A panoramic photo provides an unbroken wide-angle view of the whole region surrounding the photographer. It overcomes the narrow-viewing angle that can be captured in a single photo frame, and provides a far better impression of ‘being there’ – in fact some panoramas turn out so impressively, they almost improve on reality. Perfect panoramas are now easy to create using simple software or in-camera stitching programs. Read on as I put you in the frame.
The photo above is a composite panorama I took of a terraced Bali rice field. Stitched panoramas often emerge with the curved 3D perspective, which can be enjoyed for what it is, or close-cropped for more conventional rectangular display.
Even a cheap digital camera can be used to take a series of photos that can be stitched together later to create a stunning panoramic photo. Here are some of the best methods and common mistakes to avoid.
Amateur photographers can kick off using the Panorama/Stitch modes in their camera; it’ll help teach how to create a good panorama before trying the manual method.
Sony’s Cybershot range of cameras has perhaps the best implementation of automated panorama creation, using the “Sweep” feature, where the images are taken in one continuous pan of the camera.
Others require shot-by-shot interaction where alignment becomes important. On some (such as the iPad app ‘Pano’), the program assists by shadowing the previous
image over the current view, so you can position the next shot perfectly. The same feature is hidden on iPhones running iOS5 – if you have developer privileges or a jailbroken iPhone, search the web for instructions on how to turn it on. Otherwise there are apps available to assist.
Panoramas are most commonly seen in horizontal format, but can also be vertical for tall trees, waterfalls, big buildings etc. You can take the first shot sideways on,
at the bottom, and keep slowly tilting the camera up until you reach the top. For a still more dramatic effect (and a huge image size), some stitching programs can handle multiple rows.
I took the panoramic photo below of Wolfe Creek Crater in the remote North Western Kimberley region of Western Australia. The curved photo edge helps to show just how steep the crater walls were to walk down to the centre.
If you’re taking a series of photos to be stitched together later on your computer into a single panorama photo, the following are sensible considerations.
- Use a tripod if possible, to keep the horizon steady across each photo. If you don’t want to carry a big tripod around consider the Steadepod
- Take photos from left to right as if you were panning your own eyes to take in the whole scene.
- Overlap about 30% between each photo. This helps the stitching program on your computer to join sequential photos by looking for common visual content at the edges of sequential photos.
- Initially move your camera across the area you plan to include, and see how the shutter speed, aperture (F stop) and ISO (light level) changes across the view. Force manual settings at a halfway average of the range for each: e.g. if the brightest area is F2.0 and the darkest is F4.5, try fixing at F3.2 or F2.8. If you let autoexposure take over you may find adjacent shots don’t match in terms of lighting and exposure.
- Take the sequence of photos as quickly as possible, to avoid movement between images of fast clouds, waves, people, cars, animals etc.
- Avoid very wide angle lens settings when taking panoramic photos. I’ve had no issues using a setting of 26mm but going much wider can result in distorted panoramas.
- The most common problem on panorama images originate from elements that have moved between frames, or from difference in angles that make a perfect stitch impossible.
Even if you’ve managed to take a sequence of photos to stitch into a good panorama photo, how are you going to view the result? Traditional paper photo printing is very difficult, as panoramic photos result in unusually wide aspect ratios that photo printers aren’t set up for. Even if a lab is willing to print it for you, they’ll be cutting a much larger print size so even a single panorama may cost a pretty penny.
Panoramic photos can look great when viewed on a big computer screen and even better on today’s giant TV screens. The caveat is that panoramic photos tend to end up with very large file sizes (since they combine many images).
Some Blu-ray players and media players may choke on the file size, others may display them oddly for example, when Apple TV streams a panoramic image from iPhoto, it first drops the resolution to the TV’s resolution, then often zooms in on just one section, displaying it fullscreen. The result can be a low-res mess.
For wall display, canvas prints have always been a good option, but I spotted an exciting alternative at last year’s PMA Imaging & Entertainment Expo. Australian company Print2Metal.com has invented a way to print photos onto aluminium sheets, with a range of finishes from glossy to brushed metal. With a careful choice of material, the results can be spectacular.
Several years ago the best panora mamaking software packages had to be purchased. They varied in ease of use and the quality with which they automatically stitched photos together.
These days the tables have turned, and there are many free high-quality programs available for Windows (Curiously Apple has not included panorama stitching functionality in their free iPhoto 11 or paid Aperture 3 software.)
- Microsoft Windows Live Essentials Photo Gallery (Windows)
- Microsoft ICE Image Composite Editor (Windows)
- Microsoft Photosynth (Windows/iPhone)
- Hugin (Windows/OSX/Linux)
- Pano (iPad)
- Arcsoft Panorama Maker (Windows/OSX)
- Kolor Autopano Giga & Autopano Pro (Windows/OSX)
- Adobe Photoshop Elements (Windows/OSX)
- Adobe Photoshop (Windows/OSX)
Panoramas are most commonly taken with the camera held in the standard horizontal grip (left hand at left and right hand at right). The very wide panorama photo below is of the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia.
However if you hold your camera sideways, so the left hand is at the bottom and right hand on top, then take successive photos moving the camera horizontally across, you’ll be able to create panoramas which are higher, as with this panoramic picture I took at Tasmania’s Bay of Fires.