HDR Vertorama Photography – How to Create Mind-bending Images

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If you are anything like me, then you are always looking for ways to create something original in your photography – images that have not been taken and presented a thousand times before. But being truly original and creating photos that have real impact is the hardest thing of all. It seems there is nothing that hasn’t been done yet. Or is there?

In this article, I am going to show you a technique for creating interior photos that you will certainly not find in every other portfolio – photos that will turn heads for sure. The technique that I am referring to is called HDR Vertorama Photography.

Matthias Church Budapest Hungary HDR Vertorama

What is a Vertorama?

Panorama photography is a well-established photographic discipline: you take a series of photos while you pan your camera in a horizontal direction between each pair of shots, ensuring that adjacent photos have enough overlap. Such a series of photos can then be combined into a single image with a much wider angle of view, a process that is called stitching.

But what happens if you turn panorama photography sideways? Turning an idea on its head can sometimes produce ingenious and unexpected results, and doing this literally with panorama photography falls into this category.

To answer the question: what you get is a Vertorama – a panorama in vertical direction. This may sound trivial, but when applied to interiors, this technique can present scenes in unseen ways. A room photographed as a Vertorama, seems to be opening towards the viewer. It depicts an interior in a way that you can only experience if you scan the actual scene with your own eyes, and it puts your audience inside the scene rather than in the spectator’s seat.

Why Does This Require HDR?

Photographing such a wide angle of view presents some challenges. One of them is the unusually high dynamic range encountered in such scenes. When you scan an interior (like a church, for example) from bottom to top, you will see very dark areas as well as extremely bright parts (e.g., the windows). In order to capture the scene realistically, combining the Vertorama technique with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is a natural choice. HDR will allow you to depict the details in the highlights and shadows in such a scene, despite the unusually high dynamic range. The resulting photographic discipline is called HDR Vertorama Photography.

The Anatomy of an HDR Vertorama

Vertorama and HDR photography are combined in such a way that each section of the final image consists of an exposure series, taken with a different tilt angle. Each of these exposure series is merged into an HDR image and tone mapped into a section HDR image.

Hdr vertorama anatomy 01

Camera positions (left), exposure series (middle) and tone mapped section HDR images (right)

The section HDR images are stitched to produce a Vertorama, and finally, the Vertorama image is cropped and post-processed.

Hdr vertorama anatomy 02

Stitched HDR Vertorama (left) and final cropped image (right)

All the source photos for a single HDR Vertorama are called a set, and depending on actual scene, you may end up with 12 to 30 photos in a set.

The Camera

As long as you are shooting from a tripod, the range of cameras that can be used for this technique is wide. Any DSLR and mirrorless camera will be just fine. Having a camera that lets you change lenses is an advantage because in order to get the most out of your HDR Vertorama shoots, you should be using an ultra wide-angle lens with a shorter focal length then you will find on most fixed-lens cameras.

The Lens

You should use a rectilinear lens with a short focal length – the sorter, the better. With an ultra wide-angle lenses, you get a very wide angle of view, enabling you to capture more of an interior scene. If you own a DSLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, for example, the Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX Nikkor, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM SLR or Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM may be good choices, depending on which camera you are using and what budget you have available.

In contrast to a fisheye lens, a rectilinear lens has little or no barrel distortion. This means that straight lines in the scene are also (almost) straight in the image, and this creates the characteristic look of these images.

The Nodal Point Adapter

A nodal point adapter is a device that you screw on top of your tripod and that allows you to rotate your camera/lens combination around the nodal point of the lens. This avoids so-called parallax errors where objects at different distances from your camera move relative to each other in the overlapping areas of two consecutive source photos. If you are using a well-adjusted adapter, the overlap regions of the different sections of your Vertorama will perfectly match which is important for the stitching.

