Panoramic Photography Part I: Simple Basics

While leading a private workshop I snapped this 3 exposure panoramic while my client had a clear path with out foot prints in front of us besides what was off in the distance. The fleeting light needed to captured quickly so each of the 3 exposures were only seconds apart. In winter the light is gone fast and it can create problems for slow creation of panoramic photographs.

A few simple basics I recommend keeping in mind.

• Use a tripod unless it’s a snapshot to you. There is nothing wrong with handheld snapshots at speeds of double the focal length with added image stabilization down to about 1/125 shutter speed. If you don’t have a panoramic head level the tripod as best you can. If the light is fleeting don’t let it get away, fire a few shots before you set up perfectly.

• Establish a beginning and an end point.

• Make sure you have enough overlap 20-30% is fine unless you go really wide, then you’ll need more. With older stitching software you might need the extra coverage or you’ll start to see gaps in the top and bottom. CS4 & CS5 do a great job stitching at 20-30%.

• Shoot in manual or lock your exposure so that it does not change. (Advanced tip: I will occasionally add more light into a dusk scene where light is changing quickly. You can read more this in part 2.)

• Lock your focus. Be careful not move the focus ring or zoom between moving the camera for each exposure.

• Make sure to set the white balance to something besides auto.

• You don’t always need a foreground or a middleground. I have heard countless photographers say you need a foreground to create depth, that is not true. Some subjects don’t lend themselves to that, it’s best to stay open to change. You don’t want to witness the best light you have ever seen on your favorite mountain but not take a picture because you don’t have a foreground.

• Don’t limit yourself to a horizontal rectangle. A panoramic can be vertical, square or whatever you decide on. You can make a circle for all I care.

Most of these simple tips can be found anywhere on the net, some even copied verbatim. Don’t limit yourself to what I have mentioned here, take the bits and pieces that work for you. You can subscribe to the blog if you feel want to stick around for Part II: Advanced Tips of Panoramic Photography. I don’t blog heavily so you will not be bombarded with emails, this is no daytime talk show.

Some of Steve’s Panoramic Photographs gallery.

Workshop info: Scenic Photo Workshops
Private or small group workshop info: Learn.

About the photograph: While leading a private workshop I snapped this 3 exposure panoramic while my client had a clear path with out foot prints in front of us besides what was off in the distance. This scene with fleeting light needed to be taken quickly so each of the 3 exposures were only seconds apart. In winter the light is gone faster then you think and that can create problems for slow creation of panoramic photographs. With a longer lens I can stay closer to clients when the light is at it’s best. This helps me show examples of what I have created in the field during a workshop without the need to disappear in search of that perfect foreground. Surprisingly enough most students don’t want me attached to the hip but I stick around anyway.

Read part II here

Website: Portfolio
Workshop info: Scenic Photo Workshops
Private or small group workshop info: Learn.
Steve’s Photo Tips and How To Page
Steve’s Landscape Photographer Tools Page

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16 Responses to “Panoramic Photography Part I: Simple Basics”

  1. Greg Russell Says:

    Fantastic notes, Steve. Panoramas are really pleasing, and I have a couple of my own hanging in our house. Looking forward to seeing what comes along in part II. In the meantime, check out my panorama from February on panoramas…

    http://www.alpenglowimagesphotography.com/blog/?p=82

    I had never thought of switching out of AWB mode–thanks for the pointer!

    Cheers,
    Greg

  2. roteague Says:

    I occasionally do panoramics, but I don’t have to go through all the hassle with overlapping and stiching ….. How do I do it? Simple, I use a 6×12 back and 120 roll film

  3. David Leland Hyde Says:

    Incredible photograph, Steve. Amazing forms. Impressive. This is my favorite of yours I’ve seen yet. These are also great tips for me. People say I have a great eye from growing up around my father, but I need basic instruction like this. Even though I don’t do panoramas, I learned something.

