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 compositions needs to have an elliptical 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 to acquire this aspect; the worst thing is that we will lose quality when enlarging the photo.

In this article, I will talk to you about taking 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 mount images with better or worse results. You already know that the automatisms in the cameras are 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 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 an excellent reputation) 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

Single-row horizontal panoramas should 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.

Indeed 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 critical aspects of 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 they appear staggered when joining them. 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 a tripod’s help and a spirit level, we can solve these problems in photos of landscapes or large areas. Still, 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 objective or entrance pupil’s optical center.

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 use this pivot point and rotate the camera on it, we will need a decentrally 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 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 looking at their website if you think of buying one.

Find the optical 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, it rotates 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 making a mark on the target with a small sticker and thus having it located for other occasions.
  • It’s easier than it 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 each lens’s optical center 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 in 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 items 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 help you level the camera to rotate 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 an excellent 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 imperative 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), create a different depth of field in each shot.

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

Turn off the automatic measurement.

Suppose your camera does not have a panorama assistant that automatically locks the exposure so that the light does not change. In that case, the camera will take metering each time you press the shutter button, so if it is a frame large, each shot will have a different exposure.

When putting the photos together, some areas will be darker than others.

Same focal length

Using the same focal length for all the shots is essential; otherwise, the computer images’ stitching 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 camera angle when you turn it.

This type of filter 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 dimensions are:

  • With two vertical shots, you will get a panorama in a square format.
  • Three photos will give a panorama similar in size to a standard horizontal image.
  • Four vertical photographs are the recommended size for printing in frames or publishing; they look outstanding.
  • You will have a reasonably large panorama; it works very well for landscape, although its length can be exaggerated.
  • Six images are the recommended maximum size, as items will appear far apart.

You should 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 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 go 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 expected that they appear cut off or as ghosts.
  • Be careful with the trunk of the trees or the mountains’ peaks; 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 determine 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’re going 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 the material to take good photos; if you pay attention to the most critical factors above, you will get perfect 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 how situations one position or another is better. In short, enjoy taking photos, learn, and do not complicate your life.