When you’re out shooting, various things “catch your eye”. Some of those will be panoramic in nature. When you see a panorama you really would like to share with others, I encourage you to shoot a series of photos that can be “stitched” together digitally to make a longer-than-usual image that tells more of “the whole story” rather than just a part of what you saw.
This is how I shoot panoramas, and also how to put them together.
• Survey the scene, looking for likely starting and ending points as well as what I want to be sure to include.
• Look at the same scene through my camera, watching for what is in the frame and what the lens is doing; change my camera from horizontal to vertical – or vice versa – if that helps; change lenses if I have one that would be better suited for this scene (remember: telephoto lenses are more commonly used for panos because wider lenses tend to distort more of the image, particularly at the edges; if this happens, I overlap my shots more).
Note: I tend to travel very light, and shoot quickly, so I rarely use a tripod … but using a tripod does help shots line up better during the stitching process, and often helps sharpness too.
• Focus on whatever is most important to have sharp, and set to manual focus so the camera doesn’t shift focus from one shot to the next.
• Set the exposure based on the highlight detail I want to have, knowing that I can pull out more shadow detail in post-processing if I need to.
• Take a test shot to see if I’ve set my ISO, aperture and shutter speed appropriately.
• Start at one end of the scene, noticing what is in the “overlap” area with the next shot. If there is a feature that is not complete in this shot, I make sure it is complete in the next shot if at all possible, to make the stitching as seamless as possible.
• Proceed to the other end of the scene, in the same manner.
Most panoramas are shot from one spot, with the camera turning around – from several degrees to a full 360° panorama. This works well for “distant” panos. But I have encountered scenes – such as the surfboard fence of DJ Dettloff – that simply don’t work right using the “rotation” method, so I had to develop an additional technique for closer panoramic situations.
My friend and colleague Randy Hufford dubbed my second panoramic technique “walk-o-rama” … which lets the viewer see the composite image as if he or she were walking along it. Walk-o-ramas tend to be more challenging to stitch together, but for those with patience, the results can be very rewarding. Using a tripod on a walk-o-rama is not a great advantage.
“STITCHING” – PUTTING PANORAMAS TOGETHER
Being a serious photographer, I long ago invested in Adobe Photoshop and I have upgraded often, despite the considerable expense. Adobe Photoshop, starting with version CS4, makes stitching panoramas – formerly a potentially very complex process – a comparatively simple process that yields amazingly great-looking results.
There are less expensive options for stitching panoramas. I have seen some “point & shoot” cameras that have a “panorama feature”. I do not pretend to know how they work. There are also a number of panoramic stitching programs available for use on computers, one of which I used with quite hilarious results. So for me, the obvious choice has been to stick with the industry standard: Photoshop. Anyone who needs to keep expenses down can get Adobe Photoshop Elements for under $100 US.
When I download photos from my camera’s memory card, I file them in a folder by date so that I can locate them easily in Photoshop’s companion program, Adobe Bridge. In Bridge, I open the folder containing the images, which allows me to see the sequence of images I want to stitch. I select the images to be stitched, and open them. A built-in function called Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) opens them in a window that lets me look closely at each image plus make “global” adjustments to my images, such as color temperature, exposure, shadow enhancement, brightness and clarity. To make these adjustments, I choose the “Select All” option, so every adjustment I make gets applied to each of the images identically. Then I check out each individual image, and when I find one that needs further adjustment, I once again choose “Select All” before adjusting so that all images match. When all global adjustments are satisfactory, choose “Done”.
If I want to make any specific adjustments to part(s) of any of the images, I will do that next. I open those images in Photoshop, and adjust each via adjustment layers. Adjustment layers work like filters, and they can be changed at any time without changing the original pixels of the image. That is better than using “Image>Adjustments”. Look for a separate article on using Photoshop’s adjustment layers, if you are not familiar with them.
The Stitching Process in Photoshop
In Adobe Bridge, select the images for your panorama. Go to “Tools>Photoshop>Photomerge”. That opens a “dialog box”. In that box, I always choose “Reposition” as a starting point, because it doesn’t distort nor attempt to correct. Make sure “Blend Images Together” is checked; this tells Photoshop to create a layer mask for each image in the panorama it creates, and to use the layer masks to smoothly blend the images into a seamless panorama. Choose “OK”, and let Photoshop do its magic.
Photoshop will align the images all on one “canvas”, but leave each image on its own layer with its own mask. Examine the result. Most likely, you’ll be very happy with it. If not, make whatever tweaks you feel are needed, until you are satisfied. If you don’t know Photoshop well, either find someone who does to help you, or try experimenting on your own.
At this point, I do any necessary cropping, then I flatten (“Layer>Flatten Image”) and save my panorama, giving it a title and locating it in a folder that makes sense so I can find it later. The default file format is “.psd”, which is best for maintaining image quality, especially if you might make adjustments to it later. The most-used format is “.jpg”, which compresses the image for either printing or email. I often save the .psd first, then save a .jpg for printing. If I’m going to put it on the web or email it, I’ll go to Image>Image Size and reduce the size of the file either to 500 pixels or under 500KB in file size, whichever makes the most sense, and then additionally save that .jpg. I designate these as “filename-e.jpg” so I know it is low resolution just by glancing at the file name.
Maui Photo tours John Hugg