The Big, Wide World: Panoramic Photography Fun and Frustration

As far as the eye can see.

This is what you say when you’re talking about whopping vastness, right? You know what’s just as impressive? WIDE as the eye can see. Your eyes can take in nearly 200 horizontal degrees of a scene if you pan them from side to side while holding your head still!

Photographs of standard proportion don’t let us enjoy the full width of a scene as our eyes would in real life. Panoramic photos do. Though satisfying to the brain, beautiful panoramic images can be frustrating to create. Here are some tips to get you on your way to taking great ones.

Grand Canyon Panoramic photo tips Lawrence Camera

  • No wide-angle lens needed

    When multiple images are stitched together into a panorama, the corners of them are cropped slightly for proper blending and to minimize distortion. The wider the image, the more cropping needed, and the lower-resolution your final image will be. Shoot with your regular lens.

  • Watch out for parallax

    Near and far objects don’t always align correctly when you overlap multiple images. To understand this concept, extend a thumb in front of you and notice how objects around it seem to shift whenever you pan your head. Now remember, the tripod mounting point for cameras is in the middle of the camera instead of the optical middle of the lens. To avoid parallax, the pivot point really needs to be dead-center! Fix this problem by using a handy, inexpensive gadget called a nodal slide.

  • Use a tripod and remote shutter control

    Successful panoramic shots don’t happen when you can’t keep the camera and horizon steady. You’ll need a tripod that has a head that can be locked in a level position, so there will be no vertical tilting of the camera.

  • Shoot in manual mode

    If you don’t, your camera will recalibrate for different exposures as you pan the scene, and the result will be strange dark and bright spots on the stitched image. Scan the scene and see what aperture and shutter speeds your camera is suggesting, then pick a pair of settings close to the middle (or slightly darker) and shoot away.

  • Use 25-30 percent overlap

    Some people say 15 percent is enough, but why risk it? I say it’s wise to err the side of too much overlap. Most photo-editing software needs a hearty amount of overlap to get the stitching right.

  • Watch for moving objects

    Unless you want an art shot—thing car taillights streaking by—try to minimize movement in the frame. Wind and water can give you a little trouble on this point, but they’re usually not enough to ruin your chances at a good panoramic.

  • Work quickly

    I’m not suggesting you rush. An artist needs time. But if you take too much time, things like lighting changes and cloud movement will be an issue.

  • Consider vertical shots

    Some photographers suggest shooting vertically to get a great panorama. This requires more shots but results in higher resolution (and an even more spacious scene). If you want to shoot this way, you’ll need a tripod that allows you to tilt your camera vertically while still being able to rotate 360. Otherwise, there are also special L-brackets you can attach to camera and tripod as a workaround.

Don’t think I’ve overlooked the automated panorama setting on many point-and-shoots and smartphones. You can, of course, use said setting to sweep a scene and instantly stitch together images into something pleasant. But unless you want to spend your nest egg on a panoramic camera, there’s really nothing quite like taking the time to learn how to shoot and stitch on your own to get a high-res panoramic that does you proud. Good luck, and don’t forget to share your panoramic shots on our Facebook page when you’re ready!

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One thought on “The Big, Wide World: Panoramic Photography Fun and Frustration

  1. […] landscape. So, before I left home, I was a bit preoccupied with making sure I had all I needed for shooting panoramic.  I brought everything I needed, except an extra battery. This oversight didn’t dawn on me until […]

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