How to Shoot Panoramic Photos

How to Shoot Panoramic Photos

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Image stitching is not new, neither is panoramic photography. Since almost the beginning, photographers have been intrigued with providing a wider view of a given scene. The reason is that panoramic images provide context. In a normal frame of a large expansive scene, we only see a small part of the bigger picture. A panoramic image however, gives us a broader view, and a context for that image. The word panorama is derived from two greek words, “pan” which means everything and “horama” which means that which is seen or the view. So, panorama literally means – a view of everything.

Stitched Panorama

A six image pano of Howe Sound, Squamish BC

Early on, photographers would make panoramics manually, by simply panning across a scene and taking sucessive images. Once the images were printed, they would manually stitch them by overlaying one image on top of the other, or even cutting them into place. This was a new way of viewing and capturing scenes. I saw my first panoramic image as a young boy. It was a huge scene of photographs that had been stuck together and overlaid. It was in a museum in the city where I grew up. I was intrigued, it gave me a view of the city I was living in, that I had never seen before. It gave me a whole new perspective on the place that I called home. I wasted many rolls of film as a youngster trying to do the same shots, but never managed to get it right.

One solution to this challenge was the panoramic camera. These cameras revolutionized panoramic photography. They were able to capture a panoramic scene of 180 degrees in a single shot. No more cutting and sticking photographs together. These rotating cameras captured great images of scenes and did it with ease. There were also wide-angle panoramic cameras that took in much more of a scene in a single image and again, changed the way we viewed images and scenes. These cameras changed the views, and contexts of many famous places. In their day, they were the pinnacle of technology.

Stitched Panorama

Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

Once again, the wheel of progress turned and all of this changed when digital panoramics became possible. The photographer only had to pan across the scene and take successive images, as in the past, but now the stitching process in the computer gave a seamless result. The photographer simply dropped these images into a photo stitching tool and voila, an amazing panoramic image magically appeared. Well, that was the idea anyway, in practical terms it was not so easy.

1. How to shoot panoramic photos

Autopano giga is a standalone software tool that stitches your images together. There are a few guidelines to follow when you do a photostitch. By following these guidelines, you will be almost guaranteed that your image will stitch properly the first time.

A. Shoot in Manual mode

Expose for your scene manually and don’t change the exposure between shots. You may have to do a light meter reading for the brightest and darkest parts of your scene. Adjust your settings to make sure that you have good exposure throughout the images and then start shooting.

B. Overlap your shots by at least 30%

Overlap each image by at least 30% if you are shooting in landscape orientation and up to 50% if shooting in portrait. By overlapping you will have duplicates of parts of your scene, this will allow the software to stitch the images together better and adjust for the perspective distortion too.

Stitched Panorama

Five images stitched, Jack Poole Plaza, Vancouver

C. Use a tripod

You can shoot handheld, but using a tripod will ensure that the images will be shot along the same horizontal plane. This can also help with the stitching process too.

D. Keep your aperture between f/8 and f/11

You will want to keep everything in focus, so be sure that your aperture is set to at least f/8. At f/2.8 your focal point may change and this could cause some parts of your image to be out of focus. It may also be a good idea to set your aperture to f/8, focus your camera, then switch to manual focus. That way your camera won’t be focusing on a different part of the scene in each image. At f/8 or f/11 the whole scene should be in focus.

Stitched Panorama

Six image Pano, Victoria Harbour on a snowy, windy day

Now the magic part, digitally stitching the images together. You can do this using Autopano Giga or Photoshop, my preference is Autopano Giga. To learn more about how to do this, take a look at these articles I wrote on image stitching: Walk Through and Review of Autopano Giga – Image Stitching Software and Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images.

Lets make this fun, upload some of your images that you have stitched, then tell us what software you used. Enjoy, happy shooting and stitching.

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Barry J Brady is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here

  • Doug Sundseth

    If you’re doing horizontal panos, I’d recommend shooting in portrait orientation. That orientation gives you more to work with at the corners of the stitched image, so you’re less likely to have to fill or lose parts that you care about.

  • Baldrick

    Just purchased Lightroom 6. It now has built in stitching and it works a treat.
    Small Pano below…

  • Mark

    Was that made with a wide angle lens or does Lightroom not correct for distortion?

  • hatkar karthik

    i have done this stitching and distortion correction in Photoshop cc. This is my first try. Panorama stitching is exciting. Can’t wait to try more.

  • I took this Last week with 5 shots (portrait orientation) and used the new LightRoomCC to stitch them together.

  • Another good tip: Before taking Shot #1 of a pano, hold up one finger in front of the camera and take a shot. After taking the last shot of a pano, hold up two fingers in front of the camera and take a shot. Now when you are in post-processing you will know that all the shots between your “finger photos” belong to a pano.

  • Great tip Volleyshots, absolutely a good idea to do this!

  • Looks fantastic Andy, well done!

  • Good start Hatkar!

  • Good image Baldrick!

  • Yes Doug, you can do that too, if I think I need more visual info, I will shoot a second row, Autopano can stick a “mosaic” too!

  • Longest pano in my photo history – 52 shots, while standing on a pontoon in the lake. No tripod was used.

