Deal 7: How to make money through your photography
Back in the days of film cameras, creating a panoramic photograph meant either buying a particular, expensive camera or hours in the darkroom stitching images together by overlapping exposures onto the finished photo paper.
Panoramic photos were the realm of the professional with the time and funds to create gorgeous super wide angle shots.
But now, in the digital age, it’s not only simple to create panoramic images on your home computer, it’s become increasingly easier thanks to advances in software. There are still some general guidelines to follow to help you increase your odds of producing great photos because remember, you can’t fix everything in a computer after the fact. I’ve made a number of mistakes over the years in learning about panoramas and it’s my hope that these guidelines will help shorten your learning curve and give you a head start in creating stunning panoramic images.
Most point and shoot cameras beyond the most basic model come with a little used mode for creating panoramic images. This mode serves a couple of functions. First, it will use the display on the camera to show your last picture taken and then a live view of the next picture. This is done to help you line up you images and overlap them(we’ll talk about the importance of overlap in a minute). It also adjusts the camera to NOT change exposure settings in between shots as it normally would. This helps create even lighting through all the pictures, making stitching in the computer a lot easier (although a number of modern programs will also level exposure fairly well). The image below was created while using the Panorama Mode (Stitch Mode on some cameras) and taking over 25 images with an older Canon SD630 point and shoot.
Overlapping is one of the important areas in creating a panoramic image. Just one slip with not enough overlap can ruin an attempt at the grandest of wide angle shots. No one wants to see pictures of the Grand Canyon with a bar of white down the middle because of the failure to overlap properly. I overlap by 30% each time. Sometimes more. Most people say 15% works just fine. Experiment with your particular camera to find the sweet spot of overlap. Increasing the amount of overlap helps reduce “flaring” that happens when the software is forced to use all of the image frame, including the corners which may show distortion depending on your lens selection.
Keeping your camera level becomes more important as you combine more images. If you’re shooting four or five images there isn’t much your need to worry about. But if it’s a monster 40 image shot, it becomes more and more important to keep things on the level. Think of it this way; your lens is a curved peice of glass. When held level, all parts of the scene in front of it come in and hit the sensor and roughly the same angle. But if you point that camera down, say 45 degrees you now have distant objects, like mountains in the background, coming in at a much sharper angle than foreground objects. For a single picture, this isn’t a problem, but for a panorama it creates a fan effect which is not so easily fixed in the computer. What this means is as you pan the camera left to right, the distant objects will fan out and may not have ample overlap. Further, they will be more distorted and curved because of the angle their light enters the camera.
This is best shown in my own example below, taken at Bryce Canyon, Utah, back in 2005. I attempted to point my DSLR down too far in order to catch more of the canyon. But what happened instead is the distant horizon became naturally distorted as I used a 16mm lens. This distortion was too much to over come in the computer afterwards and the result was the choppy image you see here. The foreground detail lines up right, but not the distant horizon.
Here’s another lesson I learned the hard way. If you are using a DSLR or other camera that doesn’t have the nifty Panorama Mode, you’ll want to set your metering mode to manual. Otherwise you’ll end up with an image like this.
Can you see the difference in exposure in the skyline? The computer was able to adjust well enough to the foreground canyon, but failed to even out the sky all the way. Had I set the camera to manual, this would not happen. It’s also important to even out your metering, meaning scan the entire scene making note of the aperture and shutter speeds your camera is suggesting, then pick one pair of settings in the middle, or slightly darker to make sure any sky details is preserved. With those shutter and aperture settings dialed in, it’s time to shoot away.
Movement in the scene can be a thief of what would otherwise be a grand shot. Sometimes the blur, or doubling up of people, cars, planes or other moving objects is acceptable. But too many blurry spots (caused when the computer finds parts of the overlapping sections where things don’t line up) can ruin the shot. It may mean you need to take the images very quickly. And sometimes, that movement is just unavoidable.
