Panoramic photos are a wonder to behold – capturing the broad expanse of the vista all in one image and fascinating the viewer.
They are easier to create than may be expected. However, you do need some basic fundamentals and you must be willing to take the time to capture the images correctly.
Sometimes referred to as wide-angle photography, panoramic images have a wider aspect ratio than usual and cover a wider field of view (FOV) than the human eye.
Digital panoramic photography is a technique that uses software to “stitch” a number of images together.
They are at least twice as wide as they are high and are normally viewed as a wide strip. They may be much wider than this and may even encompass a full 360-degree coverage.
Specialized equipment isn’t necessary; even the simplest of digital cameras can be used.
The idea is to take a series of photographs that overlap by 20 – 30 per cent horizontally as you swing the camera from one side to the other, with less than 10 per cent difference vertically.
Then you use stitching software to put it all together.
Getting proper alignment of the images is paramount.
While it is possible to stand in one spot and carefully swing your body around while taking photographs to stitch together later, this will usually result in much of the scene being lost.
The best way to create panoramic photos is with your digital camera on a tripod.
Some things to consider when working on a panoramic photo are the lens, camera orientation, level of the camera and exposure.
Using a wide angle lens may require fewer photos, but may cause distortion and make objects in the panorama appear further away and much smaller.
The choice of the camera’s orientation, horizontal (landscape mode) or vertical (portrait mode), is made by considering the scene being captured.
Horizontal mounting requires fewer images to cover the breadth of the image. However, it may not include some vertical elements such as buildings or mountains.
Having the camera vertical may include those taller subjects but will mean having to stitch more images together for the finished panorama.
Ensure your camera is level so you don’t lose anything as you pan across or end up with a final print that looks as if it’s on an angle.
There are specialized tripod heads for this, but as long as you have a bubble level to ensure your camera is level, you can achieve acceptable results. A pan/tilt head is preferred to a ball head.
Practice is important, as even with the bubble levels it can be difficult to achieve the goal of keeping the camera on the same plane as it rotates from one side to the other.
Exposure for panoramic images can be difficult, as the lighting throughout the entire scene may be quite different from one side to the other.
Use auto exposure lock or the manual setting so the exposure stays the same through all the photos. Balance the exposure so it will give you optimum information throughout the entire panorama.
Without control of the exposure, stitching will be obvious and will detract from the overall appearance of your photo.
Harsh sunlight with deep-black shadows, brightly lit on one side and not the other, makes it difficult to obtain results you will be pleased with. The best days are slightly overcast with light shadow.
Make sure you will not be shooting directly into the sun, as lens flare will ruin an otherwise great image.
Panoramic images can be displayed as regular images on the internet or as an image that can be panned and zoomed using software designed for that purpose.
Stitching can be done with software such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or with specialized panoramic software.
Have some fun trying your hand at panoramic images. Image Composite Editor (ICE) is a free editor that works well.
Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.