How to Take Panoramic Photography – Tips and Material

The panoramic photographs are the perfect solution for situations where our objective can not cover the whole scene that we want to include in the frame, or if the photo for aesthetic purposes or compositivos need to have an oblong appearance.

They can be achieved in several ways:

  • Use a wide-format camera.
  • Taking several takes and joining them later, the best known.
  • Crop a photograph so that it acquires this aspect, the worst thing is that we will lose quality when enlarging the photo.

In this article I will talk to you about how to take several photographs and how to join them on the computer.

Panoramic mode

Many compact cameras incorporate a panoramic mode similar to that of mobile phones, which helps us take the photo through a guide on the LCD screen and automatically mounts the images with better or worse results. You already know that the automatisms in the cameras is not something that I like very much.

In the case of SLR cameras, some models have an assistant for panoramic shots. Look in the manual if your camera has this option.

Most cameras for beginners  do not have this type of help and even if they did, I personally would still use the traditional method of taking several pictures and stitching them together on the computer. There are many specific programs  for panoramas such as AutoPano  or PTGui that give the best results and are intuitive, or failing that, Photoshop (but PhotoMerge does not have a very good reputation) or Lightroom .

How to get a panoramic photo

To get a panoramic view, we will have to capture through several photographs the elements that are interesting to us in the scene, which cannot be included in a single photo with the focal length of our lens.

At first glance it may seem like an easy technique, but trust me that to get good results you will have to pay attention to several key factors, as you can spoil a photo quickly and you will not realize it until it is time to merge the images .

Tips for taking panoramic photos

The camera upright

For single-row horizontal panoramas, it is advisable to mount the camera vertically , as you will gain more height.

You will need to take more shots to get a photo of acceptable length, but the results are much better.

Surely you have ever taken a panorama with the camera horizontally and when viewing it on the computer you did not like it because everything appears very far and long.

Place the camera on a tripod

Keeping the camera at the same level during all the shots is one of the most important aspects in this type of photography, so the tripod is mandatory to obtain good results.

You could also take the photos by hand, but it may have happened to you that when joining them they appear staggered , they do not coincide with each other (stitching), forcing you to cut a good part of the final photograph, which is known as a parallax error .

By aligning the horizon with the help of a tripod and a spirit level, we can solve these problems in photos of landscapes or large areas, but in other situations with closer elements, we will need to make finer adjustments.

Parallax and entrance pupil error

The “parallax error” occurs by not rotating the camera about the vertical and horizontal axes making them coincide with the optical center of the objective or entrance pupil.

At this point we will not have distortions, wrong perspectives, shots that do not match and everything can be easily stitched in post-processing.

The entrance ward coincides with the diaphragm of our camera. As you will understand in a fixed lens it is easy to locate it, but in a zoom lens, when you have to rotate it to change the focal length, it will be more difficult to find it.

Let’s see what you need to find it and how to do it.

Pan head and rail

To be able to use this pivot point and rotate the camera on it, we will need a decentrable rail to  move the camera back and forth, making the nodal point coincide  with the axis on which the camera will rotate.

There are many models and many prices, I propose you this L-head with good value for money, Rollei brand that rotates 360º, with built-in level and allows the camera to be finely decentred thanks to its adjustment wheels.

Another famous brand in this type of heads and “low cost” is Nodal Ninja , I recommend you take a look at their website if you are thinking of buying one.

Find the optic center or entrance pupil

Although this topic gives for an exclusive article, a priori to find it you will have to:

  • Level the camera with the help of a level so that it is perfectly horizontal , if you do not have a panoramic head, you will have to use the tripod legs.
  • Frame two objects, one close to the camera and one far away, such as two traffic signs, two pens, trees, etc.
  • Match them up in the frame so that they are aligned.
  • Now rotate the camera on its axis
  • If the objects still coincide after moving the camera, then it is rotating about its correct pivot point .
  • If they don’t match, move the camera forward or backward on the rail and retest until you get the objects to stay aligned even if you rotate the camera.
  • When you find the point, I recommend you make a mark on the target with a small sticker and thus have it located for other occasions.
  • It’s easier than it actually looks, you only need the rail to advance or rewind the camera on the tripod.

Think that this method will have to be done only once for a fixed lens and if it is for a zoom lens it is better to choose a focal length, find its point and not change the mm.

Searching in Google you can find tables that manufacturers provide, indicating where the optical center of each lens is located. I leave you a link with the exact position of the entrance pupil of many objectives.

