My last post shared some of my recent panoramic photos with you. Today I would like to invite you to try it yourself. In order to avoid some of the pitfalls, you might enjoy this little tutorial on how to actually shoot and process panoramic photos.
Don’t be afraid – it’s really easy!
Prior to the Shooting (Preparation)
1. Equipment needed
In principle, you can use any camera to create panoramic photos. However, in order to get exciting panoramas, you will need a camera that you can put entirely to manual mode, ideally a DSLR. In terms of lenses, you should think about using focal lengths of 50 mm or longer (on a full frame sensor). Finally, the camera’s sensor should be clean.
Optionally, you can use a tripod which will help you to stabilize the image during the shooting. Also, a tripod helps you to keep a horizontal line for those images that are next to each other. On the other hand, you do not really need a tripod. If there is enough light, you can simply shoot without tripod and correct the problems later.
2. Know how to shoot using M mode
If you don’t know how to shoot manual photos with your camera, get the user manual of the camera and read all about it. It’s essential to create excellent panoramic photos, because the final image is composed of several photos. During the shooting, the automatic exposure system of your camera will measure each of these photos individually, and the brightness will therefor be individual for each photo. But we don’t want this for a panoramic photo. We want the borders between the individual images to be as seamless as possible. So you need to “nail” the exposure for the entire set of photos, not just single photos.
The same applies for the focus. If you can, use manual focus instead of autofocus. This again will help to blend the individual images into one photo.
3. Know how to shoot RAW (optional)
If your camera supports the RAW format, use it. If you decide to use it, further rules apply at post-processing time (see step # 8 below).
And now you are ready to do…
4. Use manual settings for exposure and focus
As outlined above, you will need to use the M mode of your camera to set exposure and focus. The brightness in various parts of your panorama may be different, so you need to (manually) find the average exposure for all photos of that panorama.
A good starting point is to determine the values for the darkest part and the brightest part. I suggest to use the Tv mode – set the exposure time you want to use, and see which aperture the camera suggests. Then repeat the same for the brightest section of the panorama. Then average both aperture values.
Here is the example of the Digby harbour panorama:
EOS 5D with EF 24-70/2.8L at 70 mm, ISO 400, M, f/16, 1/320 sec.
The left parts of the image are slightly darker than the right parts, and the camera would have used different exposure settings for these parts. Then it would have been much more difficult to blend the various parts of the panorama.
5. Use 50 mm or longer (on full frame)
This is not mandatory, but if you want to create a panorama that looks natural, you should aim for a “normal” focal length (50 mm on FF), or use a slight telephoto focal length (e.g. 70 mm on FF). This reduces distortion to a minimum, and the software (or you) will have less problems to blend the images into one big image.
6. Mind the overlap!
Obviously, all of your individual images need to overlap with the image next to it, so please allow for at least 10% of overlap on the left and right sides. A good trick is to shoot the panorama photos from left to right. Then, for each photo, remember one significant object on the right side and put this into the frame at left side of the next photo.
These six images where the base for the panorama of Digby harbour. They overlap a little too much, so I could have done it without photos 2 and 4. Then again, it does not really matter.
7. Quick succession of photos
Now, keeping all this in mind, take your photos in quick succession from left to right (always remembering the objects that overlap for each image). It’s rather important to do this quickly to avoid drastic changes in the image, like cars that show up in two individual photos in different locations. Also, the light might change between shots, and this again may be bad for your result. Try to keep one horizontal line, and try to not tilt the camera too much. But that’s basically it. If you like, repeat the shooting two or three times.
But then you are done. And off you go to the post processing.
Stitching with Autostitch
I use Autostitch 2.2, a nifty little free software that automatically stitches your individual photos into one big panoramic photo. The software is very good, but to be honest, only the Digby panorama was done with Autostitch. For the other panoramas, the result was not satisfying, and I did the stitching manually in Photoshop.
But if you want to get started with stitching, you might give Autostitch a try.
8. Convert your photos from RAW to JPEG
If you have been shooting RAW, you will need to convert them to JPEG before running Autostitch. It’s easy to do, but please remember to use exactly the same settings for all your photos! Otherwise you will get the dreaded differences we avoided by using M mode.
9. Start Autostitch
After starting Autostitch, you need to first change the default settings of the program to give you proper results.
Select Edit > Options and set the scale to 100%, and the JPEG quality to 100.
Change scale and JPEG quality in Autostitch’s options screen
10. Select the image files
Once you have corrected the settings in the options screen, select the images that shall be stitched, by using File > Open. Please note that all image files need to be in one directory. After you have selected the files, press OK, and see the miracle happen.
The software will be displaying a couple of status messages that do not make much sense (to me anyway – what is RANSAC?), but finally it will start to display “Rendering” and “Blending” for each image block. This can take considerable time. The six originals for this example, each 12 Megapixels, took 18 minutes to render on my laptop computer. That comes down to about 4 Megapixels per minute. (Your mileage may vary.)
The final result will be a file named pano.jpg, located in the directory where you had your original files. The software will also display the resulting image. Neat!
The resulting image from Autostitch – close to perfect
11. Final corrections
Now just a few final corrections remain. Open the photo in Photoshop and do some finetuning as you see fit, e.g. level the horizon, and maybe crop the image to get rid of the black borders from Autostitch. (The Digby panorama needed to be tilted by about 1 degree!) Also, do not forget to assign the sRGB color profile to the final image and publish the final image!
And now have fun photographing those stunning landscape panoramas!