Referencing the image in #3 above again, my second mistake in that image was using too wide of a lens. If I had gone with something closer to a 50mm lens and made multiple passes at the scene, the distortion in the distance would have been lessened and perhaps the shot could have been salvaged. A great wide angle lens does not always produce great panoramic shots. Sometimes it’s better to let the stitching software do what it does best and make multiple passes of the same scene, with ample overlap, to create your masterpiece.
With new software you are not limited to just a single pass from left to right to capture your desired image so don’t be afraid to make more than one pass. Start with the initial pass from left to right (or top to bottom) and then move up or down to grab more detail and make another pass. Remember the overlapping rule above and how it will now pertain to not only the sides of the shot, but also the top and bottom overlaps. Keep it tight and your image can have the added quality of extra skyline or foreground features previously missed.
Vertical shots are often overlooked. The same principles apply to verticals shots as do horizontal images. It may help to turn the camera on its side or you may find keeping the camera in a horizontal orientation works. Experiment a little with buildings and waterfalls and then start looking for other verticals you can shoot.
These are just a few of the basic guidelines to help you not make all the mistakes I have made in learning how to shoot panoramas over the years. You don’t need fancy, expensive cameras to create nice panoramic images, just a little known how and practice.
Do you have any particularly helpful panorama tricks you’ve learned? Share them in the comments section below and feel free to link to examples of great images as well.
UPDATE: Check out Part 2 of this post where we show you 20 examples of great stitched panoramic images.
August 27, 2013 12:15 am
Excellent website you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I'd really love to be a part of online community where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks a lot!
October 22, 2012 03:08 am
Hi. I'm new to photography and I don't know whether a DSLR is needed for better photos or a point and shoot is ok, cause I have a Nikon Coolpix L810 p&s camera. Also great post and very informative.
September 11, 2012 11:49 pm
good blog!! You could start many more. I love all the info offered. I will stay tuned.
February 1, 2012 12:44 am
Your hints and tips roughly parallel mine https://sites.google.com/site/ericballpanorama/home/hints-and-tips
1. Overlap each picture by a significant amount. The simplest way is to note a feature at the edge of each frame and place it in the middle of the next frame. More overlap means more chances to find good control points. Without sufficient overlap, it may be impossible to create the final image. So don't skimp - take lots of pictures. (There's nothing worse than coming home after a trip and discovering your photos don't overlap so there's no way to make a panorama.)
2. Take good pictures! Pictures which are out of focus, blurry or shaky will be just as bad in the final output. Plus, it makes it much harder to place control points!
3. Rotate the camera, not yourself. Although you can make a panorama from pictures taken as you rotate in place, nearby objects won't line up properly. There is an ideal point for rotation, at the centre of the camera's iris, but the closer the axis of rotation to this, the better. Heck, even just coming close makes things easier. Put the camera on some kind of pivot point, even your son's head!
4. Shoot on the level with the horizon through the middle of the frame. If you need a taller frame either turn the camera sideways or shoot additional overlapping rows. But it's much easier to have a good panorama if the pictures are level to start with. (Note: this can be corrected if the photos contain vertical lines, but it's tougher without.)
5. There is value in keeping as many camera settings as possible the same between shots, i.e. same exposure, white balance, focus, zoom (although the photos should be taken typically at the widest angle) and having the photos saved in RAW format. However, Hugin can "fix" most exposure differences between photos (given enough overlap), so getting the shot is more important than exposure. And if you are manually setting your exposure anyway, the next step is to take the same shot at multiple exposures then blend those into a single high dynamic resolution image.
I use Hugin and do a lot of manual effort to get the best results from what I have.
August 12, 2011 04:39 am
All sorts actually, Autostitch is great because there is nothing to do.... Except that when it goes wrong, there is nothing you can do. Still, I usually try it first.
When that does not work I use Autopano Giga ( http://www.neopanoramic.com/review/autopano_giga ).
March 15, 2011 06:32 am
Which software do you use to stitch the pictures?
