Shooting for a panorama

February 8, 2010

Landscape, Panorama, Photo Tips

A nine-shot panorama of Manhattan from Southpoint Park on Roosevelt Island during the blizzard on December 19th, 2009. Stitched using Adobe Photoshop CS4.

A nine-shot panorama of Manhattan from Southpoint Park on Roosevelt Island during the blizzard on December 19th, 2009. Stitched using Adobe Photoshop CS4.

 
Sometimes your wide-angle lens just isn’t wide enough, or you want that sunset or that cityscape panorama without the distortion caused by an extremely wide-angle lens. After much trial-and-error, along with many suggestions from others, here is a list of tips for shooting for and creating a great panorama.

  • Set your exposure and autofocus to manual. You don’t want either of these changing at all during the panorama images.
  • Use a tripod if possible and make sure it is level. If shooting by hand, reset your feet every three to four shots. (Thanks to Scott Kelby for this tip!)
  • Shoot in portrait orientation and overlap each frame by 25% (Thanks to Rick Sammon for this tip!)
  • If there are buildings in the panorama and you are shooting wider than 50mm, make sure any prominent ones get an exposure with the building near the middle of the frame to avoid too much distortion.
  • To make it easier to find the images you shot for a panorama later, include a frame with your hand before and after the set. Just like your power strip, I like to use my hand vertically to indicate the start and a circle or a fist to indicate the end.
  • Shoot in RAW and expose to the right, just like any other digital image.
  • Before processing in Photoshop, do your RAW edits in ACR/Lightroom/Aperture and synchronize the settings across all of the files.
  • After creating the panorama, work on this new file like it is a fresh image. It isn’t done until you are satisfied.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 20 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Jeremy is a photographer who lives in Connecticut. Jeremy is an expert on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and his goal is to share a piece of our reality in a way that perhaps the viewer had not considered. You can follow Jeremy on twitter at http://twitter.com/jeremypollack


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14 Responses to “Shooting for a panorama”

  1. drew Says:

    Not sure what you used to stitch these together but all the different exposure lines are visible in it and they really distract from the subject of the photo. Sorry. :/

    Reply

  2. youtah Says:

    Note, 50mm for cropped ratio sensors, 35mm for full frame cameras.

    I like to correct the vignetting in Light Room, export as TIFF (highest bit possible). Stitch them together and then export again as a TIFF (once again the highest bit possible). I’ll then re-import them into Lightroom and make my final tweaks.

    Last but not least, never never Never shoot with a pano with a polarizing filter on.

    I prefer to shoot with a 1/3rd overlapping. Gives me more pixels to play with and align up.

    Reply

  3. Jeremy Pollack Says:

    Thank you Drew, you are absolutely correct. An example of not seeing the forest for the trees! With such a large image that didn’t become apparent until downsizing for the web.

    I went back into the original file and use the healing brush on both normal and lighten modes to blend the darker sections from the stitch back into the sky and will be updating the image. Thank you for the feedback and catch!

    Reply

  4. Soren Hedberg Says:

    Great article, thanks for the tips! One question, what do you mean by “expose to the right”?

    Reply

  5. drew Says:

    Looks a lot better now and my eyes are totally drawn just to the skyline. :) You’re welcome.

    Reply

  6. Jeremy Pollack Says:

    Drew – There’s another post in there somewhere. Measure twice, cut once? Review twice, post once, perhaps? Rick could come up with a better saying I’m sure.

    Reply

  7. Jeremy Pollack Says:

    Soren –

    The idea of exposing to the right means capturing an image so that the histogram gets as close as possible to, without touching, the right hand side. Your digital camera captures the most amount of data at the top end of the histogram or in the highlights of the image. By exposing so that you capture as much as the scene as possible in that region without actually clipping the image you have a digital negative that will provide the most latitude in the digital darkroom.

    You must be shooting in RAW mode to get these benefits, however.

    There is a much more in depth discussion about “exposing to the right” in digital photography here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml

    Reply

  8. Wanja Says:

    May I recommand you PTGui as stitching-tool. Saves you a lot of work and frustration in Photoshop. Also I like to prefer an overlap of 50% when there are many lines that go towards the horizon.
    When not synchronising the RAW’s in Lightroom (which is ofcourse the best way to go), make sure to set your White Balance to manual as well.
    Last tip: don’t be afraid to shoot multiple rows.

    Reply

  9. Soren Hedberg Says:

    Ahhh OK, thanks Jeremy. I have never heard it referred to as “exposing to the right” before, thought maybe it was a new technique… hehehe.

    Reply

  10. Bernie Says:

    I’m a portrait photog but for some reason panos really appeal to me and I plan to do one in the next few days.

    When working with a stitched image that contains many times the usual pixel count doesn’t Pshop grind to a halt? Is there anything that can be done to minimize this?

    Reply

    • Jeremy Pollack Says:

      Soren – okay. Sorry for the confusion!

      Bernie – Yes, it does slow down. There are things you can do to help optimize photoshop in general, but not really much specific to panoramas. The new 64-bit versions of photoshop plus a machine with gobs of ram and/or a CS4 version of photoshop with one of the supported GPU acceleration cards make a big difference in speeding everything up.

      One minor and probably obvious tip is to flatten your layers as soon as you are happy w/ the pano. That will drastically reduce the file size if you are talking about 3+ shot panoramas. This particular panorama went from about 1.5GB to 400MB when it was flattened and cropped.

      Reply

  11. Jeremy Pollack Says:

    Also, just because you shoot a lot of portraits doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with panoramas. Or even make a panoramic portrait! After you get your technique down on an easy one, how about trying to include a person somewhere in the portrait. :)

    Reply

  12. BillFoto Says:

    “Use a tripod if possible and make sure it is level. If shooting by hand, reset your feet every three to four shots.”

    Does the tripod stay in the same spot? Is a video pan head the best for panos?
    What do you mean by reseting your feet? Why are you resetting your feet? Do you move down or do you stand in the same place?
    Thanks

    Reply


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