Panoramic Photography

Panoramic photography is the knitting together of two or more photographs. Given that we have lots of wonderful wide-angle lenses to choose from why would you need to create a panorama? I think there might be several good reasons for using this method:

  • You find yourself without your wide-angle and the perfect fleeting light falls on a subject.
  • Your wide-angle lens is not wide enough for the scene.
  • You have tried to make the photograph with your wide-angle lens, and you find the distortion detracts from the image.
  • You might want to increase the quality of your print; although panoramas do not increase the camera’s resolution, they do produce files that have a larger overall size than the camera normally produces.
This panorama was made with a 24mp camera after making the panorama is now 71mp

Lenses

Typically my favourite lens for creating panoramas is a 35mm lens, which held in the portrait mode can produce excellent results with three overlapping images. However, if I need more height and width to create the photograph, I may move to a 50mm or 80mm lens. Using a 50mm lens means potentially less distortion. You will need to experiment with your lenses to see which choice gives you the results you want and which lens you may choose for specific situations.

This multiple image panorama was taken with a 24mm lens in an experiment to see the impact of the distortion on the image compared to one taken with a 50mm lens that does not have this distortion
This is taken from the same location with a 50mm lens on the camera. You can see the reduction in distortion, but the downside is how many more images are required to cover the same area.

Tripod or Hand Held?

A tripod is the most accurate way to create a panorama, but you can also get excellent results hand holding the camera. If you have a tripod, it might be good to use it as you are experimenting with creating panoramas, as it helps with the accuracy of the overlaps and maintaining vertical consistency. Once you have used the tripod a few times, I find the mind tends to memorize the rigour of the process, which translates into a more methodical hand-holding method, as there are lots of times you do not have the tripod with you.

Movement in the Photograph

One problem with panoramas is movement in the scene; it is often important to take the images in quick succession. Even so, there may be movement between each image. Lightroom’s automatic process does have a tool within it that can help deal with these movements.

This was taken during a multiple alarm fire event with lots of movement in the scene. The images were taken from left to right in quick succession. I tried as much as possible to isolate the movement with the centre of key images.

Method

This is both an “HDR” and “Panorama” merge. Travelling across the California border into Oregon, I ran into what should have been a lake, as the map indicated. This dry lake bed is 15 km across and should have contained a 380 sq km area of water. No lens in my bag was going to cover this expanse. So I opted to make 18 images, but I also used an exposure bracketing technique because of the strong light. This means each of the six vertical frames was taken three times, with different exposures one f-stop apart. This is an automatic feature in all-new digital cameras. This process gives me not only a wider photograph but also a higher dynamic range. The images were merged automatically by Lightroom using the “Merge” “HDR Panorama” tool.

As suggested in red, if I had wanted more sky, I could have added more images above the first set, provided there was a 1/3 overlap with the first set (as shown in the diagram).

I put my camera into portrait framing and set up the first image adjusting the f-stop and focus. Once I was happy with my settings, I put the camera into manual mode so the focus and exposure would not change. I then made six bracketed images making sure I overlapped each image by 1/3. Rather than twisting my body, I turned by moving my feet while staying in the same place. I also tried to make sure the camera stayed in the same vertical position by keeping the horizon line in the same place. You can see by the results that I was not as successful as I might have been with a tripod.

While making these images it is important to remain still while each bracket is taken. When taking more than one series of panorama images, I find it useful to take a horizontal image at either end of the bracket sequence. Otherwise, it because quite complex trying to determine where one bracket sequence ends, and the other begins.

Observations

Through these experiments, I found that going beyond three merged images resulted in a rather flattened panoramic look to the image. Although I managed to capture a vast amount of the vista with larger sets of images, the distortion is also clearly present. A three-image panorama or two sets of images, one set below and one above, usually means less distortion.

References

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