How to Take Panoramas
Shooting for Fun
Shooting photos to stitch into panoramas for personal enjoyment is relatively easy and is not complicated. You can use a point-and-shoot or the most sophisticated SLR cameras. The objective here is to create a wonderful memory for you, your family, and your friends, not necessarily to create a museum masterpiece to put in the Louvre or Museum of Modern Art (if you do, however, see the steps for professional-quality panoramas.).
These guildelines help you capture panorama memories:
- Stand in one spot and survey (rotate through) the shots to preview your scene
- Rotate around your spot (think of yourself as a tripod!)
- Keep the camera as level as possible
- Do not use a flash
- Overlap your shots by about 30% (50% if you are relatively close to your target)
- Use the highest quality settings for your camera and keep the settings the same (e.g., focus, zoom, quality, etc.) throughout the shots
- Take the shots within a few seconds of each other
- Allow for some loss of the scence due to cropping
- Insert a divider shot (ground or sky) between groups of photos
- RELAX and enjoy the moment
It seems like a lot of things for you to remember, but just think of taking one shot many times, moving from right to left (or left to right) to get all your shots. Figure 1 shows the overlap of the photos and gives an indication of the portions of the photos that will be lost to cropping.
Figure 1. The shaded blue area shows loss to cropping. Keep this in mind when composing your shots.
In the six-shot example above, the target was relatively far away, so there was very little distortion between shots (these are actually just 6 of the 10 shots for a longer panorma!). Thus, when the photos are stitche into the final image and cropped, you can see in the image below that the portion lost to cropping was not too much, but attention to the composition was important not to lose details on the edges. The lesson here is allow some "breathing" room around your target.
Figure 2. This shows the stitched image with portions lost to cropping.
Okay, the steps above seem easy enough. What should you look out for? Here are the things that can ruin a panorama:
- MOTION! Anything moving during the sequence of shots can create trouble. Waves on a beautiful beach are the worst! People moving through a scene may show up in multiple locations on the finished pan.
- Being too close to your target.
- Not enough overlap. It is better to have too much than too little, especially when shooting targets that are close.
- Changes in light. If the images get lighter or darker, it can cause the panorma to become under- or over-exposed.
- Changing your location or camera settings during the sequence of shots.
- Using a fish-eye lens--the distortion does not allow for good stitching
- Did I mention MOTION? Yep, this is the biggest and most challenging aspect of getting a good panorama
But...don't dispair, with the exception of motion, being too close, and changing camera location or settings, most of these issues can be address with photo editing software. So, don't let these stop you from trying a panorama that suffers from one or more of these challenges.
Just get out there and SHOOT! Practice really does make perfect.
Shooting for the Louvre (professional-quailty panoramas)!
Alright, you want to shoot for the best result possible, eh? You want to be the Ansel Adams of panoramas. Okay, here are the guidelines to help get the best panorama possible:
- Use a tripod
- Turn off white balance
- Turn off auto focus
- Set your exposure for the mid-range of the light throughout your shots and use the ONE setting
- Shoot in RAW or the highest quality setting your camera supports
- Do not use your flash
- Overlap your shots by 30-50%
- Pick scenes that someone other than you might care about!
If you don't know what the list above is referring to, then stick to shooting for fun. If you understand them, then you know what to do.