What actually is panoramic photography?
Panoramic photography is a method of creating images that increase the field of view beyond ability of single wide angled photograph. This therefore increases the aspect ratio of the finished product.
The idea of a panorama shot is to better convey the expansiveness of the scene we wish to photograph. We don’t view the world in single images, but as a continuous stream like video. A panorama gives a more accurate representation of natural vision and communicates more detail and authenticity.
The Essentials of Panoramic Photography:
Keep the Camera Level
This is the most essential part of the process. Keeping the camera level ensures the vertical and horizontal alignment of all the objects in shot are maintained. If you are shooting handheld, make sure to steady yourself and keep a keen eye on the focal points in each image as you go. This helps you keep along the same level.
Use the right lens/focal length
Although a wide angle lens allows you to complete a panorama in just a few shots. However, it’s best not to think in that way. Eight great shots with the correct lens and focal length, is much better than three with the wrong one.
With a very wide angle (fish-eye) lenses, the curvature and distortion can create significant problems in the final composite image. Software used to stitch the panoramic photography images together works hard enough to correct the smallest of natural distortions. Using lenses with ultra wide angles will only make this process more difficult. It can also be wise not to use a lens at its widest angle. The fringes of any lens’s capture ability is where the most distortion will occur. Zooming in just a few millimetres can make a huge difference. You can always take a few steps back to counter the change.
Keep a constant overlap between images
Make sure to overlap each individual shot by between 25-35 percent. For example, if you’re shooting left to right, identify an object or a landmark in the right hand third of the frame. Ensure this appears in the left hand third of the next frame. This allows for clear and easy stitching later in post production.
Camera Settings For Panoramic Landscapes
Its difficult give specific ISO speeds or shutter speed settings for example, because those will vary for every scene’s lighting conditions. However there are lots of general settings observable in most situations, which are good to remember:
The lower ISO you can use and expose correctly, the smoother and more “grain” free your image will be.
Using a larger aperture (f-stop) will put more of the image into focus, resulting in sharp images across the panorama. Be aware this significantly affects the amount of light entering the camera, so remember to balance this with other settings.
You can achieve decent results with large Jpeg images, but most panoramic stitching software is capable of handling RAW files. RAW images retain much more data about the image, which allows for greater manipulation in post production.
Maintain the exposure and white balance manually. This stops the camera from making automatic discrepancies between individual images making up your panorama. As for focus, if you keep your finger half-depressed on the shutter, most cameras will refrain from refocusing between shots. This allows you to keep the same view across all the photos you wish to combine together.
For example, with the image below, some of the images had the sun directly in shot, some didn’t. The camera would expose differently for this if I allowed it to, at which point they wouldn’t fit together naturally. There would be sharp contrasts all the way through the panorama along the fit lines.
Stitching the Images Together
There are lots of programs for image stitching, from Photomatix Pro, to Photoshop.
Depending on the degree of quality you want to achieve with the final result, these softwares offer the ability to either automatically find points of similarity and line up the images, or manually select those points for a slightly more accurate result.
The software also can help with any issues thrown up by the lenses/cameras used to capture the images. Vignette removal and distortion correction are just two of the extra features to correct abnormalities. The final images usually export/save as Jpegs, making them universally editable/upload-able.
Once combined, you can also use your usual editing software to make fine tuning and final corrections to the whole image. Whether it’s just to adjust the levels, or you want to completely rework the colours into a piece of surreal photo art.
Hopefully this tutorial has helped you understand the finer details of landscape panoramic photography. If you have any further questions, please feel free to comment below.
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