How To Shoot Panoramic Photos

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…

The Shooting

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.
Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

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.


Digby harbour
Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

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!

11 Responses to “How To Shoot Panoramic Photos”

  1. Dietmar says:

    Thx, Mark for this. I am a fan of panos as well. You might want to check out Microsoft ICE, the coolest pano SW I have used in the last years. Just google it.

    – Dietmar

  2. Great information shared through this post. Thanks.

    Regards,
    panoramic stitching

  3. john says:

    Hello !!!

    How would I take two rows of six photos ? Would I take six photos left to right then come back six photos right to left ? What would the horizontal and vertical overlap be ?

    Thank you – John

  4. Mark Zanzig says:

    John, I think an overlap of 10% should be sufficient. As for the direction, I’d go left to right and again left to right for the 2nd row. My rationale is that the light on the left end might change more than necessary if you go left-right-right-left. Then you have the most time between the shots on the left side.

  5. Gerry Bishop says:

    Hello, Mark–

    Would you mind if the Charlottesville (Virginia) Camera Club reprinted this installment of your blog in our newsletter? We’re holding a competition on panoramas and I found your description very helpful. We of course would give you full credit for its use.

    Thanks,

    Gerry Bishop, Education Committee Chair

  6. Mark Zanzig says:

    Hi Gerry,

    sure, please do go ahead. It’s great that you think the article is useful. :-)

    Good luck with your competition!

  7. jim says:

    i have a canon 7d and a samyang 8mm fisheye…what are the correct settings to shoot landscapes??

  8. Mark Zanzig says:

    Hi Jim, well, 8 mm on a APS-C sensor will act like a 13 mm lens on a FF sensor body. This is very wide angle and probably too wide. Wide angle lenses are not suited well for shooting panoramas, mostly because there will be distortions towards the sides of the image, and these do not stitch together well.

    Then again, at 13 mm you probably do not need panorama shots as the image is already quite wide. Just crop the image from the top and the bottom, and you have a “panorama look”.

    As for the “correct settings”. I don’t know whether your lens works well with your camera, but you should be able to use it as any other lens. If it only allows for manual controls, then you will want to measure using the exposure meter of your camera. Then remember the values for aperture and time, put the camera to M mode, set the time, and then set the aperture at the lens. That should do the trick.

  9. jim says:

    my lense is samyang 8mm f3.5 fisheye…I m trying to make a landscape panorama 360 …the focus ring of my lense sould i put it in 1,5m for best results when i use f8 or f11..??

  10. Mark Zanzig says:

    Jim, to be sure, I’d use the Live View function of your camera and zoom into the picture to the max. Then use the same setting for all the images of your panorama.

  11. jim says:

    Hi Mark, i believe i am in the right way with your help!
    I would like to ask you also what is the right thing to do…i shoot 3 pictures (normal-over-under exposed+-2) in every 30 degrees, so i take 12*3=36 fotos for HDR results…if i want to fix something in some fotos what is the right way to do this…??

    thanks