Shooting Panos With Gear You May Already Own
By expert panoramic photographer John Warkentin
In April, expert panoramic photographer John Warkentin visited michaels Media School to deliver an educational, practical and inspiring FREE Lunchtime Seminar on capturing panoramic photographs. In this article John offers a summary of the session run in-store as ideal notes for enthusiasts to refer to, as they begin experimenting with panoramic techniques.
Though you may already have some of the equipment features in the article, see below for a selection of panoramic tools recommended by our team.
PANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
Planning is Key
You are going to be shooting a lot of panos once you get the hang of it! Plan ahead and come up with a system to mark your pano sets while shooting so you know what you have captured once you get back home and begin downloading.
Take a photo of your feet to mark the beginning of a pano set and follow up after your set with a photo of your fingers, counting out the number of frames you just shot. Any little trick you can think of to make your ‘after shoot file sorting’ easier will be important years down the road. Though you will likely shoot many more sets than you will process, years later you will find probably come across them once more, and they may have more meaning to you at this stage. You will thank yourself for sorting them and having them ready to go.
Foreground vs Background
When shooting panos hand held, your frames will suffer from ‘parallax’ - the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions. The good news is that for standard landscape compositions at focal lengths greater than about 50mm, this error will not be an important issue for the stitching process. Even if you are shooting with a wider focal length, as long as the scene has a normal foreground like sand, sea, road or field - the stitching software will be able to deal exceptionally well with your frames.
As the no parallax point (NPP) of your lens is basically the front glass element, you can always help the capture process by rotating your body around the front of the lens while shooting vs shooting around your body, the way you normally would pan with a camera.
Click HERE to learn more about Parallax.
So you want to go wide - but don't want to miss out on image height either? You are most likely only going to be shooting one row of images. The trick is to have as much sky, subject and foreground as possible when you capture the scene with this single row of photos. Try shooting all of your frames with your camera held vertically (portrait mode). Try to capture all the frames as level as possible and give yourself somewhere between 25 and 33% overlap from frame to frame.
Although the modern stitching apps can deal with images shot in fully automatic modes, you can help the process along and get much better results if you lock your exposure and white balance (WB) when capturing your pano sets. As you’re most often trying to capture sweeping vistas in your panos, you will want maximum depth of field. Remember, the better the source frames, the better the finished panorama will be. All of the standard high-quality shooting practises apply. Every frame in the pano set has to be shot well for the finished panorama to truly shine. Review your frames on site before you leave that great location. Getting home with a dark fuzzy frame or a missing section will be a real let down. Better to find out on the spot so you can re-shoot it before the moment is lost.
Shoot to a Pattern
Most panoramic photographers tend to shoot their pano sets from left to right. Find a system that works for you and stick to it unless the scene requires a non-standard shooting direction.
Post Production Helps
If you are comfortable shooting RAW - do so. As always, better input creates better output. Once you are have your finished pano, you are also going to want to fine tune it and touch up the edges with standard tools like cloning and content filling. In your quest to get the largest files and widest views, you will need to hone all of your post-production skills.
Almost all photo editing programs can assemble (stitch) panoramas. In Adobe Photoshop or Elements the function is called Photomerge. Hugin is a free open source stitcher that is also worth considering. At the top end of the spectrum are PTGui and Autopano.
Shoot with your Smart Phone
Remember, if you want to keep it really simple, you can even use your smart phone to shoot panos, anytime, anywhere. All new iPhones have an intuitive built-in Pano Mode that works wonders and is very easy to use. Check out the following YouTube video at 26:52 for the demo we put on at michaels just last week (http://bit.ly/PanoSeminar). You can find the resulting panorama file here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=475397749181904&l=9cdf889014
If you have an iPHone5 you can even shoot full 360 degree panos without even touching the phone! For more information see http://cycloramic.com/
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