By: Marian Wyse, Creve Coeur, MO
From the earliest days of photography panoramic images have captured sweeping landscapes, glittering cities, and soaring architecture. Modern digital cameras and editing software make the creation of even large, complex panoramas a relatively painless process.
So, what exactly is a panoramic photograph? Standard photographs are usually produced with a length/width, or aspect ratio, of 2:3. Panoramic photographs combine several, or even hundreds of overlapped standard photographs into a single image, usually with an aspect ratio greater than 1:2, and a very wide field of view. They are usually shot in the landscape, or horizontal format, but are just as effective in portrait orientation [this is especially useful when shooting waterfalls or tall buildings].
Advantages to this merging of many images are:
Production of panoramic images of large, static, primarily distant scenes involves the following basic procedure:
All of these settings should remain unchanged throughout the exposures, to maintain the seamless appearance of a single image in the final panorama. Auto anything is usually bad news for panoramic shooting â€“ it is a full manual operation.
Begin shooting the component images, leaving a generous amount of space at each edge for later cropping. Because these images will ultimately be digitally stitched together, with software recognizing matching components, they should be overlapped by at least 30%. If the scene is dynamic, such as during sunrises or sunsets, you will need to take the set of images as quickly as possible, to maintain an even appearance.
If the lack of time and/or patience precludes following the above set of guidelines, many cameras and phones incorporate excellent in-body panoramic capabilities.
Scenes with significant foreground components, especially those with straight edges, such as architectural interiors or nearby fences in landscapes, may require specialized equipment to produce ideal stitched panoramic images. This is due to the optical effect of parallax, in which objects appear to be in different positions when viewed from different angles. As a sensor is rotated to view various parts of a scene, closer items will shift apparent position within the group of images. This can result in random pieces of the item floating weirdly around in the final panorama, and can be very difficult to repair. To avoid this issue, the camera must be mounted on a rail that adjusts the camera position to eliminate the parallax effect, or a â€œshiftâ€ type lens can be used. [The above 6-image pano was taken with an old, adapted shift lens]. In the absence of this specialized equipment, it is best to maintain as great a distance as feasible from prominent foreground items when shooting panoramas.
An additional complication in shooting panoramas is subject movement. A panorama of, say, a crowded, busy room can result in multiple poorly stitched areas where people had moved between shots within the overlapped parts of the image. To avoid this, objects in motion should be isolated as much as possible near the center of a single frame, avoiding the 30% overlapped areas on both sides. That said, modern stitching software can sometimes overcome this issue surprisingly well.
(Monument Valley, Creve Coeur Camera trip 2016)
After the component images are taken, they must be stitched together utilizing available software. Software choices include Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as free programs such as Hugin and Microsoft ICE. These programs will merge your images into a single large [sometimes really, really large] image file, and will usually let you adjust some of the overall geometry of the final image. You then will crop and process the image as you would a single photograph. The final image will have the drama, impact, and fine detail that has enchanted photographers for generations, and be ready to grace your wall.