  4. Steve Sieren Says:

    Greg, Are you an engineer? Your link pano link reminds of tearing apart some cable releases with my dad. We spliced a couple of non working ones to swap parts to create one good working one. The way you explain the leveling makes me wonder if you’re an engineer.

    That is a nice take on Zabriskie Point, It’s very colorful.

    David, thank you. You can create them with snapshots now. Even point and shoots have have guide lines in the camera so don’t even need a tripod when it’s bright out. You can even create rows on top of rows.

  5. Richard Wong Says:

    Great shot Steve. I’d like to add a few more ideas:

    Jim Goldstein gave me the idea to shoot the horizontal panos as all vertical images. It seems to guarantee you cover all the scene so you aren’t missing pieces.

    I’ve also heard that a Tilt and Shift lens can help make panos quite easy since all you have to do is shift the lens and not move the camera positioning.

  6. gdanmitchell Says:

    “You don’t always need a foreground or a middleground. I have heard countless photographers say you need a foreground to create depth, that is not true. Some subjects don’t lend themselves to that, it’s best to stay open to change.”

    I want to add this to my list of “rules” that should be regularly violated. :-)

    Dan

  7. Derrick Says:

    Good tips and a wonderful image!

  8. steve sieren Says:

    Dan, rules, there are no rules.

    Roteague, You’ve got it made but you can still shoot another shot if you’re feeling cramped at the top or bottom. That would double your size.

    Richard, I use a 24 TSE lens, the panos come out as a square if you’re just shifting but if you replace your ball head you can get even more out of the lens.

  9. John Wall Says:

    I’ve never had a problem leaving AWB on, but maybe I’ve just been lucky. Is it really likely to shift from one exposure to another?

  10. Kostas Petrakis Says:

    I don’t do much pano, but I am curious (regarding other photographers) do you strict yourself to a usual format? (like 1:2,5) or you don’t mind, if you don’t how do you compensate for the print? (borders?)

  11. Steve Sieren Says:

    John, it really depends if your chosen scene can fool the camera. If all light is the same and doesn’t change your camera’s meter reading then it won’t be a problem. If part of your scene is covered in shade and the rest is in sunlight your meter adjust for the change. You can manually overide the settings in your RAW processing but then that’s creating more work later.

    Kostas, part of creative freedom is doing what you want to do with out limitations. You can print any custom size these days. Printers just charge per sqaure foot and most home printers are capable of using rolled paper. If you go custom you will have to become more creative with ideas of how to do things.

  12. Jerome Mungapen Says:

    Steve, I love your work, I particulalry like the sandstorm image in death valley. On average how much of the scene do you include?

  13. Steve Sieren Says:

    Jerome, that’s an extemely different way to create a pano. I would love to try that!

  14. Kurt Lawson Says:

    Manual exposure and locked, manual focus are critical! Last year on Mount Whitney I shot off over half a dozen panoramas. All of them were ruined because I didn’t lock focus in particular (I blame the low oxygen levels, heh). Small exposure differences can be correctable, but when one part of a mountain suddenly goes out of focus, you’re SOL. I was able to capture some great panoramas in dramatically changing light at sunset this year only because I’ve hammered it into my brain to set manual focus and exposure. Without that I’m sure those would have been ruined too (since AF likes to focus on whatever it likes to focus on).

    So, heed this fine advice. Panoramas are a lot of fun but following Steve’s advice here will save you frustration and disappointment later on.

  15. Steve Sieren Says:

    Kurt, the low oxygen can make you do funny things. I fell asleep in the dirt on the side of the trail up at White Mountain once. Someone woke me up and gave me some Gu, how nice! Anyway those 2 items are very important to keep in mind. Another item to watch for is your shutter speed if you’re hand holding from a moving boat or kayak. Take advantage of your image stabilizer if you have it and push your ISO up if need to keep a faster shutter speed. Low light panoramic photography from a water craft is some of the hardest but be the most rewarding!

    I just got my Whitney permit in the mail earlier this week. It’s going to be Christina’s first time up, it’s be an experience guiding her up there, can’t wait!

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