High Impact Photography With Panoramics

High Impact Photography With Panoramics

020908_golden_gate_bridge_sunset_panoramic_jim_goldstein_400c.jpgImage Note: Made From (3) Three Vertical Images – Equivalent to a 60+ megapixel image

Photography is definitely not a one size fits all art form. Photography comes in many formats including large, medium or 35mm. Non-35mm formats not only offer photographers a variety of display options outside of the standard 3:2 ratio but greater resolution and detail. Many 35mm photographers often think of their layout options as tied to a single standard horizontal or vertical image, but one of the great things digital offers is the ability to create digital panoramic photos by stitching multiple photographs together. Stitching photographs together enables 35mm shooters the ability to mimic larger format display ratios and create custom dimension panoramic photographs. To get you started in stitching photographs for panoramic images there are a few best practices that you should acquaint yourself with that follow. If you have time I invite you to learn more on the subject by listening to my most recent podcast episode EXIF and Beyond: Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography.

1. Think Beyond The Single Frame

Panoramic photographs require a shift in thinking. Normally to squeeze more of a scene in frame you shoot with as short a focal length as possible. Shooting wide is the normal solution, but for panoramic images you’re actually looking to simulate or just create an even wider focal length by stitching together images each with a narrow field of view. To do this you can actually shoot a very wide scene with a longer focal length lens. Often I’ll shoot panoramic images at a focal length of 100-200mm. The added benefit is that the resulting panoramic image will contain even more detail than if I had opted for a single wide angle shot.

2. Use A Tripod

Many people cringe when you mention a tripod, but a tripod is going to be your best friend if you’re stitching images together. You’ll end up with sharper images, gain greater control and it will enable you to create work in lower light where hand holding will result in poor quality images. If you don’t use a tripod regularly now I highly recommend it. A tripod combined with a bubble level will help you keep your camera level ensuring your resulting images will be oriented correctly. Having a set of level images to stitch together will result in a final image that will require less straightening and cropping in post-processing.

bryce_pano_520_Jim_Goldstein.jpgImage Note: Made From (6) Six Vertical Images – Equivalent to a 50+ megapixel image

3. Lock Your Exposure or Shoot In Manual Mode

One of the most frustrating things about panoramic photography for those first trying it out is that you’ll take a series of photos, get home and realize that all the images have different brightness levels. Here’s the trick to avoid this problem. If your camera has a Lock Exposure control make sure to use it when shooting a series of images for a panoramic. If you don’t have this feature make sure you determine the proper settings for the scene and in Manual mode use the same settings for each image taken for your panoramic. The consistency in settings will net consistency in image brightness making for a cleaner image stitch.

4. Simple Things To Avoid Problems

Shooting with shorter focal length lenses introduces the the prospect of distortion that will make for an unnatural looking stitch. Many wide angle lenses suffer from varying amounts of barrel distortion. Simply avoid this by shooting with lenses that have a longer focal length. In general longer focal length lenses exhibit less barrel distortion. Another tip to avoid problems with stitching images together is minimizing the use of filters. Polarizers in particular will darken corners and depending on the angle of light will create significant variation in sky color across a scene. My recommendation don’t shoot panoramics with polarizers or use them very selectively with minimal polarization. Shooting with too many filters on your lens can also introduce vignetting, darkening seen on the fringes and corner of the image. Minimize vignetting by minimizing the amount of filters used.

delicate_arch_jim_goldstein_400c.jpgImage Note: Made from (5) Five Vertical Images – Equivalent to a 40+ megapixel image

4. Image Overlap

How much should your images overlap to make a decent panoramic? The best practice is 20%. Anything less may create problems particularly if you take short cuts with the previously noted best practices. Overlapping images more than 20% is never a bad thing, but may very well be overkill.

