There’s nothing new about panoramic photography: it’s just that it’s now easier than ever before. In this tutorial we’ll run through the basics of panoramic photography, offer some tips on how to shoot your scene and then show you an easy way to stitch them together.
A panoramic image closely matches our own view of the world, so it’s a very natural way to photograph the landscape. And the good news is that shooting panoramas has never been easier. You can even do it with your smartphone.
For a more professional result, though, use your DSLR to take a series of overlapping shots that can be stitched together using Photoshop or other software to create gorgeous panoramas.
You can do this hand-held, but using a tripod will give you better control over framing. Try to get the tripod and camera level so that the resulting panorama won’t have any gaps along the top and bottom edges. The golden rule for shooting panoramas is to do everything manually.
This means using manual exposure, manual white balance and manual focus so that each frame will blend seamlessly with the others.
Shooting in a vertical panoramic format will give you more options with cropping, and help you include more foreground and sky. It also means you can use a longer focal length, which usually gives a better perspective and less distortion.
Composing a panorama can be tricky, but a good way to start is to hand-hold the camera and simply twist your body from left to right while looking through the viewfinder to see how it’ll look.
Try to include interest right across the panorama. One side can be more dominant than the other, but there should be a natural flow from left to right – or vice versa, depending on how you see the world!
Panoramic photography: tips for shooting
The golden rule in panoramic photography is to keep the settings exactly the same for each shot. This involves doing things manually, so make sure you’re familiar with working in Manual metering mode.
You also need to set the white balance manually, although you can sync this during processing if you shoot in raw. Wide-angle lenses are best avoided: they can cause problems with distortion that can’t be fixed in software.
A focal length of between 35-80mm is usually about right. While a tripod isn’t vital, it will help you frame successive images.
Best camera settings for panoramic photography
Prepare the shot
Look for scenes with interest across a wide field of view, with strong features on both sides. Form a panoramic shape with your fingers or swivel your camera to get a feel for how the scene will look. Level your tripod to get everything perfectly square.
Switch to manual
Shoot in raw so you can adjust the white balance for each shot during processing. Set the exposure in Manual (M) mode. Switch to manual focus so all the frames are identical. You can use AF to acquire focus, but switch to MF to take the shots.
Create the panorama
Mount the camera vertically and take a succession of frames with roughly a 30-per-cent overlap to aid stitching. A lens in the range of 35 to 80mm will give the best perspective. In Photoshop, use Photomerge to form the panorama.
How to make a high-resolution panoramic landscape
01 Sync everything
Use Manual mode to set the exposure so it’s the same in every shot. If the readings vary, use settings in the middle of the range. Take a test shot and evaluate the histogram. Set the white balance to 5600k and switch to manual focusing.
02 Overlap generously
With the camera on a level tripod, take the first shot on the far left and then take successive shots with a 30% overlap – don’t re-focus. If necessary take more images below and above to include everything you want in the shot.
03 Stitch your images
Import the raw images for processing and make adjustments to one image, then sync with the others. Export files at full resolution and load them into stitching software such as Photomerge, PTGui or Hugin to generate a panorama. We’ve used Elements because it has a Photomerge Panorama tool that makes stitching photos really easy.
If you’ve ever tried lining up panoramic photos manually, you’ll know there are all sorts of issues with perspective and distortion. Thankfully, Photomerge resolves these problems for you, producing seamless panoramas automatically. You may need to crop off a few untidy edges, but the process needn’t take more than a few minutes.
Under Source Files, click Add Open Files. On the left, in the Layout area, select Cylindrical. This creates the panorama inside a virtual cylinder, which is best for landscapes. The Auto and Perspective options are more optically correct but create a ‘bow tie’ shape that requires a lot of cropping.
Photoshop Elements does an amazing job of correcting perspective and merging frames, but it will leave irregular blank spaces around the edges. Elements 10 and above, though, can automatically fill in the problem areas using surrounding details. The alternative is to crop your panoramas manually.
04 Output the Panorama
The stitching software will automatically generate a composite image, but it may require cropping to remove blank canvas. After outputting, make any final adjustments to contrast and colour saturation in Photoshop.
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