Panorama Photography


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Panorama Basics

Panorama images have become a favorite photographic technique for me. I really enjoy making huge panoramic, sweeping images from multiple exposures. Panorama photography is easy to do; you don’t need a special camera and in some cases you don’t even need any particular special technique.

For example, this panorama of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa was created by taking 5 individual exposures and using Photoshop’s built-in panorama function.

Death Valley Racetrack Playa Grandstand

This image – as many of mine are – was hand-held. This panorama of Panamint Valley was created with 12 or 14 imagesĀ  (6 or 7 across 2 rows) and is a huge file.

Death Valley Panamint Valley

For a basic panorama you should carefully set up your shot and have about 20% to 25% overlap from image to image. I always hold the camera in portrait orientation for horizontally-oriented panos and in landscape orientation for vertical panos.

You should set the camera’s exposure mode to Aperture Priority to ensure that the depth of field does not change from image to image and you should also remove the polarizer filter if you have one attached to the front of the lens. Aperture priority means you select an “f-stop” (the lens aperture) and the camera will select a shutter speed appropriate for the conditions. All of this assures that each image’s exposure will be similar and will look natural when they are all stitched together.

Advanced Panorama Techniques

When capturing images of objects or scenery far away relatively speaking, a handheld approach provides good results. But, when a panorama of close-in objects or a scene is desired, the proper technique and the proper equipment is required. The workflow with the camera is the same, but rotating the camera around it’s nodal point and eliminating parallax is vital.

Another approach is to use a robot, such as the Gigapan product line. The cost differential between a full-blown Really Right Stuff manual set up and a Gigapan set up is minimal, with the advantage to RRS that no batteries are required and the advantage to Gigapan that the process is automated.

Stitching Software

Many software options exist (Mac OS X search); the Gigapan system comes with it’s own software, Photoshop CS3 and above has a panorama mode included. I have used Kekus Software’s PTMac software as well as their Calico product. Most of these are a lot more “hands off” and designed for ease of use. They have a lot of internal smarts and can do a top-notch job of merging the individual images into a gorgeous panorama image.

PTMac, however, is fundamentally different from these others; it is designed to give you the most control possible in selecting overlapping control points from adjacent images and save those control points as a file which can be used for subsequent panoramas. Why would you want to do that? Well, the most important application is if you want to do an HDR panorama. You can do it two ways; you create individual HDR images for each panorama segment and then stitch them together, OR you can stitch each set of image exposure sets and then HDR the 3, 5, 7 or more panoramas into an HDR image. But to do that, you must stitch all the exposure sets using the same control points; otherwise you’ll get alignment and registration problems when you try to build the HDR image.

Final Image

This panorama of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, CA was shot at night and used 3 rows of 5 images each. I have several others similar to this at my Southern California gallery at my photo gallery (Alan R Zeleznikar Photography).

California Oceanside San Luis Rey Mission

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