January 13, 2011 02:44 pm
If people are looking for stiching software I use microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor). http://goo.gl/Wrp9
September 1, 2010 03:45 am
My thoughts on this stitching is i dont think it lives up to the quality of the original prints captured via a dedicated panoramic camera.
I dont really see it as an art when compared one single capture., however i do think things will improve and i have seen some really nice images. here.
I work as a full time photographer " social ) but have a background with film including large format. I do miss the excitement of seeing your images come through the wash where as now i dread to see how many images i shot at an event.
July 13, 2010 04:28 pm
One piece of advice I did not see mentioned here is when you begin your panorama, you should start to the left (because we generally read from left to right.) Also, as you begin the panorama series of photographs, take a photo with your left hand in the frame to signal the beginning of the panorama. And then after you take the last photo, snap another photo of your right hand. When you are reviewing your photos after uploading, this will remind you that you have a series of panoramas to stitch together.
December 14, 2009 07:38 am
I have a olympus e410. it has a panorama mode but does nto stitch it together. I also have an olympus shoot camera which does it automatically. can anyone give me advice on how to take panoramic shots
August 20, 2009 12:40 pm
Great to see the continued interest in this thread.
Here are a couple of Hugin efforts from me to add to the thread:
(Second one has a bit of Topaz Adjust applied too...)
August 20, 2009 12:33 pm
Mike, as for advice here's what I have. 98% of mine are hand held, not using a tripod. Tripods are great but with today's software you don't HAVE to use one. The biggest reason I've found to use a tripod is to make sure all photos are lined up - meaning saying in the 1st photo the horizon is 2/3 down the photo, using a tripod will make sure the horizon is 2/3 down in all the photos. There have been many times I start hand held on the left and by the time I get to the right I've moved up or down and now when I crop I get a very narrow area.
I've also found if I turn the camera sideways I can get more height in each photo meaning more height in the overall panorama with one row - but you can do multiple rows too.
Basically, I try to brace myself, turn the camera sideways, look through the viewfinder (I've got a Sony H50, not a DSLR but still find it better to use the viewfinder for keeping the camera steady) and move from left to right to line things up. Then I go back to the left and take the first photo. I move 2/3 to the right overlapping by at least 20% and take the next photo. I repeat until I'm done with the last photo on the right.
Then I use Hugin to build the panorama. Most of the time it does a great job. Now and then Photoshop does a better job. I've also used Autostitch, but I like Hugin better - and it's free (for Windows, not sure about Mac programs).
I agree with what you said - practice as much as possible. Some might turn out bad, some might turn out great. The more you practice the more often they will turn out fantastic. :)
Good luck and post some of yours so we can see them!
August 20, 2009 01:49 am
wow, those are some great photos. I also like to do panoramics and I think you forgot one piece of advice: practice as much as possible. You never know when that stellar shot is going to present itself.
Are there any followups to this? perhaps a few hints on making a seamless stitch would be nice.
August 14, 2009 03:58 pm
haven't really tried panoramic shot... my dslr doesn't have this feature...
July 25, 2009 07:26 am
i was there this january on a rafting trip and i can say these pictures are awesome.
July 16, 2009 04:03 am
This is good advice! Thanks! I use Auto Pano Pro to stitch together my panos. I have to do a lot of post porduction work because I don't keep the place level and things really do warp. Especially interiors when the angles are so sharp. Auto Pano does a great job though and does a great job on outdoor scenes.
July 9, 2009 01:32 am
For those who say you MUST use a tripod, here's 41 photos I took hand held and stitched using Hugin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/richtpt/3696100525/in/set-72157601861416710/. It might have been better with a tripod but I think it turned out pretty good.
Oh, and why 41 photos? I like to zoom in each photo so when you zoom in on the pano you see some really good detail. I could have done this with three photos, or actually just one. :)
July 8, 2009 11:33 am
The results work amazingly!
June 25, 2009 02:44 am
I also have some nice examples! Check them out
June 22, 2009 11:39 pm
Thank you. Specially your 'Choosing Your Metering Well'
I'm just starting
June 16, 2009 09:12 pm
tips on panorama are more interesting, fantastic and informative. Congratulations.
