Getting the Perfect Panorama

Getting the Perfect Panorama. Professional photography tips and advice from Master Photographer Mark Laurie.

Panoramas are very dramatic images to create. Here are a few tricks to get the most spectacular panos with nearly any camera, even your phone.

Jack Davis first showed me this trick. Rather than trying to get the scene all in one horizontal shot, do a series of them, overlapped so you can have something to line up in the stitching process later.

The trick is to not be intuitive doing them horizontally. Make the most of the approach by doing vertical shots to overlap. You will get more images each with a larger file size. Jack tells the story of a shot he took in Hawaii with a point and shoot. The hill overlooking a famous visit was a porcupine of expensive tripoded cameras with serious photographers, each guarding their tiny bit of vista perch.

He slipped in apologizing with his snap camera, proceeding to take a series of hand held, overlapping images, 10 across and 3 down.  They all chuckled at the “amateur” attempt. His final stitched file was hundreds of megs in size, rich in detail, surpassing anything the serious photographers would have created.

A tripod does help, but don’t work with too wide of an angle lens, or as you spin the tripod you will create a disturbing perspective that will seem to bulge in the middle.

With this vertical overlapping approach, you can use a normal, even slight, telephoto lens or, if there is some distance, an actual telephoto lens.

The trick to the overlay is to give enough of it that the software (or your eye if you are doing it manually) can find detail to match to. Besides Photoshop – which has perfected the overlap effect, even giving it to you in layers you can tweak – there are a lot of other imaging programs that do the same. You can even find some specialty programs that just do that. Most are free or very cheap, with the bonus of being a stand alone program. Search “panoramic software” in Google and you will find lots. Some will do exposure adjustments between frames to fine tune the match.

Getting the Perfect Panorama. Professional photography tips and advice from Master Photographer Mark Laurie.

There are 7 things to do that will create powerful panoramic shots.

1) Don’t go autofocus. Focus on a point then switch to manual focus and leave it.  You need to have the depth of field match in each frame.

2) Don’t do auto exposure. Take a reading, even test it by checking the histogram. Then put it on manual with the same settings and don’t touch it.

3) Watch for moving things, like cars, people, wildlife, flags etc. Having the same person appear in several of the same frames looks odd unless it is intentional (which, by the way, is cool too). Don’t put something like a waving flag in the middle of your overlap. It will be hard to match up.

4) If not on a tripod, be very steady, take a deep breath before each image and let it out as you take the shot.

5) If not on a tripod, be sure you stay on the same plane. Remember you have pre-focused so if you move in or out, something will go in and out of focus.

6) Don’t worry about the quality of camera or lens you have, or even the size of file it creates. When you are done it will be a big file full of detail because the camera is only doing a small bit per shot.

7) Still think about composition and an interest point. There should be something in the image that is the focal point; rule of skinny thirds still applies.

Have a fun time with it. Do stuff like flip a layer of the image to create a mirror version of it.

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