Hdr vertorama parallax error

Example of a parallax error

You can buy off-the-shelf nodal point adapters that are usually quite bulky and expensive, or you can assemble your own as shown in the example below: This do-it-yourself nodal point adapter consists of:

  • a panorama plate (1 diagram below)
  • with a scale that helps you control the rotation (2)
  • a macro rail (3) that enables you to move the camera back and forth for finding the nodal point
  • two quick release clamps for mounting the camera on the rail (5) and the rail on the panorama plate (4)
  • an L-bracket (6) for conveniently mounting the camera in landscape and portrait orientation
  • a snap hook (7) connects the L-bracket (and the camera that is permanently mounted to it) to the camera strap when the camera is not mounted to this adapter

Hdr vertorama nodal point adapter

 

Before you can produce usable source photos with an adapter like this one, you need to adjust it such that your camera is really rotated around the nodal point.

Setting up Your Camera

To prepare for the actual shoot, mount your camera onto the nodal point adapter and the adapter onto the tripod. Set up the nodal point adapter and tripod such that your camera can rotate around the horizontal axis.

Hdr vertorama camera orientation

To set up your camera, do the following:

  • Aperture – put your camera in aperture priority mode (“A” for Nikon, “Av” for Canon) and dial in an aperture that puts more or less the entire scene into focus – f/8 usually works pretty well
  • Focus – focus your camera and then put it into manual focus mode to avoid focus changes between the exposures
  • White balance (optional) – set the white balance to a fixed value depending on the type of light at the location. If you are shooting in Raw format, you can also skip this step
  • Mirror lock-up (optional, DSLRs only) – turn on mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake caused by the slapping mirror
  • Cable release – attach a cable release (remote trigger) to release the shutter without touching the camera
  • Cover the viewfinder (for long shutter speeds) – cover your viewfinder to prevent light from entering and falling on the camera’s sensor during the exposure

Finding the Right Exposure

There are many ways of finding the right exposure values for your source exposures. Here, I will show you a quick and simple one that uses the auto exposure bracketing (AEB) function of your camera to shoot the exposure series for your HDR process. Your goal is to set up the camera for an exposure series that remains the same for every section of the Vertorama.

To do this, put your camera in aperture priority mode, set the correct aperture, and scan the scene from the bottom to the top by rotating your camera. While you do this, your camera will adjust the shutter speed to get a correct exposure of the part of the scene it currently sees. Take note of the range of shutter speeds you see in the viewfinder (highest and lowest).

To set the correct exposure, put your camera in manual mode, dial in the respective aperture again and set the shutter speed to a value that is in the middle between the highest and lowest speed you saw during the scan. Now, set up your AEB function such that it goes above and below that shutter speed as much as possible.

For example, if your camera measures between 1/20s and 1/640s, the right shutter speed would be around 1/125s (roughly the middle between 1/20s and 1/640s). If your camera can do 3 shots with +-2 EV, set your AEB function to that setting. This gives you an exposure series of 1/30s, 1/125s and 1/500s for each section, and this produces a result that is close enough to what we need in this situation.

Taking the Shots

Your camera is now ready to take the photos. You should try to take the photos as quickly and fluently as possible as follows:

  1. Rotate your camera down: Your first section should be the floor right at your feet. This section will contain your tripod and possibly your feet. These things are not meant to be in the final image, but this gives you some room to maneuver in post-production.
  2. Wait for the right moment: Check the conditions before you start to shoot the series. When there are no people around and the lighting conditions are stable, you can start shooting.
  3. Action! When the conditions are right, start photographing the first section. When the section is done, rotate the camera to the next section such that the overlap with the previous section is about 30% and shoot, and so on. Do this until your camera points at the ceiling for the last section. It is important that you take the photos quickly to avoid that movement and changes in lighting interfere with your shoot.

Post-processing

The post-processing stage involves a number of steps. If you shot your source photos in RAW mode, you need to develop them in some RAW converter. Depending on the ISO setting you used to capture the photos, you may want to apply some noise reduction already at this early stage to keep the noise at bay over the remaining workflow.

Basilica St Martin Weingarten Germany HDR Vertorama

Vertorama Creation

When the preparation of the source photos is finished, it’s time for the merging and the stitching. Remember that the source photos have to be combined in two different ways:

  • The exposure series for each section needs to be merged into an HDR image
  • all the resulting HDR images for all sections need to be stitched to generate the final HDR Vertorama

Depending on the software you use, the order of these two steps can vary. We will do the HDR merging first and then the stitching. This is generally easier.

For creating the HDRs, you need to load each exposure series into your HDR software (e.g., Photomatix), and merge them, one by one. This is straightforward and there are not a lot of decisions to be made. The result will be one 32-bit HDR image for each section (we call these the section HDR images in the following). Then you need to tone map each section HDR image, using the same settings for each one of them:

  1. Load one of the section HDRs into your HDR software and find the right tone mapping parameters. How you set the parameters is completely depending on your personal taste and style. There is no right or wrong here.
  2. Once you have found pleasing settings, apply these settings to all section HDRs and tone map them.
  3. Save each of the tone mapped images as an 8 or 16-bit image. Saving 16-bit images will give you a better quality but produces larger files.

After this step, you have a tone mapped image for each of the sections, and these images need to be stitched. There are many software products that can stitch photos. I prefer to use Photoshop for this task as it has a very simple but yet powerful stitching module called Photomerge.

Stitching your tone mapped images in Photomerge (File > Automate > Photomerge) is simple: the Use drop-down menu (1) lets you work with individual files or whole Folders of images. Browse your disk (4) to select the files or add all files that are currently opened in Photoshop (5). Choose Cylindrical (2) as your Layout and check the three check boxes at the bottom (3) to let Photomerge apply a number of corrections to your images. When you press Ok, your images are stitched fully automatically.

Hdr vertorama photomerge

When the stitching is complete, Photoshop presents you with the result. The edges are a bit wonky and it is laying on the side because Photoshop thinks it is a panorama. Merge all the layers into one (Layer > Merge Layers) and rotate the image accordingly (Image > Image Rotation).

Hdr vertorama after stitching

Use the Warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to correct the typical distortion of an interior Vertorama image that makes it wide in the middle and narrow at the top and at the bottom. You can do this by dragging the corner handles of the Warp box to the outside and the right and left edge handles to the inside.

Hdr vertorama distortion correction

Apply the warp distortion and crop the image such that the uneven edges are removed and the composition is symmetrical.

Hdr vertorama cropping

This completes the actual HDR Vertorama creation. You now have a stitched image that covers the entire tonal range of the scene (due to using HDR). The remaining post-processing steps are not specific to the HDR Vertorama technique. As with any other photo, you will at least want to correct the colors and increase the contrast. But you can also apply arbitrarily complex adjustments to the image and process different parts of it selectively.

In this particular case, I applied selective adjustments to the white interior to desaturate it slightly, to the floor to enhance the reflections, and the paintings on the ceiling to balance the colors and make them stand out. I added more saturation to the windows and more contrast to some of the ornaments. Finally, I added a vignette to the edges and a spot light effect to the paintings in the ceiling to guide the viewers’ eyes.

Conclusions

HDR Vertorama Photography is a technique that lets you depict interiors in a unique way. If you are willing to invest the effort and time it takes to master this multi-exposure technique, you will be rewarded with images that will stand out in your portfolio.

Basilica St Martin Weingarten Germany HDR Vertorama

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Klaus Herrmann

is a photographer, entrepreneur and a scientist at heart. In 2012 he made the transition to professional photographer and instructor, combining his passion for photography with his teaching and writing activities. Sign up on his website farbspiel-photo.com to get a FREE eBook HDR Top Tips. To learn more about his Vertorama technique, check out his eBook A Practical Guide to HDR Vertorama Photography.

  • MrMLK

    Very interesting article. I liked it so much I followed the link to your web site and purchased your book on the same topic. I’m hoping the 180 page book has more details. 🙂

  • Excellent tutorial, thanks Klaus. Vertorama seems a very interesting genre, and I appreciate the rig design you shared. Might have to give this a whirl sometime, definitely gets one thinking about all the other types of panoramas possible.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Lauchlan!

    Thanks a lot. Yes, this is very interesting. HDR Vertoramas are fun, and they will be a highlight in your portfolio. I have lots more information on my website. Check the link in my bio.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi!

    Thanks for the purchase. The book has tons of details. It’s a complete guide where you will learn everything you need. Let me know how you like it.

  • Jared Lawson

    Excellent article, for photographers looking for tight stitched panoramas – look into getting the right equipment – of course the tripod is necessary, but invest in a good tripod mount as well – it will make your editing life much easier. Travel Photography

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Jared!

    Thanks! And thanks for the hint.

    Yes, you should have a solid tripod head – one on which you can really tighten all the screws and knobs to make sure nothing moves while you are shooting. The nodal point adapter is also important here. If the stuff between the tripod and your camera is unstable, you will have problems in post-production.

  • MrMLK

    Have you tried out any of the good stitching apps out there? I have done a bunch of multiple shot panoramas without a tripod and PTGUI is really good about stitching them together. I only ever use a tripod for long exposure stitching because the software is so good.

    The first shot has a couple of mistakes in it, but it was done in a room at close quarters. The next two seem pretty good to me. All done without a tripod.

  • MrMLK

    I was just kidding. There is a ton of extra information in it. Well worth the $16 purchase price.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Michael,

    yes, you can get away without a tripod in many situations. Actually, I am shooting many HDR Vertoramas hand-held (this is also explained in the book). But this may lead to situations where the images just cannot be stitched due to parallax errors.

    So, yes, you can do this, but make sure you take multiple sets of source photos to decrease the chance that your photos just don’t work.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Great to hear. Have fun with the book!

  • jsm1963

    This detailed article is why DPS is the best photography website.

  • MrMLK

    Another thing that I find helps a lot is to increase the amount of overlap. When I used to use a Nodal Ninja, I could get away with just a little overlap. Now I try to get at least 25% on each side. As long as I don’t have any moving elements, It usually isn’t an issue.

  • tom

    my Sony DSLR does this in camera, shoots and constructs panoramic photos horizontally or vertically, save for the HDR part…….but using Topaz Adjust would give it that look in post editing…….

  • Mary Clough

    This was an awesome detailed course! Exactly what I have been searching for, thank you Klaus. It has me motivated, energized and ready to experiment. I love change! DPS always my go to site for answers and lessons!

  • Yogendra Joshi

    wonderful

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Mary! Thanks for your great feedback. If you need more information to fuel your excitement, hop over to my site (link in the bio). There’s a lot more information on this technique, including a 180-page eBook.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    I’d be interested to see your panos. I am always a bit skeptical about automatic things in camera. But hey, I may be wrong here.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Thanks, mate!

  • Klaus Herrmann

    I agree: It should be at least 25% overlap. The problems in stitching may not only come from movement. Parallax errors are even worse. That’s why hand-held panos/vertos in small places are very difficult to pull off. But it can be done.

  • Boying

    What software did the author used to merge the image?

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi,

    I used Photomerge (the stitching module within Photoshop) to do the stitching. See first screenshot in the section “Vertorama Creation”.

  • Mary Clough

    thank you Klaus! I will do just that..coming out of a long cold winter and looking forward to new techniques to swing me back into the excitement. And I will check out your eBook :))

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Cool! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Ed Brumley

    This is an excellent article and full of technical details. Since I don’t own Photoshop it is a bit beyond my current capabilities, but I will certainly bookmark it for future reference. I have never considered a “Vertorama”, nor heard of it, but I think in just such a setting it is the perfect solution to capture the grandeur of the cathedral.
    Meanwhile, for the less technical set, I recommend Apple’s http://www.dermandar.com. It takes no technical skill and is fast and simple. Here is a fun 360 degree panorama I shot back in December. http://www.dermandar.com/p/efOihQ/shannon-s-in-the-snow

  • Syed Zillay Ali

    Hey.. Thank you for sharing this wonderful technique. Really appreciate!!

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Ed! Thank you for the feedback and for the pointer. Panorama software has come a long way in recent years, and the tools have been getting simpler and simpler. Once you have Photoshop, you will find that Photomerge is also in that category. But until then, there are free alternatives.

    Check out the software list at http://j.mp/1dSRaZw where I have listed some free or very affordable tools for the whole process.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Syed! Thanks for your feedback. I hope you’ll be trying your hand at this technique.

  • dhaval

    thank you with all my heart, Sir

  • Björn Eric Ingemar Grahn

    Hello
    I winder if the buil it sofweare in the caméra (Canon 5D Mark iii) is good for this type of vertorama?

    Thanx for thé (to me new) topic of -oramas. 🙂

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Björn,

    The built-in functions of your 5D may help you create an HDR and maybe also a Vertorama. But the combination is probably not possible.

    I recommend that you study your manual closely, be creative and experiment.

  • Rick Harrig

    Wow!
    I started capturing digital VR pano’s in the late 90’s and have been out of the game for about ten years. Thank you for re-opening my eyes to what new exciting possibilities there are today in digital imaging. “The magic is back.” Thank you.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    You’re welcome, Rick! I hope you’ll be having fun with your Vertorama adventures. Let me know if you have questions.

  • Michael Owens

    Fantastic guide!
    I only wish I could try this without it being time consuming.

    Taking 4 images, of each angle, all at different EV values is a pain for me. Nikon D3200 user with no AEB. All manual.

    Nightmare.

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Michael,

    I see your point and I also feel your pain. But you may also see this as a chance to practice your manual shooting skills. In the eBook (see bio) I have extensive discussions about both AEB and manual shooting. It’s not as hard as it seems.

  • Michael Owens

    Hi,

    That’s exactly what it will be. Practice hehe. I will definitely give it a go, as I love HDR (when it’s done right), this exercise might actually force my hand in buying a camera with AEB (D5100 maybe).

    Still a n00b here ya see 😉

    (Will check out the eBook too)

  • Jordi Bosch Lladó

    Hi, is it possible to get purchasing refs for #1 to #7? or is this included in the book?

  • I never thought about doing this, very creative! I gotta try this out next time I go shooting

  • I don’t have the equipment though, but good article Klaus.
    Cheers!

  • sorry #1 and #7 of what? there is nothing numbered here – to what points are you referring?

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Jordi,

    I guess you are referring to the panorama head. You will find detailed information (including the refs you are looking for) at http://j.mp/1lzbS9F

  • Björn Eric Ingemar Grahn

    K thx will do 🙂 very good tutorial

  • Subhajit Dutta

    Wow that is a heck of a tutorial… Thanks hope that book has hell lot of information… 🙂

  • Brak Muhammad

    wow

    Excellent tutorial.
    http://www.h2theme.com

  • Darryl Lora

    Really awesome article…….you haven’t left anything out ~ thank you.

  • Michael

    Klaus, I found this extremely helpful. I’ve been looking for something like this that I can apply to landscape HDR panoramas as well. It appears this should work. It seems that it’s imperative to make sure the entire sequence is at the same shutter speed for all AEB shots – I’m assuming the HDR mapping won’t be uniform if this isn’t the case? Also, for the DIY nodal point head, this would work for horizontal panoramas as well? Last question on parallax errors – does increasing the amount of overlap help reduce the chance of this (I’ve never shot with a nodal adapter, just been rotating the regular tripod head around for the last 5 years).

  • Klaus Herrmann

    Hi Michael,

    thanks for the feedback. Yes, this technique works for all kind of panoramas, including landscapes. The exposure should be the same throughout the entire series of source photos, otherwise it will not work.

    The DIY nodal point works for Vertoramas and (horizontal) panoramas. The only restriction you have is that you cannot easily take multi-row panoramas.

    The overlap does not help with parallax errors. This is a fundamental problem that you need to solve by carefully adjusting your nodal point adapter. That’s exactly what the adapter is for.

    Let me know if you have more questions.

    Cheers
    Klaus

  • Matthew Owen

    Thanks! Following this, I just made my first of many Vertoramas.. 🙂
    St. Stephen’s Basilica

  • Daryoush Tahmasebi

    Very comprehensive tutorial. I have been doing this in 6 years now but had difficulties to explain the procedure. I will forward this tutorial to the curious ones. Thanks again.

  • robert rhodes

    In regards to your recent sharpening tutorial. @farbspiel I call BS. There’s no way you can get sharpness from those blurry eagle or jaguar photos. If that was possible, what’s the point of having autofocus, or manual focus. Just shoot without worries. I watched your video, of course these pictures never came up. Rather misleading and clickbaity.

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