June 10, 2009 05:18 am
I recently shot a series of 11 shots with my lens set on 28mm making it difficult for Hugin to stitch the shots. I recovered by setting them up in a series.
An alternative to failed attempts? (I have a lot of those)
May 27, 2009 09:14 am
Try doing lapsed time shots and stitching them to get cool action shots like these
Both taken hand held eights shots each. Stitched using Hugin
May 26, 2009 05:40 pm
Here are some of mine:
Vertical shoots mostly. Around 16 shoots each 180º.
Hope you enojy and off course any comments accepted... specially critics. :)
May 24, 2009 04:42 am
Moving the subject from frame to frame is a fun in panoramic pics. Check it out at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rgarg/2842539936/
May 22, 2009 10:17 pm
Excellent, wonderful tips as always!
May 22, 2009 09:06 pm
hi.. i really like that . very much useful and helpful as well. keep sharing
May 22, 2009 10:03 am
I have a Canon XSi that I have created several panorama photos with. I use (M)anual mode and have loved the results. For the undisciplined person I can be, panoramas have forced me to pay attention to all the camera setting, take my time setting up and framing larger than the image I want. I use a tripod that has to be as level as possible and a hot shoe level to make sure the camera is level. Don't use AF (auto focus) and don't change the aperture. Panoramas increase detail of things like buildings etc. Software does an amazing job stitching the photos together but when its time to crop your image being level will pay off. Even point and shoot cameras can do a wonderful job putting your pictures together as stated in the article above.
Thank you so much for addressing this fascinating aspect of photography.
May 22, 2009 03:54 am
In responce to Fletch- I have an Olympus E -410 and I still use the panoramic mode to set up the shot- then i use photoshop to stich the images together
May 22, 2009 01:59 am
Nice tips, I got a question though: what is the most common used ratio for panorama images?
May 21, 2009 01:51 am
I've worked with Autostitch and will agree it's an excellent free program. Microsoft ICE also has some promise. I've found a few issues with it, but it's still beta software. Here's a comparison of Autostitch and Photoshop. This has multiple rows and photos per row. And here's another panorama showing the fun/problems of people moving when you're taking photos. This was taken hand-held, from left to right. Cracked me up when I saw the results in Photoshop and I decided to keep it. :)
May 21, 2009 12:34 am
thanks so much for these excellent tips! despite being a photographer for years and years, i have never done the stitch panorama. you've inspired me!
May 20, 2009 07:52 pm
Thank you for these tipps. I'm going on vacation next week - so I'll definitely try these!
May 20, 2009 06:09 pm
I would also recommend autostitch. Just select your images, wait a minute and whatch your panorama. The only editing needed after that is a little cropping.
May 20, 2009 04:37 pm
All great pics.... but what open source/free software is best to use? I have hugin, but keep getting error messages when using it. Have yet to get a final pic using it.
May 20, 2009 04:34 pm
Does anybody know of a freeware software program I can download to do stitching that is fairly straightforward to use? I really am liking the idea of creating panorama's.
May 20, 2009 11:25 am
One thing I want to know, how do I get such wide shots? Do I move the tripod/hand held or do I just rotate from a stationary position?
May 20, 2009 08:44 am
Very good article. Thank you very much!
I used to use Hugin but have switched to AutoPano Giga. It's an insanely powerful program and really does a good job at stitching even the most complex panoramas.
May 20, 2009 03:32 am
Thanks for all the comments and additional suggestions!
Yes, setting white balance and ISO will also help.
Josh - Thanks for the link to your article. Well done and quite useful!
Tom - There are many options but that's for a future post. :)
Steven - The first shot is indeed done with multiple passes. As some have suggested here, I also used portrait orientation for those sets. The image in #3 would have been better served by using the lens I had on (16mm) and taking horizontal photos and making more than one pass while using ample overlap. I could have also used a less wide angle lens. And Hugin may indeed help that photo (it was made before the software was available) but that's also for another article. I was trying to point out the importance, as with most photography, of getting the fundamentals down when shooting so there is less post processing to do later. 5 extra minutes thinking about what you're doing in the field can save hours later in front of the computer.
