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Panoramic Photography Tips

This is an updated version of an article I put on the site many years ago - and the techniques and equipment have come a long way since then! Now, even phones come with aids for panoramic photography.

Equipment

You really don't need anything very fancy in the way of equipment to produce panoramas. The basic idea is extremely simple - get a set of overlapping images and join them up to make one big one. This is most easily done in software, and to save mucking around with a scanner, a digital camera makes life MUCH easier.

Even one of those cheap 'pocket' tripods can make a huge difference. Because flash is a bad idea, (and often ineffective when photographing something big enough to fill a panorama), using one of these will generally give much better results. Using the self timer with one will help keep it steady for long exposures.

Pretty much any digital camera will do nicely, but here are some thoughts to bear in mind:

As you are building an image from many smaller ones, resolution is not very important - indeed, if the image size gets too large, you will need a lot of memory on your PC to handle the stitching. Any modern camera, and most phone cameras are perfectly adequate.

You will be taking many more images to produce one finished panorama, so plenty of storage on the camera is useful. I like to take the input images at the widest available angle, to reduce the number needed to get good coverage. This not only saves on storage, but with few joins there is less potential for blending and matching problems.  


Panoramic format prints can be a lot more expensive than normally proportioned ones, so you will find it very useful to have your own photo printer. Very wide shots can be extremely long and thin, a printer that takes a roll of paper can be much more effective here. If you do want commercial prints, personally I am very happy with the service I have received from http://WWW.PHOTOBOX.CO.UK There is a LOT of detail in most panoramas (and other compound images), so you will probably want to print larger than usual, to bring the best out of your photos.

Software

I use 'PT Gui', but plenty of other packages work well. To avoid re-inventing the wheel, I suggest you take a look at www.panoguide.com for a comprehensive review and comparison of available software. Both these packages have demo versions you can download to try, but they will stamp their name over the images while you are trying it out. It is good enough to let you see if the software is to your liking, and what the results are like.


Features to check for in software before buying:


   Does it allow for manual adjustment if automatic stitching fails?


How do you use it?

In general the packages all work in pretty much the same way - you load in some photos, maybe sort them into one or more rows, then ask the software to stitch them together. At this point it will start working on the photos, possibly for some minutes. If the software has difficulty matching up the images, it may ask you for some help in lining them up, possibly by sliding one over another on screen, or by marking matching points on the images. When it knows how to stitch them together, it will then blend the overlapping parts smoothly.

You may also have the option of making alternative output formats, such as creating virtual reality type scene, where you can pan around the image and zoom in and out. Less portable than a photograph, but fun.

Taking the photos

Find yourself a nice scene, and work along the bits you want , in rows or columns. Most software wants about 20% overlap at each side. The software should help fix exposure variations for you, but it will help a lot to avoid wide variations in brightness. Take care to hold the camera still and level - a tripod will help greatly, but a steady hand can work just fine. If you do have a digital camera, review the images before leaving the scene!

Try and avoid things being very close to the camera - this will make any camera movement between shots VERY obvious, and ruin the results. Remember to rotate around the camera position, not just turn in a circle holding the camera. Unless you have a VERY good flash, avoid this when taking panoramas - any unevenness will be VERY obvious in the blended images. Windy days can cause problems, as trees, flags, and other things bend in the wind and change position. I was pleasantly surprised that ripples on water do not seem to have this problem - both the packages I have used can make effective joins on water, without obvious blurring or other soft image effects.

A truly regular pattern, like many repeating identical office windows can cause greater problems.,

It's a shame to spoil a sequence of 24 images because your finger was over the lens for 1 of them! If you really want that photo, try taking two complete sets of images - perhaps with different overlap areas. This is particularly recommended if circumstances are difficult, e.g. bad light, long exposures, many moving people.

People in panoramas.

People can be a problem, particularly in busy areas. try and keep people who are moving near the centre of that frame. Those on the edges will often appear as ghosts in the final image, as they will be in a different position in the next frame if overlapped. This can look rather effective, so don't be put off if there are large numbers of people moving through the scene you want to photograph.

Another way to use moving people to your advantage - with patience you can get individual frames almost clear of people, and get a much less obstructed shot than one big photo would have done.

But remember, you only need the people out of the frame you are taking, so if a scene is not too busy, you can remove people a frame at a time.

Alternatively, if the people don't actually fall partway out of a frame, you can always use the original frames to retouch the panorama, for example by using the ever popular 'clone' tool, to copy an unfaded version of a person over the top of the faded parts.

people panorama

What works well.

Scenes with many large objects at differing distances often work well. You often will need some sort of interesting shape on the larger scales to make it look good. I find that a large feature at each end of an image to 'book end' the scene can work very nicely. Extreme symmetry can look very dull in normal photo, reducing it to simple geometric blocks, but it can work very well in a panorama. I find that bridges can work very nicely, (that's why there are so many in my panoramas!)

You can get some very interesting photos if you get someone to move from one frame to another as you take the photos! I recommend only using the person in every other shot, or you may find it fiddly to get the blending right.

clone people panorama

Sunny days with big fluffy clouds work nicely for many subjects, but avoid shooting into the sun. Also be aware that if you have any frames dominated by sky, stitching the images may become tricky.

If you have several rows of images, so there is a large image vertically as well as horizontally, distortions are unavoidable. But this too can work in your favour, provided you do not insist on a realistic look. For example, the way that rectangular structures turn into smoothly flowing curves can be reminiscent of an Escher engraving.

extreme courtyard panorama

Or extreme perspective can be used to give an extremely dramatic viewpoint:

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