Basic Stitched Panorama Guidelines

December 31, 2009

Panorama, Photo Tips


The stitched panorama is an excellent tool to have at your disposal for several reasons. Whether you need to boost megapixels or capture a scene beyond your lens’ field of view the following guidelines will help you build a solid workflow.

Camera Setup

  • Constant White Balance
  • You may use AWB but before the components are stitched ensure the WB are the same.
  • One shot focus
  • Single shot drive
    • Use continuous high if shooting HDR panorama
  • Constant Aperture and exposure for the component shots
    • LIGHT recommends shooting Manual mode
      • Manual will ensure the exact same exposure and depth of field
      • Remember “Friends don’t let friends shoot aperture priority”
    • Aperture priority may be used but the exposure must be locked (the same for every shot)
  • Select manual focus after the focal point is chosen and focus is achieved with AF
    • Focus may, of course, be done manually
    • Focus may also be locked with back button focus and the appropriate custom function to disable the shutter release focus.
  • Enable mirror lockup, if desired (remember you will need two shutter release actuations per shot.
  • Shoot with a cable/wireless release
    • May use the self timer if no release

Support Setup

  • Best results are achieved using a tripod, solid ball head, and panorama rail system from Really Right Stuff (RRS.)
    • I am not sponsored by RRS but their camera support gear is “bombproof.”
    • We recommend the “Ultimate Pro Omni Pivot Package”
    • For basic panorama, use the PCL-1 and a “nodal point*” slider
      • Correct terminology is entrance pupil not nodal point.
  • Level the tripod
  • Level the camera
  • Leveling the camera may be the only thing you need to do if you have the panorama system from RRS.
  • Mount the camera so the lens entrance pupil is over the axis of rotation (either ball head or PCL-1.)
  • The entrance pupil is what many refer to as the nodal point. The entrance pupil may be easily estimated by looking down your lens (from the front) and locating the aperture opening. You actually cannot see the aperture opening but a virtual opening. If you estimate where the aperture is located in the lens you have come very close to locating the entrance pupil. More accurate location of the entrance pupil is easily accomplished by using two vertical references.


Hand Held

  • Best results are achieved when using the support setup guidelines above but we can also shoot hand held when necessary
  • To shoot hand held we need to make a couple modifications
    • Ensure you are following the basic hand held rule of thumb (ROT)
  • Shoot with a shutter speed equal to or faster than 1/focal length. For example, if shooting at 200mm use a shutter speed of 1/200 or faster.
  • This often necessitates “opening up” the aperture to generate a faster shutter speed.
  • Although image stabilization or vibration reduction can help, LIGHT recommends following the ROT
    • Disable mirror lockup and use the shutter release button vice cable/wireless
    • Use a solid shooting position
    • Shoot portrait for horizontal and landscape for vertical (more on this later.)
    • Pan in as level a manner as possible when shooting


  • Take a good look at the image and visualize the panorama
  • Remember just because an image is a stitched panorama does not make it interesting.
  • Normal rules of composition still apply.
  • A good ROT is to have an object of interest near each end and one or more subjects throughout the pano.
  • Determine whether you want to shoot the components in a portrait or landscape orientation
  • LIGHT staff normally shoots portrait for horizontal panos and landscape for vertical panos. This will yield more shots but a better aspect ratio and give you more room to work with later. This recommendation is a must for hand held panorama shooting.
  • Determine how many shots you need
    • Enough to cover the intended scene with overlap
  • LIGHT recommends shooting the components with the following overlap
    • 25-30% if using a telephoto
    • 30-50% if using a wide angle
  • With the camera and support setup as above
    • Select the desired aperture, exposure, and focal point
      • If in aperture priority, lock the exposure
    • Focus and ensure it stays constant
  • Optional- LIGHT recommends taking a shot of a single finger to denote the beginning of a panorama (after the last component shoot two fingers to denote the end.)
  • Shoot the panorama components
  • Take the first shot and then rotate the camera to the next shot following the overlap rules.
  • If shooting an HDR or extended depth of field pano, shoot all required shots before moving to the next component.



  • Download or import your images per normal workflow using Bridge or Lightroom
  • With RAW files, develop using ACR or the Develop Module and synchronize adjustments
    • If using ACR, remember to click the “Done” button after synch
  • Combine the components
    • From Bridge
      • Highlight all component images and then go to Tools>Photoshop>Photomerge
    • From Lightroom
      • Highlight all component images in the Library Grid or in the Filmstrip
      • Right click (CMND + click on Mac with a single button mouse)
        • From the flyout menu, select Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop
    • When the Photomerge dialog pops up in Photoshop
      • Try “Auto” for Layout (other settings may also be used)
      • Ensure “Blend Images Together” is checked
    • LIGHT staff typically checks the “Vignette Removal” and “Geometric Distortion Correction” checkboxes as well
    • Click “Ok”
  • Photoshop will then align and blend the images together
  • When the process is complete zoom your image to actual pixels or 100% and examine the stitches for accuracy
  • If the stitches are good, flatten the image
  • Level and crop as desired
  • Light staff recommends a pano aspect ratio of around 1 x 3 or 1 x 4. Not a hard and fast rule but good a good guideline.
  • Save the stitched panorama
  • Continue developing the image

Note from Rick: Hey, if you think this is a lot of work, remember this: “It’s not easy having fun.”


This post was written by:

- who has written 8 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Hal “Bull” Schmitt is a former FA-18 pilot and two-time TOPGUN (Navy Fighter Weapons School) instructor. He is the Director and Lead Instructor of Light Photographic Workshops. Hal’s courses and photo tours are recognized worldwide as the “Best of the Best.” Follow Hal and Light at

Contact the author

2 Responses to “Basic Stitched Panorama Guidelines”

  1. Darrin Says:

    It is amazing how many steps are involved in this process, but after you have done it a few times it all becomes natural. Panoramic photos open up a whole new world.



  1. […] be a tricky and confusing, but it does not have to be. You may have seen my previous post titled, Basic Stitched Panorama Guidelines which outlined the steps needed to capture images ready for stitching. In this screencast I show […]

Leave a Reply