May 20, 2009 02:03 am
Great tips, I'm heading to Beirut in a few months and tip #7 is especially important for small areas like marketplaces where there are tons of things that make great photos.
May 20, 2009 01:57 am
This is a great article. I always appreciate the time, trouble and research that goes into a blog like this. Many many thanks. Rgds Vince
May 20, 2009 01:52 am
Using Autostich free software is great for panoramas, add your photos, noting more to do!!!
google autostich and you'll find.
I've done a lot of great panorama without your advice and now I'll do astonishing panoramas
thanks a lot
May 20, 2009 01:14 am
Don't know if it's a proper question here, but I'll ask anyway. I would like to print large panoramas ( 24"+). I've found a few but would like to have a less expensive alternative. Can anyone share an online panorama printing service?
May 20, 2009 01:09 am
Wow! I must try that some time. :)
May 20, 2009 12:15 am
Great tips - also thanks to the commenters for recommending Hugin - might save a pano that Canon's Photostitch doesn't cope with
A couple of my efforts here http://bit.ly/167TPX - Very much a newby though!
May 19, 2009 11:21 pm
Thanks for a great article - there is a very easy to use Microsoft panorama tool called ICE (Image Composite Editor) which does a really good job of stitching the images together. Even better - it is FREE !
Thanks for all your hard work - I love the emails I get from you.
May 19, 2009 09:53 pm
Don't forget to try this fun trick by moving your subjects from frame to frame in a panoramic shot
May 19, 2009 08:23 pm
I've been experiencing most of issues you analyzed.. :) In a month I'll be in Scotland, I'll surely use such advices (also users' ones) to try shooting some panoramic pics!
May 19, 2009 07:33 pm
An addition to guideline #5: be careful when taking panorama pictures of the sea, because the waves will not be aligned. Same for clouds moving fast.
May 19, 2009 04:24 pm
Another important point to keep in mind is parallax error, and how to minimise it. Put simply if you have an object close to the camera (e.g. a person a few meters away) when making a panorama your stitching software will have difficulties managing perspective and might distort or blur the object close to the camera. Easiest way to minimise this issue is don't have objects close to the camera in panoramas. For more sophisticated techniques google "panorama nodal point" or "panorama entrance pupil".
May 19, 2009 03:23 pm
Those photos are amazing....its like you are really there at the place seeing it with your own eyes....not just a picture
Thanks for showing such wonderful places that look alive
May 19, 2009 12:55 pm
Great article. If I could add 10c worth: I have found that you are well advised to set the white balance rather than leaving the camera on AWB - you never know what it is up to when left to its own devices!
May 19, 2009 12:53 pm
Thanks for the great article. Also thanks to dcclark and josh for the additional info.
May 19, 2009 10:51 am
Very helpful thanks. I find it best to use portrait rather than landscape as you will fit more detail in without having to move the camera up and down .
May 19, 2009 07:04 am
I recently made a Tripod head for panoramas which worked really good, however I found an article online recommending the photos to be stitched, be taken in portrait, as this produces a slightly higher panorama which is proportionally more pleasing. This made my tripod head redundant! Canon photostitch lets you correct lengthwise distortion by changing the "lens used" choice, seems to work well.
May 19, 2009 06:53 am
When shooting horizontal panoramas, shoot with your camera in portrait orientation (and vice-versa for vertical panoramas). That way you will have more depth in the final panorama, and less likely to end up with a long thin strip of an image.
If you're e.g. shooting with an SLR which has the focus points visible in the viewfinder, they can be used quite well to estimate overlaps from shot to shot; e.g. if you're shooting left to right, line up the right-most focus point on an object in the scene in one shot, and then for the next shot, place the left-most focus point on the same object. This should encourage at least a 25-30% overlap.
