Creating Panorama Images
There are a few terms to remember when shooting for panoramas. They are Level, Parallax, Pan, Overlap, and Stitch. In this article I will try my best to cover all areas as best as possible. This article is for basic panoramas. If you wish to take it further with 360 degree panoramas, triangular panoramas, vertical panoramas, etc… Just search the web, there are very helpful articles all over the web. It is where I did my research, and then I began experimenting on my own.
First I will go over some necessary and some helpful equipment and accessories.
Your necessary equipment will consist of the following.
1)Camera (With manual settings a plus)
2)Steady Tripod (Bubble levels are a plus)
3)If no bubble level on your tripod, I would recommend picking up a level from a hardware store. A simple 5” or 7” carpenters level will be good.
4)Photo editing program capable of working with layers.
Your helpful equipment will consist of the following.
1)Panoramic Tripod head (Pricey, but you can also build your own)
2)Hot Shoe mountable 2 axis bubble level. Nifty little bit of kit.
3)Panoramic Stitching program (Preferred method)
4)Remote Shutter Release
Setting up your shot
Take in your scene carefully. If the scene is of a large cityscape (Skyline) try not to include anything that is near to the camera. Besides possible focus issues, these objects will seem out of place, and also show obvious camera movement. The key to panoramas is to make it look like it is one image, not a series of images.
Try to avoid moving objects like people, animals, etc… Chances are they will show up as ghosts even if your exposures are short. This happens because your images will overlap each other, and if that moving subject is on an overlapping section, chances are that subject will be in one part of the over lap and not the other. And when you stitch images together you (or your pano. program) will be fading each layer as needed, creating a ghost out of your moving subject.
What ever your scene may be, try to make sure you shoot it when the sun is directly behind you. This will help get the right exposure on each image, therefore making your stitching seamless; it is a real pain to stitch when the sky is multiple shades of blue. If the sun is to the far right, that end of the pano. will need a shorter exposure then the far left, and vice versa. And even then, the color will be off.
Try to set up the shot that is fairly balanced. Of course, don’t make it boring, but I wouldn’t recommend a shot with tall structures or mountains to the left, and a blank sky, or foreground on the right. It just looks to heavy on one side. Of course, this area is up to the photographer’s discretion. Photography is an art, so be artistic, and use your best judgment.
If you are shooting from a tripod, make sure it is level across the whole plain that you will be panning. So before you actually get into shooting, level that tripod, and pan across what you will be photographing. Look at the levels on your tripod (Or your carpenters level) at where each image will be photographed. (Example: Start point, 2nd point, 3rd point, 4th point, and so on) make sure it is level at each point, leveling both vertical and horizontal. (Remember, just because your tripod is level does not mean your camera is level.) So having either a quick release with a bubble level, or a carpenters level to rest against your camera is a plus. Also very helpful is the “Hot Shoe Bubble Level” this particular level checks both horizontal and vertical levels of your camera, not the tripod.
So, the basic set up is ready, and you are ready to start shooting. So lets move on.
Shooting your panoramic
It’s simple really. Let’s say the shot is 3 images wide. Take the readings on your first shot, make sure your exposure is correct, and take the shot. Move the camera to the right, and now you want to make sure between 20-30% of your last shot is in the next shot as well. After your second shot is complete, pan, and take your 3rd shot, again with 20-30% of the last shot over lapping.
Making sure your exposures between shots are approximately the same is important. But you there is a key to doing this correctly. FORGET THE APERTURE!!! Lets say the far left shot is brighter then the 2nd shot, and the 2nd shot is brighter than the 3rd shot. Again, do not use the aperture. Using the aperture can possibly affect the focus and DOF of the scene. So, either use exposure compensation or your shutter speed to compensate for this difference in light.
One important thing to add. When shooting panoramas, I suggest shooting the scenes multiple times, using multiple exposures. This helps ensure that you have enough material to work with just in case. Aside from shooting with multiple exposures, I also suggest shooting the scene slightly differently a few times. This way you have other angles, or other focal lengths to play with when you get to your computer.
There are a few things to worry about while shooting panoramas that will make stitching a pain… That is lens distortion and parallax error.
Lens distortion is self explanatory, the inward curve at both ends of your image.
Parallax or Parallax Error is a little more involved. To help you understand this, take a finger, and point it upwards between your 2 eyes. (Approx 1 inch away) and look down at your mouse. Now compare what you are seeing by closing your left eye, and then your right eye. Another experiment, continue to hold your finger up, this time just close one eye, and turn your head from left to right and right to left. Notice your finger moving closer and further away… These are examples of parallax. Having your camera on a tripod will help some. But to achieve perfection with the least or no parallax error, a panoramic tripod head is suggested.
What a panoramic tripod head does is it places the “Nodal” point of your lens over the center of the rotating tripod head, making your camera rotate around your lens rather then your lens rotate around your camera. The problem here is panoramic tripod heads are expensive. Below you will find a link to various panoramic tripod heads, and also do it yourself tripod heads.
As far as lens distortion, I suggest researching your lens of choice to see how dramatic its lens distortion is. In a perfect world you do not want any distortion because it will make aligning the edges of 2 images difficult. I found that my 18-70mm Nikkor @ 18mm was no good for panoramas because it distorted at the edges a little too much, while my 50mm f1.8 was excellent for panoramas because there was little to no distortion at the edges making stitching much easier. Remember not to worry about the longer focal length, after all, you will be stitching multiple images so as long as everything fits in vertically, you are ok. Just take more shots to capture the entire scene.
Considering I am not the best person at explaining something 100%. At the end of this write up I will post a bunch of links that you can read more about panoramas. This way if you are confused about anything, you will know just where to find it.
A) A device for establishing a horizontal line or plane by means of a bubble in a liquid that shows adjustment to the horizontal by movement to the center of a slightly bowed glass tube.
B) A measurement of the difference of altitude of two points by means of a level.
Parallax- The apparent displacement or the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points not on a straight line with the object.
Pan- Movement from side to side. Left/Right – Right/Left.
Overlap- To extend over or past and cover a part of.
Stitch- Merging 2 images together.
Nodal Point- Is the point where different rays from the same point cross each other.
1)Panoramic Tripod heads
2)Home Made Panoramic Heads
3)Panoramic Stitching Software
4)Links to more panoramic write ups and information
NOTE: If the links do not show up as links, then copy and paste them into your browser.
I hope this article was of some help to you all who are thinking about getting into panoramic photography. As I stated earlier, I am better at doing than I am at showing. If you have any questions feel free to contact me via PM or Photozo email which is ScottL@photozo.com. I will be glad to give any more help that I can.
Some of my personal panoramas...
Larger Versions of my panos can be seen at the following link.
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