5. Stitching Photos

These days a lot of tools are at a photographers fingertips for stitching images together. Many camera makes include photo stitching software and you can easily stitch images together in programs like Photoshop. Read up on the software you own to see what support there is for photo stitching. If you own Photoshop I highly recommend using the Photomerge function (File > Automate > Photomerge). Selecting your images is easily done and the program makes the process almost thought free. The more consistent you are in getting well exposed, overlapped and level images the easier time you’ll have letting programs like Photoshop do the work for you. After getting the hang of these basic best practices you’ll find that there is a new world open to you whether stitching a few photos together to mimic the creation of a large format image or creating complex multi-row panoramics to create mind-blowingly detailed high resolution photos.

Read more from our category

Jim Goldstein is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension - Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

Some Older Comments

  • Robert May 24, 2012 10:58 pm

    I made panoramics before, using a tripod or a flat surface, rotating the camera. But I was wondering on how to stitch fotos of a certain motive (like the arc above) together if my camera is rotating around a fixed point? Won't that distort the picture?
    Or do i have to move the camera horizontally between each shot?

    Thanks for the clarification

  • Peter May 19, 2009 07:20 am

    Further to my recent comment, Ideally the point of the arc for the scene should pivot at the "entrance pupil" of the lens ( roughly the front of the lens glass) not the tripod ball.

  • PARAMES April 16, 2008 01:23 pm

    Thanks for the great tips and helpful article on this subject.Being a newbie in DSLR photograph this is a new photography subject which i must attempt with all this great posts and tips..thanks alot DPS.

  • michelle April 14, 2008 07:16 pm

    i would also like to suggest Adobe Photoshop CS3's Auto Align and Auto Blend layers feature to stitch photos together. creating panoramics is a breeze with these CS3 features

  • Hamish Brannan April 11, 2008 09:33 pm

    Further to Chris's question. If shooting landscapes, you might want to use the ole' 'Hyperfocal distance' trick. All that means, is that you use the depth of field that would be wasted, if the lens was focussed to infinity. For example. With an APS sensor SLR & a 50mm lens, set to F16. You could focus on an object a little over 20ft away and everything from about 11ft to infinity would be in acceptable focus.Remember to (as pointed out by oindypoind) switch off the auto focus once you've done this.

  • Geoff Nutter April 11, 2008 02:51 am

    Great tips - a couple I would add are keeping white balance the same throughout, and allow a 30% overlap between pictures.

    I set my camera at infinity focus for all and rarely use a tripod - the 'jerky' outline of the final result often adds asthetic value and 'life' to the final picture. I generally crop for structural panoramics (buildings, ships, etc) but leave as is from landscapes, city scenes etc

    For large panoramas, shoot several rows across the scene to build up the mosaic and get the detail. Often with Landscape panoramas, its the quantity of sky that you capture that makes the final picture, or the quantity of foreground. The rules of composition still apply to the final result.

    Watch your subject for movements - people, birds, waves, clouds, cars etc all have a habit of moving across the scene! Study the scene, work out where the main direction of movement is and time your shots accordingly. Take multiple shots of the same individual picture for waves and other repeating movements (swings)

    I use PTGUI (www.ptgui.com) and create a layed PSD which I then use to mask out the errant waves, people etc in order to get the best 'blend'. PYGUI is not free, but is relatively inexpensive and does a fantastic job quickly - much better than Photoshop Photomerge. I've used it for years and I'm always astounded at the results. The pro version will deal with HDR panoramics as well.

    There are links to tutorials and to the panoToolsNG@yahoogroups.com mail group that covers all aspects of digital panoramics - from stitching to QTVR conversion to DIY pano heads etc.

    If you want to print your panoramics, then the large aspect ratio is usually beyond most Photo printing services except the professionals - so I use Posterazor (free) http://posterazor.sourceforge.net/. This creates a PDF of your large impage which I then print on a good colour laser printer and glue together.

    There is an elegant symmetry in this - take individual photos, stitch to create the large, Posterazor to create individual pages, glue to create the large! The creative juices keep flowing :-)

    I've got a 300cm x 60cm picture of Callanaish stones (Outer Hebrides, Scotland) adorning my lounge via this method, using 14 x 2 A4 portrait prints.

  • oindypoind April 9, 2008 09:44 pm

    Chris, I usually shoot at a high f value, around 18 to maximise the depth of field, but that's personal preference really. Crisper edges though will make it easier to stitch.

    The important thing to do is, set up your tripod, find a focal point, set your focus on that (perhaps a person) and then turn off auto-focus. Then when you shoot your pictures the focus will be consistent across all of them.

  • Chris Ward April 9, 2008 06:07 pm

    I have one question about panoramics.

    What is the best thing to focus on while shooting. I want to make sure i have a even focus from picture to picture before i stitch them together!

    Thanks so much! I look forward to trying some of these in the future and posting my results!

  • Don Nicholson April 9, 2008 10:08 am

    Adobe Elements 5.0 & 6.0 both do photo stitching of panoramics. Elements 6.0 will automatically custom crop a photo to match natural break lines of the individual photo. It makes detecting the stitch line very hard to detect.
    Canon's photo stitch software does so by blending vs cropping the different shots, thus keeping all of each photo. This is where a tripod really helps. The blend point is much easier to detect.
    Nikon also provides a stitch function with their camera software, but I don't have any experience with that software.

  • Jim Goldstein April 9, 2008 09:16 am

    It's great to see the article received so well and its been a pleasant surprise to see all the links to everyones panoramic work. It's been fun looking at them all.

    @Art Always rotate your camera on its axis via the tripodhead. Do not move the tripod as that will shift the perspective. Depending on the focal length used this could have a substantially negative impact to your panoramic.

    @Mark B. Unfortunately the Photomerge function is in the CS versions only. I should have clarified. There really is no automated alternative in Photoshop 7. That being said it is possible to do what Photomerge does manually it just takes additional time. Not that I'm selling anything Adobe, but the CS upgrades are worth it.

  • Patricia April 9, 2008 08:21 am

    Thank you for such a great article! I am just learning and only use my camera in autofocus mode. I lean something everyday! This is a great website!

  • oindypoind April 9, 2008 06:14 am

    Definitely don't reposition the tripod as that will no doubt result in some kind of shift, instead loosen the tripod head and just pan.

    Using the tripod is always best, and using a panoramic head will also help loads when it comes to stitching.

    I've produced quite a few panoramas over the past few years with mixed reults. Herre are a few.


  • Mark B. April 9, 2008 04:20 am

    I use Photoshop 7.0 which dosen't have the photomerge option under automate. Is this option even available in this version or is there anything equivalent in it?

  • Art April 9, 2008 02:43 am

    When shooting panoramas with a tripod, is it best to simply reposition the tripod after each shot or to loosen the ball and rotate the camera?

  • ldrider51 April 9, 2008 02:12 am

    Very good summary article, should get most anybody capable of reading into panos pretty quickly. Thanks for doing it.

    I've done some panos, with mixed results ranging from just OK to real good. Usually use a tripod, sometimes don't if I haven't planned ahead and instead have the opportunity pop up and slap me in the face.

    Here's one I got onto BestFoto - one of only four photos I've ever gotten onto that site.


  • Andy Talbot April 8, 2008 11:21 pm

    I've taken quite a lot of panoramas now, including full QTVRs, I learnt most of this stuff the hard way, but this list seems pretty accurate to everything I've found out along the way.



  • m4rcus April 8, 2008 10:36 pm

    Here's my attempt a few years ago with a 3.2 mega pixel camera, without a tripod. Location, Lake Tahoe.


  • Mandy April 8, 2008 07:15 pm

    This is great I have always wanted to try panoramic's - properly, and these are great tips to follow.

    And once more after reading the Photography 101 course I actually understand what you are going on about e.g. focal length etc!