Shoot RAW in manual mode if possible. When processing your RAWs, you can then simply set the same processing parameters (WB, exposure, etc) on all the shots.
And yes, I also think Hugin works really well for stitching.
May 19, 2009 05:18 am
Some nice little tips there - I never think to make multiple passes, probably because of the thrown-in software that I always use.
A question on "#3: Keep it on the level":
What is the best way of getting more vertical/height on the panorama if tilting the camera up/down will cause (massive) distortion? Is the answer multiple passes, or shifting the camera down (on a tripod), etc.?
Like the very first panorama (33 images of Grand Canyon): that doesn't look like just a horizontal pass, but horizontal and vertical. How do you ensure that the objects closest to you aren't overly large?
May 19, 2009 05:08 am
I would like to add that one must use a tripod while shooting panaromas. Also attention should be given to see whether the horizons match or not in successive shots.
May 19, 2009 03:47 am
If your panorama has any elements in the near foreground the camera should ideally be rotated around the lens entrance pupil - rotating around another point, like a tripod mount, can cause parallax errors.
May 19, 2009 03:42 am
Here are some cool panos I made here in the galapagos (and one from quito, ecuador). when will DSLs have pano abilities? :(
May 19, 2009 02:59 am
Great suggestions. I have some Ideas to try these panoramic methods up in the canyons around Salt Lake City.
May 19, 2009 01:57 am
Great advice! I've taken a few panorama's with a tripod, but usually I'm walking around with the family doing other stuff when I happen upon a scene that would be a great panorama. So most of mine are hand held. Thankfully, Photoshop does an awesome job of aligning and blending everything so I can be a little lazy. ;) Here's my most ambitious panorama, 68 photos, full digital zoom, hand held, stitched using Photoshop. Only one photo is a little out of focus because I was taking my time. D'OH!
And here's a neat website that makes viewing these a little more fun. :)
May 19, 2009 01:52 am
Don't use the panoramic mode if you have a Olympus DSLR. Its a con to force you to by a useless Olympus XD card. Just stick the camera in manual mode.
May 19, 2009 01:43 am
Re. the distortion in #3: You don't say what software you used, but I think Hugin would have been able to deal with this, since it can do pretty radical un-distortions.
I also like to manually pick the matching points rather than letting the computer pick. It's a lot more labor intensive, but the results are better IMO. Here's one of my favorites (scroll down to photo 18): http://reidster.net/trips/2006-bwcaw/powwow.html
May 19, 2009 01:01 am
Use decent stitching software. I've found Hugin to be the best - and yes, I stitched the same panorama over again with about 5 different pieces of software to prove it. Not even Photoshop CS4's built-in stitching software could compete with the dedicated, open-source Hugin. My comparison is here, if you're interested.
May 19, 2009 12:57 am
Great article! Amazing timeliness too as I recently set out to do some vertical panoramas of my church building. I will have to go back and reshoot now with these tips and see if I can get some better results!
May 19, 2009 12:54 am
Good advice! I have a few other bits of advice -- they are not quite as big as the things in this article, but still quite useful:
- If using a Nikon, turn off Auto ISO and ADR -- even in full-manual mode, thy may still be turned on, defeating the purpose of having a fixed exposure!
- Don't use a polarizer (if doing a horizontal panorama) -- the result will be a severely unevenly polarized sky, and it will be very obvious. Actually, this will happen in any panorama which is wide enough, but you probably don't want to overemphasize the change in blueness of the sky.
- If using stitching software like Hugin and choosing your control points by hand, don't choose very many near the edges of the photo. This is similar to #2, but the specific reason is that edges tend to have additional, complex distortion which can really mess up a stitcher and give you strange (incorrect) results.
- If printing, print BIG! Panoramas give the best sense of depth and immersion if they are big enough to really pull you in. Tiny panoramas pretty much defeat the purpose of having a panorama in the first place.
May 19, 2009 12:28 am
This is an awesome and really helpful guide. The only lingering question I have is what software do you use to do the stitching?
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE
GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed