tutorials

Try something different - make a panorama

 

"The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera" said famous photographer W. Eugene Smith once. Well he's still right. Our current digital cameras have a limited field of view, which often don't do justice to the scene we're trying to capture.

Luckily, the digital part of our camera can also help to overcome this problem: with panoramic photography. A panorama photo gives a much better feel of being there than a regular photo. It's something that I've really become addicted to and it's relatively easy as well. If you want to preserve detail in your images and still want to have a wide field of view, you can simply stitch a number of overlapping images together.

For smart phones and tablets various panorama apps are available and some new cameras feature a built-in sweep panorama function. In all cases you simply sweep the camera while pressing the shutter. The in-camera software does the rest. It works remarkably well and it's a lot of fun!

Of course there are also some limitations with this type of software; moving objects get smeared or cut off and parallax in the foreground creates stitching errors. For a more professional result, a panoramic head helps to remove parallax altogether (although I still do a lot of panoramas hand held), and for cameras without a panorama function dedicated software is essential. This software also allows the stitching of multiple rows of images and even making interactive full 360 degree panoramas.

My favourite panorama software is PTGui Pro. It's extremely user friendly and intuitive. Here is how it works:

 

1. Open or drag the overlapping images into the program

 

 

2. Click on Align images

 

 

3. Click on Create panorama

 

 

 

 

If the overlap is done correctly (I recommend at least 25%) and providing no parallax is present, the result is a perfect high resolution image that can easily compete with the sharpness of medium format images made by professional landscape photographers. Besides automatic stitching, PTGui also allows you to correct skewed and bent horizons, add or correct control points (for difficult panoramas), publish to a website (which work on tablets and smart phones as well), or mask unwanted objects (in the pro version). I often make panoramas as large as 150 images. 

PTGui has a lot of useful features for correcting skewed images, adding or correcting overlapping points ('control points') and selecting the correct projection. The Pro version of PTGui allows individual masking of images to remove ghosts (e.g. when you photograph moving objects) and enables exposure bracketed images to create an HDR panorama.

A few more tips, before you blast off to try this yourself:

  • Set your camera to manual exposure and white balance to ensure a smooth result
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  • Hold the camera vertical for a more natural looking panorama (this avoids the panoramas becoming excessively long and narrow). For a good quality large print 5 -7 vertical overlapping images are sufficient. Use a length/height ratio of around 3:1 as a starting point.
  • Shooting panoramic images consumes a lot of storage space, so don't forget to bring an extra memory card!
  • Use a longer focal length to avoid parallax if you make hand held panoramas
  • If you shoot nearby objects, avoid parallax by turning the camera around the nodal point of the lens. This can only be achieved with a proper pano head.

 

Have fun!

         

 

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