  • Photochick (Amanda) April 8, 2008 01:53 pm

    Goodness this is such great information! Haven't had any opportunities thus far to try panoramas - hope to some day soon though, and now I'll know exactly how to do it! Thank you very much for another really great photography lesson

  • silverhead April 8, 2008 10:16 am

    I have been doing experiments with this and it's really fun and challenging! :)

    I have been doing some test shots where i have 9 photos, in 3x3 format, to stitch. I like the outcome but some thought that it was taken with a fish-eye lens. Here's the pic:


    just curious if this is because of the software, the subject, or is this effect normal?

    Just a newbie here. Thanks. :)

  • Doug Pardee April 8, 2008 06:57 am

    In addition to locking the exposure (or using Manual mode), I'd suggest setting a White Balance setting other than "automatic". If you're shooting Raw, this is not an issue.

    Since most panoramas are wide, I also recommend not using a polarizing filter. The effect on the sky will vary across the scene.

    A final note: panoramas are a lot easier if the entire subject is at a distance. If some of the image is of closer objects, you can have problems with parallax. Then you'll have to worry about rotating the camera about the entrance pupil (widely but incorrectly called the "nodal point") of the lens.

  • Olli Jarva April 8, 2008 06:52 am

    Stitched panorama from three fisheye images taken with Tokina 10-17mm:

  • Guillaume April 8, 2008 06:46 am

    I'm running n linux and I have been using hugin (http://hugin.sourceforge.net/) to create my panoramas.
    Here some samples:

    Effectively, putting the camera in manual mode will help a lot when trying to stitch the photos together !

  • Karl April 8, 2008 06:08 am

    I have experimented with panoramas a few times. I really enjoy it.

    The barrel distortion you mentioned is very important: When straight lines turn out curved the individual frames are of more value separately than together.

    Here is a recent success from a trip to Rio de Janeiro:


  • tom April 8, 2008 05:34 am

    Autostitch is pretty good too, as a no thought, free way to stitch pics together... even handheld ones.

    Not mine, but I absolutely love this panorama from Greenwich (London) on Wikipedia. Maybe cos its one of my fave places in london.

  • Jeremy Hall April 8, 2008 05:17 am

    I have really enjoyed doing panoramics. I use Autopano to stitch the photos together, and it does an amazing job.

    I have put a few up on flickr:

  • Brett Dickson April 8, 2008 05:03 am

    For people looking for free software to create a panorama, try Hugin, it is capable of creating images like this.

  • Chris Johnson April 8, 2008 04:54 am

    Something that's easy to forget when shooting panoramas in JPG - make sure you have manual white balance set as well as manual exposure.

    RAW is especially useful for wide panoramas though, as the difference in metered exposure between shots at opposite ends of the picture can be a couple of stops or more, so it's useful to have a bit of extra headroom.

  • ditch_azeroth April 8, 2008 04:20 am

    hmm... come to think of it, i can take awesome stitched panoramic shots with my s3IS. i just need to zoom 'round halfway, and that should take care of all the distortions. i got all the exposure lock controls, so that should make it even easier.

    now, if only i had scenes like these to shoot. it's beach all around in my archipelago... lol

  • Fredrik Steffen April 8, 2008 03:07 am

    Panoramas are always fun to do. It's quite easy to do them without a tripod as well, if you've got steady hands ;)


  • PShorten April 8, 2008 02:01 am

    I really want to try this but have put it off as it means figuring out one more photoshop function...after this article and the beautiful photos I'm ready!

  • My Camera World April 8, 2008 12:54 am

    There is something magical about large panoramic images especially as you get close and examine all the fine detail.

    On my blog article - Shoot Wide- Very Wide - Pano Images.

    I some pano images (1200x300pxs) and then below I show sections of these at actual size.
    Do click on images to see the actual size.
    Niels Henriksen

  • Patrik Kullman April 8, 2008 12:52 am

    I've actually learnt all the tips the hard way, but it's a great summary!

    Also, I'd recommend the free Hugin (http://hugin.sourceforge.net/) - available to Mac, Windows and Linux for the actual stiching.