Panoramic photography tutorial: how to make your biggest-ever images

Panoramic photography 01

In this panoramic photography tutorial we show you how to increase your camera’s resolution and capture more of a scene.

The world doesn’t always fit into the 3:2 aspect ratio of your camera’s sensor. We wanted to photograph the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol which, like most bridges, is long and narrow.

We made sure we stood far enough away to get the whole bridge and its surroundings in the frame, but that left a large area of blank sky above and foreground below, which added nothing to the picture and made the bridge look quite small in the frame.

We could have cropped off the top and bottom of the picture, but that would have cut our 12-megapixel photo down to five to six megapixels. The smarter solution when you’re faced with this sort of subject is panoramic photography.

This is a series of overlapping frames that are then stitched together on the computer. We’re using Photoshop Elements and its Photomerge option for stitching, but other tools are available.

When shooting, all you need to do is keep the camera as straight and as level as possible. You can shoot panoramas handheld, but a tripod is best.

You also need to switch over to manual settings on the camera so that there’s no variation in colour, exposure or focus between the frames. After that, it’s the software that does all the work.

For this shot, taking several pictures and stitching them together means that we get a picture with the right shape and, because it’s constructed from several frames, it has a much higher resolution than a single image taken with the same camera. Our finished photograph is over 30 megapixels!

Panoramic photography suits this subject really well, and it’s the opposite of cropping because you’re actually extending the image area rather than reducing it.

SEE MORE: What is aspect ratio in photography – a beginner’s guide

The Photomerge tool in Photoshop Elements can stitch together overlapping frames so well that you can’t see the joins. But clever as it is, you need to give it a fighting chance in the first place.

It can identify and align objects which appear in successive frames and correct the lens geometry, but it will be thrown by exposure, focus and White Balance variations, so it’s up to you to eliminate as many sources of variation as possible if you want to perfect your panoramic photography.

SEE MORE: Vertorama tutorial – how to make enormous landscapes with loads of impact

Panoramic photography step by step – steps 1-3

01 Tripod time

For successful panoramic photography you really need a tripod. You can shoot hand-held in an emergency, but it’s hard to avoid variation in the heights of the frames in the sequence, which means you’ll have to crop off too much of the picture’s top and bottom edges later on to even up the edges.

SEE MORE: 8 classic tripod mistakes every photographer makes (and how to avoid them)

02 On the level

You’ll need a head with a separate panning axis, and it’s really important that you get the base of the tripod level so that the camera doesn’t tilt as you pan through the sequence of images. This tripod has a bubble level, but you can also do a dry run looking through the viewfinder to check the camera stays straight.

Panoramic photography step by step – steps 1-2
Panoramic photography step by step – steps 3-4
Panoramic photography step by step – steps 5-6


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