the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Hints for Shooting Panoramas

Wahclella Falls

Wahclella Falls, Oregon - a 4-shot vertical panorama

A neighbor of mine asked me this weekend to stitch together a set of images he took in New Zealand into a panorama. It was an easy enough task, except that it seems the camera was on auto when the photos were taken. This led to very nicely exposed individual images, but there were exposure differences between the shots. With exposure the differences, the images in your pano might stitch well, but it will be obvious where one ends and the other starts. In this case, it took some Lightroom and Photoshop time to get the images tweaked so they better matched.

I’ve taken a few panoramic images (four of which are shown here) and along the way have learned a few secrets to successfully shooting panoramas. The two main secrets to shooting successful panoramas are to 1) keep all the camera settings the same for all the shots – this includes exposure, focus, and focal length, and 2) to move the camera along a level plane, typically either horizontal or vertical. Here are some hints to shooting panos:

  1. shoot in manual exposure mode – use your camera’s meter to get a f-stop and shutter speed, than turn the camera to manual mode and set the f-stop and shutter speed to the same settings; do not change them through the series of shots
  2. for jpegs, shoot with manual white balance – do not use auto white balance, pick one setting (such as cloudy) and leave it there
  3. better yet, shoot in raw – and then process the images exactly the same way prior to blending (more on my workflow below)
  4. shoot in manual focus mode – use the autofocus to set the focus, than turn it off and shoot all the images without changing the focus
  5. use a tripod – to help keep the camera level and moving in a single plane; if you don’t have a tripod, be careful to move the camera in a single plane. When handholding, most people have a tendency to sweep upward or downward. Even with a tripod, without special equipment, it is difficult to a good series of shots without some movement off your preferred plane.
  6. consider photographing with the camera vertical for horizontal panos and horizontal for vertical panos – though following this advice will result in more images , it will give your panorama more width (and more fudge room for imperfect sweeps)
  7. don’t compose the main subject too close to the edge of the frame – after stitching the images together, you will need to crop off where the frames do not line up exactly;  you don’t want to crop off part of your main subject
  8. it’s better not to use a wide-angle lens – wide angle shots have distortions which make it more difficult to stitch properly
  9. compose the first shot at either end of the pano, then take a picture with your hand or fingers in front of the lens; do this again at the end – this marks the beginning and ending of the series, making it easier to figure out which images belong together when doing the stitching
  10. overlap the shots by at least 20 to 25% – I typically look for some distinct feature about 1/3 off the right side of the frame (when shooting a horizontal pano sweeping rightward), take the shot, than recompose with that distinct feature on the left-hand frame edge for the next shot
  11. shoot fairly quickly – to avoid having changes in light, clouds, etc. between frames

I almost always shoot in raw, and my basic processing workflow for panoramas goes like this:

  1. Import the images into Lightroom and adjust the white balance (even if the auto white balance looks fine, move the sliders a little so auto is no longer selected) and correct the chromic aberration on one image.
  2. Copy those adjustments and paste to all the other images.
  3. Select all the images, right click on the mouse, and select the merge in Photoshop option.
  4. Allow Photoshop to merge with its auto settings – most times this works well, occasionally I’ll need to try different setting or even do it manually
  5. After Photoshop merges the images, check the seams to see if they match well, and if so, save the file and go back to Lightroom.
  6. In Lightroom, select the Photoshop file just created, go to the Develop module, and now start my normal processing workflow (which is the subject of another post)
Spring Flowers

3-shot panorama from the Wright Conservatory in Tacoma

Strait of Juan de Fuca

3-shot panorama of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics

Antelope Valley

6-shot panorama of Antelope Valley, California

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8 responses

  1. Thanks for tips!

    January 15, 2012 at 6:20 pm

  2. Jim White

    I did a face palm at the idea of bracketing the exposures with shots that have hands as markers … That’s inspired! I love simple and effective tips. Thanks joe!

    January 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    • Jim, I wish I could say it was my idea, but I read it someplace and just started doing it this last year and found it to be very helpful when going through my images in Lightroom (especially because I tend to take so many similar shots).

      January 16, 2012 at 9:25 am

  3. Some great advice here. I would not discount the use of wide angle lenses though. Using a telephoto versus wide-angle gives a very different look to the resulting panoramas. Both can work well under the right circumstances IMO.

    January 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    • Yes, Kah Kit, what you say is true. And stitching software (in Photoshop and elsewhere) is better than it use to be, making it easier to stitch together wide-angle panoramas. I have had some difficulty with it in the past, but if the perspective is better with a wide-angle, than that is what you should use (and stitch together manually if necessary should the software not be able to handle it). Thanks for pointing this out.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      • I think it depends on what kind of look you’re after. I’ve had no trouble using CS5 to stitch together wide angle frames which I often shoot handheld or on a normal tripod head as I don’t own any specialised pano equipment.

        January 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm

  4. Would love to forever get updated great web blog ! .

    January 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  5. Good thought!
    Keep posting

    February 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

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