens is directly above the point of rotation. This means that as you pan to shoot each image, you are rotating the camera around the non-parallax point of the lens.

Spirit Level

Use a spirit level to ensure that, the tripod, the panoramic head, and the camera are all level.

Wide Angle Lens

In theory, you could use any lens to shoot a series of images and stitch them together to create a panorama. However, using a wide-angle lens would mean that you would not need to shoot as many images, and most importantly, you will capture more of the scene vertically.

Software

There are many different stitching software applications available; this tutorial uses PanoramaStudio, which in my opinion, is one of the easiest and produces excellent results.

It is not completely essential to use specialised software, you can achieve similar results using Photoshop, although this will be more time consuming, and the results may not be as good as PanoramaStudio.

How to photograph a Panorama

1. Ensure you have 30 – 50% overlap between each frame. I use a panoramic head, and generally set it to click into position every 20 degrees, meaning I shoot 18 images to make a full 360-degree panorama. More overlap between each image makes it easier for the software to blend lighting, exposure and colour temperature differences.

2. Shoot with your camera in the Portrait position. Not only will you be able to include more sky and foreground, you will also get a significantly higher resolution effect.

3. Use a wide angle lens zoomed out to its lowest mm length (ie: 17mm)

4. Maintain the same exposure and White Balance throughout the sequence. Manually expose for the first image, and then use the “AE-Lock” feature on your camera to keep the exposure for the rest of the images.

5. Always shoot in a left to right direction.

6. Consider depth of field. Most panoramic images capture a scene rather than a moment, and in these circumstances, you would want an image that is crisp from the foreground to the horizon. Changing the aperture alters the focus, so once you have set your aperture, it is essential that you use the same setting throughout.

7. Do not clip main features. If there is a distinctive element in your scene (such as a large tree), try to shoot it so that it falls in the middle of your frame. Sometimes the stitching software has a hard time aligning intricate details, which results in a distinct seam where the two images join.

How to photograph a Panorama handheld

It is not always possible to cart around a tripod and panoramic head, but the good news is that you can shoot a panorama handheld, without any fancy equipment. The result will not be as good, but at least you get the shot!

The principles of shooting a panorama remain the same, except, you use your body to emulate a tripod. Keep the camera close to your body (ie: close to the centre point of rotation) and do not lean forward or backwards. Hold the camera steady and level, and rotate around a single point.

When shooting a handheld panorama, it’s a good idea to shoot two images of each frame, just in case one of the images isn’t as sharp as the rest.

How to stitch a Panorama

Option 1: PanoramaStudio

Step 1: Name you images

Name your images numerically; remembering that the image you name “01” will form the far left hand side of your panorama.

Step 2: Open the images in PanoramaStudio

Select File, and then Import Images. Browse to the saved location, select all the individual images, and click Open.

Step 3: Creating the Panorama

3.1. Select Panorama, and then click on Create Panorama, after which you will be prompted to set the focal length and horizon.

3.2. In order for the images to be stitched correctly, they need to be warped according to the focal length of the camera and the position of the camera. Add in these details, and click OK. The software then automatically warps the images and searches for overlaps, applies detail adjustments and blends the images.

3.3. At this stage, you can see the nearly finished panorama, with all the images morphed together. If there are any overlaps that do not quite match, use the Adjust Tool to adjust focal length, change image overlaps, change detail adjustments and blending, or even adjust the exposure.

3.4. Before you can continue with any image adjustments, you need to crop the panoramic image. Select the Crop Tool from the Toolbar, and in the pop-up window define your cropping selection, and click OK. Using the red marker lines, you can modify and even rotate the cropping region.

Step 4: Image Adjustments

Use the Optimise Tool to Sharpen, adjust brightness/contrast and colour balance, and manipulate the levels and tone curves.

Step 5: Add Hotspots

If your panorama is for online use, you can add hotspots. Hotspots are embedded links on the panorama, which are associated with a link to a website.

Step 6: Save

To save your panorama, click File, Save as Image, browse to the location you want to save it to, and click Save. If you need to do any more advanced editing, you can open the panorama in Photoshop and make your adjustments as desired.

Option 2: Photoshop

The Photoshop method is really just a quick fix, and the result is not comparable to PanoramaStudio.

Step 1: Open the Images

Select the images for the panorama, and open them in Photoshop. I have found that when using Photoshop to merge the images, it works best if you use a maximum of eight images.

Step 2: Create the panorama

Click File, Automate, and then Photomerge. In the pop-up window, select Open Files and click OK. Photoshop will then automatically render and merge the images. A new window will open where you can make final adjustments to the panorama. I would recommend selecting Blend Images, and then leaving the option on Auto, but feel free to experiment!

Step 3: Image Adjustments

Crop out the jagged outline and refine any rough edges by blurring them or using the Clone Stamp Tool.

Step 4: Save

Once you are content with the enhancements, click File, and then Save As to save your panoramic image.

Technical Glitches

So you shot a sequence of images and used software to stitch them, but there are areas that do not align properly. Technical glitches come from either shooting the images incorrectly, or stitching them together incorrectly. A few things that could go wrong are:

1. Specifying the wrong settings in the software, for example telling the software you used a 35mm lens when you actually used a 17mm lens.

2. Not checking that the tripod is straight with a spirit level, bumping the tripod half way through the sequence, or if your tripod is cheap ‘n cheerful and insufficiently stable.

3. Changing exposure, aperture, and white balance settings during the sequence may cause the software to blend the images incorrectly.

4. Zooming between frames or using auto-focus changes the field of view as wall as the no-parallax point position.

Using an overlap of less than 30% or more than 50%, or overlap that varies greatly between frames will cause alignment issues.

If you have checked all these issues, and the problem still persists, it may be alleviated it you:

1. Try a different lens

2. Try using different software. Most have free trial versions.

3. Make misalignment and parallax less noticeable by avoiding scenes with strong lines in the foreground.

4. Change the percentage of overlap between frames.

5. Use a panoramic head.

6. Try shooting the images landscape instead of portrait.

Be creative!

Do not restrict yourself to only shooting horizontal panoramas, if you have a tripod that allows you to attach the head vertically, try shooting a vertorama!

Samples of my Virtual Reality movies can be viewed here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Julian October 26, 2010 at 11:33 am

Wow, this is great and adds a new dimension to photography.

rikki hibbert October 26, 2010 at 11:35 am

Thanks Julian! It’s a great way to photograph the “full picture” especially when traveling ;-)

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