Creating Panoramic Photographs

Sometimes one photograph just doesn’t do justice to the scene before you. You want to take a bunch of photographs and somehow combine them together into one big photograph like I did in the photo above (click for a larger view)

With a DSLR creating a panoramic photo is a two part process. First you will need to take a series of photographs and the second is to use software to combine the photos into the final photograph.

I’ve found the following steps helpful when taking the photographs:

  1. While it’s possible to create the photos for a panoramic without a tripod, it’s much easier if you use one. I find it easier to plan the shots I want to take with the camera on a tripod. Without a tripod your results may vary from what you thought.
  2. If the scene is horizontal in nature, I turn the camera in a vertical (portrait) position. You end up with more real estate in the final pano. If the scene is vertical, I put the camera in a horizontal position for the same reason
  3. Then I determine where I want the pano to start and move my camera left to right over the area I want to photograph without actually taking any photos. I do this to make sure as I turn through the scene that I’m not missing an area that I want in the photograph. If I find that I’m cutting something off (think the top of a mountain for example) I adjust the focal length of my lens and repeat. Now you know why my first step was to put the camera on a tripod. šŸ˜‰
  4. I start with the camera in Aperture priority and choose an aperture based on how much depth of field I want. Usually with a pano you want a lot of detail so I usually start with f11. Take a test shot and note what shutter speed your camera chose.
  5. Change your camera to manual mode and enter the camera settings from your test shot. This is so that all your photos have the same setting. Also nothing else on your camera should be in an automatic mode for the same reason.
  6. If your test shot was made using an automatic ISO, change your ISO to match your test shot
  7. If you used Automatic White Balance, change it to daylight or cloudy
  8. Finally change your lens from auto focus to manual
  9. Start shooting your sequence of photos by first taking a picture of you hand or fingers to mark the start. As you shoot your sequence, you need to overlap your photos by 20%. End your sequence with another photo of your hand.
  10. Experiment. Repeat steps 2 – 9 with different settings and see which sequence you like best
  11. Then onto the post processing to create the actual panoramic
Here’s an example of the sequence of photographs I used for a vertical panorama and the final result.

Example of a vertical panoramic

Post-Processing – This is where you use your software to stitch together your individual photos to create one big panoramic. How you do this is going to depend on what software you are using.

  1. I import my photos into Adobe Lightroom. Usually any photos I’ve taken for a pano is just a subset of the photos I’ve taken that day.
  2. As I’m reviewing the photos in Lightroom, I use the pick flag to mark the photos that I like and I use a color flag to mark the photos that were shot as part of a sequence for a pano. I use other color flags to mark the ones I autobracketed for HDR, or that I want to convert to Black & White.
  3. I filter on the color flag that identifies which ones I want to convert to a panoramic
  4. Remember I suggested using a photo of your hand to show the start and finish of a sequence. I select each photo between the hands and then select Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop
  5. Adobe Photoshop will open with the Photomerge dialog box. I accept the defaults of Auto & Blend Images together and click OK. Photoshop will do the rest.
  6. You’ll end up with some white space, so you’ll need to crop to remove.
  7. Save the file and it will appear back in your Lightroom catalog.

Here’s an example of a sequence of photographs for a horizontal panorama and the final result.

Example of a horizontal panoramic

I’ve a couple more examples of finished panoramic photos on my Smugmug site. I’ve attempted more but still working on my success rate šŸ˜‰

For more tips on panoramic photography or to see if I missed any tips, check out these links

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