Shooting Panoramas

Let’s talk Shooting Panoramas

There’s a scene playing out in front of us, and we only wish we had a wide enough angle to encapsulate everything within it genuinely.

It could be a vast landscape, a narrative playing out at a gathering of friends or an architectural spectacle that falls outside of our frame. This is where many of us will have at least tried to have a good go at a panoramic image.

While panoramas aren’t the most difficult of techniques to get right, there are many rules, and naturally, pitfalls to both adhere to and try to avoid.

What is a Panorama?

A panorama is essentially a broad view which surrounds an observer. Generally, it refers to an optical standpoint, which sits outside of our peripheries.

With that in mind, it can span anything from 180 to 360 degrees. In photographic terms, the panorama is a little more confined.

Since we only ever have the frame of the camera – changed only by the focal length of the lens – we can technically call a panorama any image which breaks the boundaries of the frame within which we work.

There are lenses which will give you a super wide angle – 10-14mm for example – but these still work to confine the angle within the ratio of our frame, be it cropped or full.

The panorama comes into action when we break this, usually horizontally, to make a more extended, more all-encompassing image.

How Best to Shoot Panoramas?

There are some classic do’s and don’t’s when it comes to shooting a good panorama. These come in forms of your composition and the technicalities involved in the shooting.

In this article, we’re not going to go into too much detail about the merging process as there are many different means and ways of achieving this in various editing software, all of which do a pretty great job.

If you have you’re own way of working once you have your images, then I won’t be the one to convince you otherwise. However, there are set ways in which you can shoot so that the pictures you retain go to edit with the best possible chance of becoming an impressive and detailed panorama. So let’s get to grips with it.

1. Shooting Separate Images

This may seem like a self-evident thing to state, but shooting separate images to create your panorama later is the most effective way of retaining both detail and clarity as well as enabling a selective process that is otherwise difficult to engage with when using the various ‘built-in’ methods available.

Many different techniques enable you to get a panoramic image easily these days. Many involve a simple swiping of your camera or smartphone from left to right, while a live view tracks the imagery.

While this is a nifty trick, it does nothing for things like movement within the frame and often distorts the pictures in areas quite drastically. There will also usually be a substantial drop in quality as the image is compressed so that you’re able to shoot quickly and process quickly within the camera.

It stands to reason then, that by shooting separate images to placing them side by side as your panorama later you’re able to retain the quality contained within the full force of your camera’s sensor.

2. Shooting Accurately

If you have a specific scene in mind that you’re looking to shoot as a panorama, then it’s imperative that you shoot accurately. Often, it’s a huge help to be set up on a tripod, so that your pan from left to right or right to left can be smooth.

However, this isn’t set in stone. It’s often the case that panoramas are presented as a range of high-res images, all slightly higher or lower than the ones preceding them so that the finished piece reads both as one long piece as well as a visible stitching of separate images. Whatever your intention, make sure you’re aware of it before you begin shooting.

It’s also worth keeping a specific reference point within each shot, usually towards the side of the frame you’re panning towards. This means you can link the two up as a general guide while shooting and match them up later in the edit. Straight lines usually help here – the side of a building for example.

3. Choose Your Shooting Mode Carefully

This is particularly important when shooting outdoors and in landscape but generally, there will always be some change in light from one shot to the next. You could be shooting into the sun in your initial image, for example, but over to a far shadowed are the next.

This will be an issue right from the off in terms of how your camera reads the light and subsequently changes the exposure value along with things such as your shutter speed and/or aperture.

Changing your aperture is a huge ‘no no’. The moment that aperture changes, so too does your depth of field and we certainly don’t want to be pairing up a pin sharp landscape shot with one where that depth of field falls away a lot quicker. Stick with a chosen aperture. Aperture Priority mode is a good starting point here. Perhaps even consider full Manual. Just make sure that exposure stays consistent, whichever you go for.

4. Composition

As always, the composition is going to rear its head. Shooting a panorama is no different to shooting a landscape image in terms of its composition. It’s still wise to make sure you’re scene has some form of foreground interest. Think about your sweeping scene. No matter how dramatic or beautiful, it will always help to lead our eyes through the frame using those various focal planes.

If you think about how to use all the compositional traits you’ve learned or engaged within a customarily framed image. This should be no different for your panorama. Take the rule of thirds for example. Since the only thing changing here is the width of your frame for the finished images, it’s important to make that distinction and not have a particular subject matter or focal point sat too far over to one side. Remember, it’s all about ratio!

5. Always Shoot RAW

This one is a given. Just as with any other topic. RAW means the full force of your camera is being used and not only does this mean far better clarity and detail, but also more ability to work the image in the editing process. You may be working with quite a large file by the end of it, but it’s worth it.

6. Only Convert Once You’re Happy!

With shooting RAW in mind, only then convert once you’re happy! Going back to a panorama once you’ve converted the file size and saved to JPEG will only mean a much higher risk of distortion if you’re continuing to edit.

And there you have it! If you’re going to deny the temptation of all of those in-camera iPhone style swipe panoramic, then these are the things that you should ideally be adhering to. It can be time-consuming. It can even be a little frustrating, but if you’re ticking every box here, you’ll be creating incredibly detailed and incredibly creative panoramas in no time!

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