I’ve created a lot of new panoramic images in the last couple of years. These aren’t just cropped from a standard image. Instead I shoot a series of overlapping images and then combine them in Photoshop. This creates a very high resolution image that captures far more detail than a cropped image would. You can see a gallery of my panoramic images on my website.
I thought I’d share a few tips for creating your own:
- Use a tripod and make sure it is level. I use a tripod for virtually every photograph I take. In addition to assuring that the camera is absolutely still during the exposure, I find a tripod helps me be more thoughtful and deliberative in my work. When shooting a series of images for a panorama, it is important that the tripod be level–otherwise your images will line up in an arc instead of a straight line. My tripod has a built-in bubble level, but you can also purchase one as an accessory.
- Use a tripod head with a panoramic base. My ball head has an independent lock so it can rotate in the horizontal direction while the rest of the camera remains firmly locked. This assures that the overlapping images will be closely registered.
- Level your camera too. My camera has a wonderful display that I can use to make sure it is level across the horizontal plane. Again, you can also purchase an accessory bubble level for this. For shooting panoramas it’s okay if the camera is tilted forward or back, but you want the horizon level.
- Shoot in manual mode. You want your exposures to be identical in all of the overlapping images. The only way to do this is to set both the aperture and shutter speed manually. I first take test shots of the scene in aperture priority mode to find the ideal exposure, and then I switch to manual exposure using those settings.
- Overlap your images approximately 25 percent. Take a series of shots, rotating your camera so that they overlap by about 25 percent. Frame your images with a little extra space on all sides, so you have some wiggle room when it’s time to crop the final composite.
- Be careful with polarizing filters. I use a polarizing filter on most of my images. This filter cuts glare on reflective surfaces and enriches the colors. But you have to be careful with panoramic images, since the effect on the blue sky is most pronounced at a 90 degree angle from the sun. It can create an unnatural looking gradient from dark to light blue across the picture when shooting a long expanse of sky.
- Blend the images in your favorite software. I use Photoshop for the vast majority of my panoramas, but there are lots of other options. Some are freeware or shareware, and some are far more sophisticated and expensive. You’ll have to do your own research on this!
- Crop to a standard size. My favorite proportion for panorama is 3:1. I also have used a 5:2 ratio and 2:1 ratio.