a4 November 2012

Tutorial: shooting panoramas

I took this photo during a cruise between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote islands. As I was taking photos from the quite crowded ship I decided to shoot handheld. I took 13 photos for this panorama with a wide-angle lens.
Recently I took quite a lot of panorama photos like this or this. Today I would like to share with you some ideas on taking this kind of photos.


In case of panorama photos you don't need much additional equipment. I would only recommend a good tripod (but you can also take your photos hand-held if you have steady hands). I use a tripod with a ball head but much better results can be achieved when using panoramic head.

Taking photos

Taking photos is quite easy:
  1. Switch to Manual Mode on your camera. Set ISO to a fixed value (i.e. something else than Auto), set White Balance to a fixed value (also something different than Auto) and take a test shot to make sure exposure is correct. Setting ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed and White Balance to fixed values makes sure that all of the photos will be exposed in the same way.
  2. Take a photo of your hand (or a sheet of paper, or some object). What for? Imagine you go for a shoot during which you take a few hundreds of photos - panorama being just one of them. When you then open all your photos in Lightroom it will be quite hard to find shots making your panorama. But if you see a photo of your hand you will know that photos that follow it are making a panorama.
  3. Take your first shot.
  4. Rotate yourself a bit (if you shoot hand-held) or your camera (if you use a tripod). You should rotate by such an angle that previous photo will overlap with a new one by about 20% or more.
  5. Take another shot.
  6. Rotate yourself/camera.
  7. Take another shot... and so on until you think you have enough shots.
  8. I believe that it's always good to take the same shot a least twice to make sure there won't be any issues (like out of focus, or some objects entering the frame) so once you finish shooting panorama, take another one.
Note: I recommend shooting in vertical orientation. This way you will be able to have taller panoramas so they won't be ultra thin.

Stitching panorama and post-processing

Now you have a lot of separate photos. You will merge them into a panorama in a process known as panorama stitching. You can use software dedicated for it (like PTGui) or use Lightroom/Photoshop combination. I use second approach because it integrates better into my workflow. But below you will find both of them.

In Lightroom:
  1. Make adjustments to a single photo.
  2. Select all photos making a panorama.
  3. Click on the Sync button to synchronize all adjustments.
  4. Right-click on your selection, select Edit In -> Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.
When in Photoshop CS, drag all images into it.
  1. If you shoot RAWs, Adobe Camera Raw will open. Select one photo, make adjustments to it. Then click on Select All and Synchronize making sure all checkbox are checked.
  2. Click on the Open Images button.
  3. Click on File -> Autumate -> Photomerge.
  4. Click on the Add Open Files button. I leave other settings on default most of the time. Sometimes I also check Vignette Removal checkbox.
  5. Click on the Ok button.
  6. After merging finishes, click Layer -> Flatten Image. At this stage you might have something like the image below.

At this stage my photo looked as above. As you can see there are some white spaces caused by not so ideal matching. You can either crop them or try to fill them manually (using Content Aware fill and/or cloning). I used a combination of these 2 tools.

In case your horizon is a bit off (like in the image below), select Ruler tool (or press I key) and draw a line. Click on the Straighten button to straighten it.

Next thing I did was to open Filter -> Topaz -> Adjust to add some punch to this photo. I used Brilliant Warm preset with some little tweaks.

Last thing I did was to sharpen this image. I used Unsharp Mask for this purpose.

HDR panoramas

Taking HDR panoramas doesn't differ much from taking regular panoramas. One difference is that instead of taking a single shot you need to take a bracketed sequence and then rotate, take another sequence and rotate again.

After that there are two approaches:
  1. Stitch your photos to a few panoramas (one for each exposure) and then merge them to HDR and tone-map them in Photomatix like with regular bracketed sequence.
  2. Tone-map each bracketed sequence and stitch results to a panorama.

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