Guide: Panoramas


Eagle Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine

 


The Balanced Rock and La Sal Mountains, Arches National Park, Utah

There are many times that we have the desire to capture the full breadth of a landscape. Sometimes, your trusty wide angle lens is just not going to cut it. When properly executed, a panorama can certainly be the high-impact image you’re looking for.  There is a wide variation in technique and many photographers have their own preferences.  I’ve discovered that it does not have to be complicated – it’s not meant to be rocket science.

What do you need?
1. Tripod: There is really no way to reliably shoot a panorama without one. While a panoramic head will certainly help by minimizing distortion and adjusting for perspective, it is not a must – I do not use one as they are quite expensive and bulky to carry in the field.
2. Stitching software: My personal preference lies with
PTGui. Adobe Photoshop can certainly do the job and is needed for some final touches.

Technique:
Pretty simple stuff. Once you have your camera set up on a tripod, determine the proper exposure and composition. While maintaining the same focal length, capture sequential images by rotating the tripod head while adjusting to keep the horizon at the same level on every capture. The images should overlap by at least 1/3 or more for successful stitching. The sky is the limit in terms of the number of exposures – the Balanced Rock panorama above was made with seven stitched photographs.

Post processing:
My workflow for panoramas is Adobe Lightroom > PTGui > Adobe Photoshop. Once you have adjusted the individual photographs for similar exposure so that they blend together as seamlessly as possible, export the images into PTGui. From there, it’s pretty easy, load the images and PTGui aligns them, and then lets you know if it is a good fit. If not, you may have to adjust control points manually. It is of benefit to experiment with different
projections, whether cylindrical, rectilinear, equirectangular, circular, vedutismo or the fun stereographic. The final touches in Photoshop are needed to crop the image and smooth out any (small) inconsistencies, which often occur in the sky due to different exposure.


Please let me know if you have any questions. Here are some more examples:


May Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

 


Tunnel View of El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

 


 Monument Valley at Dawn, Utah

 


Downtown San Francisco and Bay Bridge, California

 


Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

 

All images are ©2011-2012 Alexander Filatov Photography. All rights reserved.

  • Great panos there Alex – don’t think I’d seen many from you before.

    One thing I’d like to add from my own panorama misadventures: The effect of a polarizing filter can be uneven with wide angle shots – and that effect is annoying but not always a deal breaker. However, stitching together multiple shots with that effect creates a rather bad sky in a panorama. I’ve learned to just leave them off when there is blue sky in a panorama – especially if it is very wide.

    Generally if I am having a problem with stitching a panorama the issue is I did not create enough overlap – that 1/3 overlap is probably one of the most important pieces of advice you’ve mentioned!

    • Alex

      Hi Mike! Thanks for your reply. 🙂 Yeah very true about the polarizer, I have left it off in the majority of the these shots. The most difficult thing tends to be, as you’ve implied, is getting a very even sky, because even minor exposure differences can throw it off. So one may have to process using PTGui and then go back to the beginning and redo the exposure adjustments, then reprocessing again.

      Have a great weekend!

  • Glenn

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for sharing your technique, this is a great article!
    Do you recommend stitching raw files, or do you convert the individual files first?

    Glenn

    • Alex

      Hi Glenn, thanks! That’s a great question. I tend to convert first. Especially when shooting just before or during sunrise/sunset, the exposures across the images tend not to be entirely uniform. This may become a problem when trying to achieve a well-blended sky in your final panorama. So therefore I try to correct for that prior to firing up PTGui, so that hopefully the work I have to do with the stitched image is minimal. Hope that helps!

      • wow…speedy reply!

        That is good to know, but maybe I should have been more specific in my first comment 🙂

        Do you convert to Jpeg or do you use Tiffs for stitching?

        Thanks again,

        Glenn

        • Alex

          Glenn, I import TIFFs into PTGui. In terms of output from PTGui, it’s up to what your machine can handle. A 3-shot panorama when exported from PTGui will be easily over 300 MB, so anything stitched from 5-6 or more shots tends to get saved as a 300 dpi JPEG. But definitely, PTGui should be using your highest quality images to start with.

  • Wandawilantara

    hai, im from indonesia..
    amazing when im looking at your pict, will you making a tutorial video and then upload to youtube??
    so i can get practice more and more to have a great lancscape pict 🙂
    and when you take a pict, did you use RAW file or jpeg??
    thx 🙂

    • Alex

      Hi, thanks for visiting! Unlikely I will be making a video anytime soon because I am currently in the process of migrating to this new site. But perhaps at some point later I will.

      Definitely shoot in RAW, you can push the images much further in processing.

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