  • Geoff Gosse

    Can you get a Pano printed anywhere? For example, Wal-Mart? Or is it a special print job?

  • Geoff, its a good idea to print a a professional printing lab in your city. It is normally a special print job and because it is so big, you may need to go to a professional printer. Google the ones in your city and shop around for the best prices.

  • Lovely image Daniel, well done!

  • Geoff Gosse

    Thanks barryjbrady!!

  • brenda kean

    I got a Panasonic Lumix G6 camera and it takes brilliant panorama shots, both horizontal and vertical, and does everything automatically, see these two of my images

    http://fineartamerica.com/featured/corridor-of-power-brenda-kean.html

    http://fineartamerica.com/featured/racetrack-in-the-heavens-brenda-kean.html
    I cannot recommend this camera enough

  • Phil Hill

    How did you do it so fast. I mean surely the clouds were moving, so it would have been hard to stitch it together without it looking strange if you took too long. Did you shoot with the camera in landscape or portrait position ? Really impressive.

  • Overlapping and shooting as fast as camera buffer allows. )
    I did three series that day. One with 35mm lens (on cropped Nikon D90) and two with 50mm, as i didn’t like the fov of 35 in that case. Second one of 50mm series were made with overlapping more than a half of a frame, and photoshop was able to stitch it together quite good. With first one was 38 shots and photoshop didn’t make it.

    By the way, i realized that I shot all of those panoramas without using tripod – http://chvanov.ru/tag/panorama/ ))

  • Travis

    Top of a mountain. Handheld the camera and stitched together about 15 images.

  • Thank you, Barry!

  • Richard

    No mention of nodal points (the point near the front of the lens that is the optical “center” of perspective)? Panoramas should be shot by rotating the camera around this point, otherwise you will get parallax errors when stitching. If shooting manually, I will approximate this by walking around the camera, instead of using my body as the center of rotation and swinging the camera around me. If shooting with a tripod, it’s best to use a panorama head that offsets the camera the correct distance from the axis of rotation (unfortunately I don’t have one).

  • Richard

    By “manually”, I meant “handheld”.

  • Tom Fenske

    Great article. Lot’s of good tips. I’m often backpacking without a sturdy tripod so have been practicing at handheld panoramas. I had my gorilla pad with me here so decided to try slowing it down to get some of the motion in the water.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomfenskephotography/15118598459/

  • Steve

    Touring Europe in my camper, took this of Lisbon from the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue. Canon 600D, f8, 1/180. ISO 100, 21mm. Used PS Elements for the stitching.

  • Jschneir

    I have done many at COSTCO and they do a good job. I am also shooting panorama holding the camera vertically as suggested elsewhere. My cameras, Sony Nex6, Panasonic LF1 and FZ1000, shoot great in- camera panoramas even in A or S modes and they are all handheld, no problems.

  • KKGSupermom

    Here is my pano from when I my daughter was 5 (she is in the picture 5 times too) and I was taking a digital photography class. My teacher loved it. I got an A in the class

  • Edmund

    Hi Barry, good article but missing one thing IMHO. Any tips for coping with moving objects, could be people or the sea or trees blowing in the wind? Some of the panos I have taken have been ruined when people have moved between one shot and the next.

    I think I got away with it in this taken in portrait orientation but I wish I had taken a range of exposures to blend later as the shadows are too dark but we were about to be thrown out of the (Blue) mosque as evening prayers were starting so I could not use the Golden Hour light. I got it later at dusk and now have a very wide angle lens so would not need to do the pano except for resolution – 5 x 16mb photos equals the best 35mm digital but I don’t often blow them up to 80″x40″ (fun to try though).

  • Yes Edmund, moving objects can be problematic, so you may need to time your shots when there are no people walking through he extended scene. On the seascape shots, again you may need time the wave movement, but that’s tricky. Alternatively, you could make an interesting scene by having the same person in two or three frames..

  • This is a great shot, I like the “cloning” effect, works really well in these types of panos..well done KKGSupermom!

  • Lovely shot Steve!

  • Looks great Tom, nicely done!

  • Thanks Richard, yes this can be a problem and it certainly was an issue a few years ago. The software (Particularly Autopano) has become so much better that this is rarely a problem anymore. I don’t have a nodal ninja and I don’t adjust for parallax, i simply shoot it and the software figures it out and compensates for distortions and perspective. Also, I can adjust the image afterwards to correct that, so a nodal ninja is a “nice” to have and not a “need” to have anymore!

  • Great image Travis!

  • These look good Brenda, well done!

  • KKGSupermom

    Thanks, It’s one of my favorites I did that summer. when my daughter first saw the picture, she had a funny reaction. She pointed at one of the images of her & said, “That’s me”, then said, “who is that?” to another image, then realizing it also was her, was quite confused.

  • Wonderful article. I’ve enjoyed looking through all the great photos. This shot has Lake on the Mountain in Prince Edward County, ON on the right and the Bay of Quinte on the far left.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/128111789@N06/15521488479

  • Bill Rose

    This one was taken back in 2009 of my son fishing at Atkins Res.

  • Bill Rose

    This is a good example of why to shoot some panos in portrait. After the crop i lost the foreground.

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