Thursday, 30 August 2012

Creating Panoramic Landscapes

Many a times it so happens that you are in a beautiful location with dramatic lighting and the elements are just so perfect that you decide to capture it in your digital camera. But it is when you actually look through your camera’s viewfinder that you realize your lens can only see a small portion of the entire landscape (missing the bigger picture), resulting in an ordinary looking picture that’s nowhere near as beautiful as you had envisioned. The subject matter for a panoramic shot could be anything from a natural scene, a cityscape, or just your immediate neighborhood.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Sinu S Kumar

To make the viewer feel like he or she has actually been there you need to capture the entire scene. If it is not possible in one shot why not capture it in a series of shots and then use your post production software to combine them all into a single big panoramic photo. A panoramic picture is the closest you could get to re-create the experience of actually being there.

There are many types of panoramas (like virtual-reality (VR) panoramas, also referred to as immersive images, which provide a navigable 360-degree view of a scene) and many methods of creating them, also there are specialized accessories (panoramic tripod heads) for getting the job done, however we will cover those aspects in detail in future articles. In this one we will discuss the easiest way of creating panoramic images.

Tips for Shooting Panoramas

The most important point to remember while attempting to create stitched panoramas is that if you do everything right while you are actually shooting it then it could be a very easy process with little or no input from your side; else it could be a very tiresome process involving hours spent in front of the computer monitor.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Sylvain_latouche

Camera settings for Panoramic Photography

Select the lowest possible ISO settings that your camera allows (ISO 100 for most cameras).

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Good_day

Either manually set your white balance (in Kelvin) or chose shade or cloudy or any other preset that better suits the scene, but do not use Auto White Balance. If you choose Auto White Balance there is a chance that your white balance settings will change when shooting different segments which will later create issues while post processing.

Select the Manual Mode in your camera and dial in your exposure settings, if you are not sure about the right settings, shift the camera to Aperture Priority (AV) mode, dial in the required aperture, half press the shutter button, note the shutterspeed values, shift back to Manual mode and dial in the values.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Chanc

Where do you fix your focus for a landscape photo is actually determined by the scene at hand (consider theories like the Hyper Focal Distance), if you are using Auto Focus then focus on the right area in your first segment and then shift to manual focus. Else manually focus on the desired area in the first element and leave it that way. You would want consistent focal distance across all segments in your panoramic shots.

It is recommended that you turn off the Image Stabilization feature if your lens has one, as anyways you will be using a tripod eliminating camera shake and you don’t want the IS to compensate for camera shake which is not present and thus creating its own in the process.

Shooting Panoramas

Set up your camera on a sturdy tripod, to get the full utility you must use a proper panoramic head (we will be discussing about Nodal Points and DIY panoramic heads in detail in future articles), else use a professional quality head that could hold your camera and lens steady.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Sinu S Kumar

Shift your camera to portrait orientation (vertical shooting position), this way your panoramic shots will have more height and also it will take more shots to cover the same scene. That leaves you enough room to crop (to remove ragged edges caused by the software while stitching the pictures) and also larger file size of the final image.

Make sure the camera is level to the horizon; else you will have trouble with shifting horizon levels making it difficult to get good seams. Also make sure that camera is not tilted up or down as this will cause convergence errors.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Corneveaux

Use either a cable release or a remote release to further eliminate the chances of camera shake, if you don’t have any of these, use the camera’s timer function set to its lowest value.

Overlap each segment by 1/3rd or 30% i.e. make sure that about 1/3rd of your first frame also appear in the second shot. It is very important as it helps Photoshop or any other image editing software that you use to combine the shots into panoramas to match things up.

The actual shooting process should be completed in as little time as possible (from the first segment to the last - , lighting may change, clouds may shift etc.) do watch out for any movement inside the frame. If there is a moving object like a cyclist or a car in several non overlapping frames, it will eventually appear multiple times in your stitched panorama.

Post Processing – Creating Stitched Panoramas in Photoshop

You could either open all the segments in Photoshop - then select File > Automate > Photo merge or just click File > Automate > Photo merge and select the pictures that you want to stitch together.

Creating Panoramic Landscapes
Photo By Expressmonorail

In the Photo merge dialogue box make sure Auto is selected under layout on the left side and blend images together is ticked (center – below files display) and click ok.

Photoshop will automatically compare all slices and align everything perfectly and stitch all the shots together to create a seamless panorama. Sometimes slight irregularities are found in the top and bottom portion of the images, you could either crop the image or use other tools like the clone stamp tool or patch tool to fix those errors.

In the next article we will discuss about Photography - Photography Techniques - HDR - High Dynamic Range Photography

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