Panoramic photos without spending a dime

If you want to take panoramic photos  without having to buy anything or because you don’t have a tripod nearby, you can try this method using the palm of your hand:

  • Place the camera in the palm of your hand and rest your elbow on a stable place, such as a tripod, a table, or on your body to gain more stability.
  • Align two objects following the steps above.
  • Move the camera back and forth in your palm to make the two objects coincide , when you have located the optical center, you will only have to turn the camera on itself trying to move it as little as possible.
  • Help yourself with Live View mode .
  • The results will be much better than if you take the photo freehand and without taking this pivot point into account, so try it next time.

Level the frame

If your camera does not have a built-in electronic level , I advise you to get a bubble one. These levels are attached to the hot shoe and will help you level the camera so that it rotates on the correct axes.

You can also use it in landscape photography to ensure level horizons.

Now that the camera is well positioned, let’s see how you should shoot.

Adjust everything manually

Letting the camera make the necessary adjustments when it pleases is not a good method to make panoramas, I recommend leaving everything under your control , the focus, shutter speed, exposure … I’ll explain why:

Turn off autofocus

It is very important that once you identify the area on which you are going to focus, you lock the focus during all the following photos, because if you do not, the camera will focus every time you press the shutter (if you have the focus dissociated from the button not shooting, obviously) being able to create a different depth of field in each shot.

If the most important element appears throughout the panorama, then you can focus on each shot using decoupled focus so as not to alter the metering.

Turn off automatic measurement

As with focus, if your camera does not have a panorama assistant that automatically locks the exposure so that the light does not change, the camera will take a metering each time you press the shutter button, so if it is a frame large, each shot will have a different exposure and when putting the photos together, some areas will be darker than others.

Same focal length

Obviously using the same focal length for all the shots is essential, otherwise the stitching of the images on the computer will be impossible to do.

Shooting with focal lengths that are too low, such as 28mm, can cause line deformities to occur. It is recommended to use focal lengths from 35-40mm.

Manual mode

Don’t use aperture priority or shutter speed modes. As you have seen, with these automatic settings each shot may have a different configuration than the previous one.

In short, use the manual settings and you will have a better chance that the panorama will be perfect. Remember to assign focus to another  custom button on the camera and not the shutter button so you can easily lock it.

Beware of the polarizing filter

If you use a polarizing filter,  you run the risk that it will act differently in each shot, since you change the angle of the camera when you turn it.

This type of filters will make the sky different in each shot, saturating more or less according to its position.

How many shots and final dimensions

Depending on the number of captures that make up the panorama, you will get one size or another. Assuming that we will shoot with the camera vertically, the final and recommended sizes are:

  • With 2 vertical shots, you  will get a panorama in a square format.
  • 3 photos will give a panorama similar in size to a normal horizontal photo .
  • 4 vertical photographs is the recommended size , both for printing in frames or for publishing, they look really good.
  • With 5 shots you will have a fairly large panorama, it works very well for landscape although its size can be exaggerated.
  • 6 shots is the recommended maximum size , as items will appear far apart.

It is best that you try different sizes with the same scene to decide which one best suits the results you are looking for.

Where to cut a panorama?

Once we have understood that the horizon must be in the same place in all the photos so as not to cut the images when joining them, let’s see which areas are recommended to cut the frame and thus facilitate the fusion of images .

  • You should not overlap the shots too much, but do not leave little margin of overlap to the program, since it may miss pixels to do the fusion. I usually leave half a third of the grid for the program to blend the images.
  • Try not to cut the photo by straight lines or people.
  • Do not include moving elements in the frame, it is normal that they appear cut off or as ghosts.
  • Be careful with the trunk of the trees or the peaks of the mountains, it is better not to cut on these areas to avoid overlapping errors.
  • You can help the Live View mode and the grid to choose where to cut each photograph and choose the exact cutting point with more accuracy.

In conclusion

This guide is aimed at people who want to go further in their panoramic photographs . If you just want to enjoy taking these types of photos, read the article and stay with the recommendations that fit your level.

You don’t have to spend money on material to take good photos, if you pay attention to the most important factors above you will get very good results.

The best thing is that you experiment, see for yourself how the optical center affects the image, learn to locate it, pan with the camera horizontally and vertically to understand in which situations one position or another is better, in short, enjoy taking photos , learn and do not complicate your life.