Photography Stuff – Panoramas

When I remember, and the subject warrants it, I take panorama shots.  Some cameras do this automatically these days, but you can easily take decent panorama shots with the camera you have.

One can read a lot about how to do it; use a tripod, level the camera, meter and shoot manual exposure, make sure the sensor swings along a constant arc of rotation, hop up and down on one foot while chanting a song of praise to chickens.  All good stuff . . . later on this post I’ll present DIPSHIT.

Arches National Park - 2006

Monument Valley (UT) - 2011

These are loaded right on WordPress; click to open to a new window or tab, and click on any portion of the picture to enlarge that particular area.  It does not let you pan, but you can click on any portion to get the 1:1 view.

Edited to Add: gorsh durn, WordPress! Cain’t you do nuthin’ right!? Had to rebuild the links. I wonder how many other posts have had their links stripped? . . . bastards . . . 

I have shown panorama pictures in SmugMug (read my Sunset and Sunrise post), but as much as I like SmugMug it has what I think is a major flaw when presenting large pictures; it does not have a “Navigator” option.  A Navigator option is a small representation of the whole picture showing you what part of the picture you are looking at.

A much better option for large panoramas is to use Picasa.  And I mean Picasa, not the limited Google+ viewer (Google does a lot of good stuff, but they always “fiddle” with it).

I have a small album of panoramas from last year’s Utah trip.  That is a direct link to the album proper.  If you opt to “Share” the album it will give you the link redirecting it to the Google+ viewer, and the Google+ viewer “fits” the picture to the available window; it has no zoom option, and in panoramas that is a problem . . . especially my Lake Powell panorama (15,842 x 1,332 pixels) because all you see is a long thin picture.

So, here is the Lake Powell panorama.  If you click on the picture itself it will open the picture in Picasa.  Once there, right above the right corner of the picture, there is a small magnifying glass with a “+” sign in it.  Click that and it will open the view where you can zoom to the native resolution, and pan the photo.  In the lower corner, there is a “Navigator” picture.  It has a slider to adjust the zoom, and a white box showing you what part of the picture you’re looking at.  I wish SmugMug had the same option.

Edited to add: Apparently Google no longer offers the zoom option I describe – I’ve linked the actual photo here which will open in a new window – it’s a big photo (12MB) and might take a while depending on the speed of your internet.

Edited to add: Google keeps changing stuff and photos and albums are now in Photos Google. You can, in fact, zoom in via the interactive slider in the upper right corner of the window that opens when you click the magnifying glass option. 

The panorama from Arches (first one above) is composed of three photos from my 6MB Nikon D100, and I think the Monument Valley one is either 4 or 5  shots from my 16MB Nikon D7000.  The panorama of Lake Powell is composed of at least 11 and possibly 15 pictures (I can’t be bothered to check), and spans a bit more than 180 degrees.

So, all this was background . . . let me get to the DIPSHIT (D’Alise Indispensable Panorama Shooting – How I Take’m).

0) plan the number of shots you want; too many are difficult to show properly (read above).  I would suggest a minimum of three (3) shots and a maximum of five (5) shots.  I have done a full 360 degree one, but people don’t know what they are looking at, so it’s wasted.

Hint: All the stuff I am writing about is for panoramas of distant views.  I have never tried Macro panoramas.  I suggest a 50mm zoom or above when planning to shoot photos that will be stitched into a panorama.  Using wide angle lenses introduces distortions at the corner of the individual pictures which will be difficult for your stitcher program to compensate for.  Not impossible, but you might be less than pleased with the results. 

1) plant your feet or otherwise situate yourself so you will not have to move during the sequence of shots.   Most of the time I don’t have a tripod with me, or I am too lazy to get it from the car.  The three panoramas shown above, and the two below, are all handheld.

2) examine the scene, and decide what part of it is the most difficult as far as exposure.  That’s the shot you should meter, and use the Exposure Lock to lock that exposure for all the other shots.

Hint:  try to avoid panoramas that transition from full shade to full sun.   Panoramas work best if all the pictures are approximately the same exposure and dynamic range.

Hint 2: if part of your picture will have you shooting against the sun (not always, but usually a bad idea), you should consider metering that shot, otherwise that shot will be blown out and unusable.

Hint 3:  if your camera does not have an exposure lock, then you need to take note of the exposure of the shot you metered (shutter speed and f/stop), set the camera to manual, and key in the exposure. (P. S. – if you don’t know what I am talking about, stop reading and buy a camera with a built-in panoramic option)

Hint 4:  you want all the pictures at the same exposure so the program you use to stitch the photos will blend them seamlessly.  Different exposures for each photo will result in visible banding in the finished product.

3) starting from either side of the desired panorama, snap successive photographs as you rotate at the waist through the desired arc.  Each photo should overlap the previous photo by at least 25%; more is OK.  Any fewer risks the program not being able to line them up and blend them properly.  As you swing, keep the camera at the same height for each shot, avoid tilting forward or back, and make sure you keep the exposure lock down (if running on manual, don’t worry about keeping the lock down).

Hint: I like to zoom out a bit from what I want the finished product to be.  After the photos are merged and blended, I will crop down to what I want.  The extra room around my main area of interest ensures the blending process does not force me to trim into the area of interest.

4) I would suggest post-processing the picture after the stitching.  If you do post-process before, make sure all the pictures are adjusted to the same parameters (tint, brightness, sharpness, etc.).  If you are using Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements), flatten the picture when you are done or you will end up with a BIG file.  I convert mine to JPGs, and it takes them down from 200+MB to just a couple of MB (at 72dpi).

5) write a post about the picture, present it in a number of formats (blogs, e-mail, online albums), etc. etc. and rest assured two, maybe three, people will look at the finished product; most will just look at the small version of it.

Hint: the majority of people won’t dwell on your pictures beyond a cursory look.  They will not care if your panorama can show them the number of flies on a horse’s ass that’s a half mile away.  They will look at what you present on your blog, and say something like “that’s nice”, and move on with their life.  And that’s the way it should be!!  A few will really appreciate the effort and will marvel at the pictures as if discovering jewels, but the majority of people have problems they are dealing with, their own interests, their own hobbies.  Always remember you are doing this for yourself; others liking what you do is a bonus, not a means to itself.

OK, my last post was about the animals of Yellowstone, and an upcoming post will cover the park itself, so here are a couple of panoramas of Yellowstone National Park, shot with my D100 back in 2002.

I am going to show one of the single pictures used for the panorama, and then show the panorama itself.  These too are here on WordPress if you want to click on them.

The middle picture

The full panorama

The right side

The whole thing (I think 6 or 7 photographs)

As usual, thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I am not a pro.  There are many instructional articles on shooting panoramas one can find on the Internet.  The above is written in part because photography and writing take me away from the troubles of the world.  Combining the two, and having fun doing it, keeps me from  . . . well, suffice it to say my talents are best focused here.