1 of 6
It's easier than ever to make panoramic images, like this one of Duluth.
2 of 6
DennisOHaraDennis O'Hara's work has appeared in Lake Superior Magazine and in books, including Picture Duluth.
3 of 6
odysseylogo.jpgThis article is sponsored by Odyssey Resorts.
4 of 6
Apps can quickly merge multiple photos into one panoramic image.
5 of 6
For your desktop or laptop, try PTGui for photo stitching. On a smartphone, Photosynth and Autostitch Panorama both work well.
6 of 6
Sometimes only the “big picture” can express an experience of the Big Lake. But while a wide-angle view might catch the seeming endless horizons, it also carries the distortion of a wide-angle lens.
That leaves a panorama, what the dictionary defines as any “wide view of a physical space.”
Historically, panoramic images required expensive equipment and painstaking setup, but the advent of digital software and modern cameras make panoramas available to anyone.
I began making panoramic prints in the 1970s. In those days of film cameras, creating such a photograph meant either buying a particular camera or spending hours painstakingly overlapping slides or prints to create the final image.
Today, advances in cameras and in software simplify the process. Some specialty panorama-making software is even free. Built-in software can stitch together multiple images right within many cameras. Do not discount this method for amateurs. I’ve tried the Sony in-camera panorama setting, and it works incredibly well. You rotate the camera while it automatically snaps pictures, and within seconds, it displays an already assembled, multiframe panoramic image, cropped and ready to print. If your camera has this capability, try it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Types of panoramas
Although there are many types and sizes of panorama prints, if you plan to frame the print, you’ll want to stay with a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. I prefer 3:1 and make prints at 8 x 24 inches or 12 x 36 inches. Unless you have a specific reason for another size, this ratio is most pleasing to the eye.
Getting the full view
The most basic type of panoramic image can be obtained by cropping a wide-angle photo into a wide-aspect ratio. This works fine for low resolution images, such as used on Facebook. But for printing, the lens distortion and low resolution make this method problematic.
Another method uses multiple overlapping images, taken from the same point of reference and digitally stitched together on a computer using special software (such as seen above). This is by far the most effective and successful method available today.
Shooting for a Panorama
Once you arrive at that perfect location, there are a few secrets to good panoramas that, if carefully followed, will greatly increase your chances of capturing a set of images that effectively depict the scene and provide your software with workable images that can be easily merged. Practice these steps and you’ll be a panorama pro in no time at all.
First, concentrate on the setup.
Look at the scene and visualize how your image will look as a panorama. Use your hands to place an imaginary frame around the scene with about the same aspect ratio that you want. It’s important to know where your “pano” will begin and end.
Second, although not essential, it’s good to use a tripod and level it precisely. This makes later processing much easier and guarantees a level horizon. With your image spanning several frames, it’s easy to get a horizon that is not level. A completely level tripod (some come with built-in level bubbles) will also allow the panning to be perfectly horizontal with no vertical offset between the photos being merged.
Third, carefully observe the scene and select a focal length that allows you to capture the tallest element within the frame, plus a bit more for a border and crop. Next, compose the shot on the tallest element and then level the camera in the horizontal axis (left to right). If your tripod does not have one, a bubble level that clips into the camera hot-shoe comes in very handy here. Lock your tripod head’s ball or the vertical control on a tilt-and-pan head tight so that your leveled panorama system remains accurate.
Set the camera on manual focus and exposure and leave it there. If the focus changes, the blending process will have errors and mismatches. Likewise, if the exposure changes, the software will fail to blend properly. It is critical that each frame have exactly the same camera settings. Auto-exposure won’t work for panoramas.
Taking the pictures
To stitch properly, frames in a panorama need to overlap 25 to 30 percent on each side. It’s important to know where overlaps occur. If there are moving objects in the scene, such as people walking, compose the shot so that they are out of the overlap area. Work left to right; digital files are indexed left to right and this expedites assembling the final image. Compose your first shot at the far left and press the shutter while memorizing some element along the right edge of the frame. Pan the camera to the right, making sure to overlap the frame, referencing that element. Continue taking shots until you complete the sequence. In rapidly changing light, it’s critical to work quickly – another reason to spend time on setting up.
It’s a wrap
Shot taken, you enter post-production. The digital merging of multiple frames into a single image, or “stitching,” can be accomplished by many brands of software. The best free software I’ve found is PTGui, or the apps Photosynth or Autostitch Panorama found in Apple's App Store.
Most people use horizontal images for a panorama. It’s effective, but it can lead to a narrow, long shot with little vertical detail. Try taking photos using vertical shots panning horizontally. This increases resolution by 1.5 times and adds vertical interest. Also, panoramas can be vertical, using three pairs of side-by-side shots, overlapping sides, bottoms and tops.