How to shoot panoramas !

First, what is a panorama?


Strictly a panorama is an unusually wide picture that shows at least as much width-ways as the eye is capable of seeing, if not a greater left-to-right field of view than we can ever see (e.g. it shows 'behind you' as well as 'in front'). 

But there is more to it than that. I love panoramas. There's something very appealing about their shape. Its because we see the world more in these dimensions than the old limited near square format of standard film/sensor frames. For me, it's like a window that allows one full access to an area he previously visited.

What do you need?

The most basic item you need is, well, a camera. :) Basically, any camera will do, but, as with any craft, the better the tools you have, the better or faster the job is done. You can start by making panoramas with any compact digital camera (some even have a special panoramic mode that gets the job done faster for you). Once you start enjoying taking panoramas on every occasion, you can think about getting a digital SLR camera. Any brand will do, and at the beginning you can use the standard lens that came with the camera. Later on, you can upgrade your kit with a special fisheye lens (e.g. Sigma 8mm 3.5 or Nikon's Nikkor 10.5mm).

How to shoot pictures then?

The most basic way of shooting pictures for panoramas is handheld. That is, you keep your camera in a vertical position (a.k.a. Portrait position) and you start shooting pictures, rotating around on a 360 degrees axis.

At the beginning, this movie was very usefull for me, as it is more easy to understand what you have to do when you see someone else do it first :). 
So, let's watch mr. Jeffrey Martin, the creator of the world's biggest panoramas, those of Prague and London (well done !) :

Special thanks go to the guys at Panomonkey  for a very good beginner's guide.

Right, so here are some things to remember:

  • When shooting handheld, the FIRST picture of your panorama should be STRAIGHT. That is, it should not be tilted in any direction. The other images in your panorama can be pointing up or down - it doesn’t matter. But the first image must be straight! If you don’t shoot your first image straight, the resulting panorama will not be straight, either.
  • Always take the pictures at the same time, with minimum time lost between each shot. Why is that? Because, things often tend to move around us, thus creating errors in the final stitched picture. Because I took too much time shooting this panorama, the man with the red shorts got messed up. :)
  • Try to have a good overlap on pictures. Usually you must choose between 20% - 50 % overlap. Remember: More overlap means it is easier to blend lighting/colour differences (if you make a mistake with exposure/colour temperature or the light changes anyway). A larger overlap also makes it generally easier to edit out moving subjects (vehicles, people, etc). So, choose accordingly to what's going on around you :). 
  • Focus: Shoot all your pictures with the same focus or else, the stitching process will be a nightmare. Try to focus on an object at medium range for the first picture, and keep that focus constant for the whole panorama. If you choose an object that is too far, the ones that are closer to you will get blurred, like in this panorama
  • Shoot as many images as you need to cover the entire desired area (a sphere for the full efect or just a cylinder). With fisheye lens, you usually need between 3-7 pictures but with other lens you can go from 10 pictures to as high as 100 (It took me 107 pcts., to be exact, for a full spherical panorama of my living room, so don't give up easily:)
  • Exposure: In the beginning , it's better to use automatic exposure. If you have a DSLR camera or you can change the aperture value, try to set it to F/8, for the sharpest pictures. Try to shoot all photos with the same exposure, and if you are shooting a very high contrast scene ( e.g. sun and shade in the same images) then you can use bracketing. See what I mean about having exposure problems in my panorama here.
  • I would suggest, if possible, to avoid positioning the camera too close to the edge of a piece of scenery you intend to shoot. Best see what I mean in my panorama, shot near Curmatura chalet, in Piatra Craiului mountains. The wooden beam is not fully shown, it only extends to the left and right of the image.
  • Experiment with the camera position, for the full effect. Outdoor panoramas are at best when there are interesting things shown up close, and there are things of interest further away. Take a look at this.
  • Sometimes, when the sun is shining brightly and thus creating problems with lighting in the panorama, you can position the camera behind, say, a tree, so you only get the sun on the edges of the tree. Best see what I mean in my panorama here. I only got a portion of the full sun effect, and the snow blown away is very nicely lit.
Ok, that's all I can think about right now, but I'll update this as soon as I have something else worthy of mentioning.:) Always remember: "Practice makes perfect!"

So, next time you are going to a beautifull location, bring your camera with you, and give panoramas a try! Who knows? You might even end up shooting more than your regular pictures :)

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