In this series of articles, we’re exploring how beginners can create their own ultra wide angle panoramic images using the technique of stitched panoramic photography.
In the previous two articles we learned a little about different methods of creating panoramas, and the simple tools you need to create your own panoramas.
In this article I share seven simple secrets about how to shoot your photographs to give you the best results when you stitch them together into a panorama.
1. Plan Your Shot Sequence
When shooting photos for a panorama, you will be taking from two up to twelve or more photos in a sequence. It’s worth doing a ‘dry run’ while looking through the viewfinder to plan out in advance how you are going to arrange your shots.
2. Shoot From Left to Right
You can shoot your photo sequence in either direction, but if you shoot from left to right, it will be easier to make sense of your photos when you are looking at them on your computer, and it will be easier to get them in the right order in the software.
3. Overlap the Photos
Your photos must overlap in order for the software to stitch them together. You can successfully stitch your photos with an overlap of 20% or less, but 30-50% overlap is recommended. A larger overlap gives you more room for fine tuning your results. In my early attempts at shooting panoramas, this was one of my biggest mistakes. I just didn’t allow enough overlap — sometimes as little as 5%. And I was shooting with a relatively wide angle 28mm lens. With a wide angle lens, the images are more distorted at the extreme edges of the frame, which makes them harder to stitch together if you only have a small area of overlap.
What was worse, the zoom lens on my old SLR suffered from ‘vignetting’ at wide angles, which meant my photos had noticeable dark patches in the corner. With a small overlap zone, these dark patches show up in the finished panorama. If I had allowed more overlap, they could have been cropped out.
4. Turn the Camera Sideways
To increase your vertical field of view by 50%, take a tip from the professionals and turn your camera sideways to shoot your photos in the ‘portrait’ position. You’ll need to shoot more frames to cover the same scene, but you’ll get a lot more vertical coverage.
5. Keep the Camera Horizontal
As you rotate your camera, try to keep it as close to horizontal as possible — aim the middle of your viewfinder at the horizon line.
For some subjects you will be tempted to aim the camera up (for a skyscraper) or down (for a scenic canyon). If you do this your finished panorama will be distorted. For tall (or deep) subjects, remember to turn your camera sideways to get a greater vertical angle of view.
6. Turn on the Grid Lines
Many cameras have a ‘grid lines’ feature that allows you to display a grid of horizontal and vertical lines in your viewfinder while shooting. Turn the grid lines on to help you keep the horizon level and to estimate your overlap between frames.
Each time you shoot a frame, remember an object that was underneath the grid line one third of the way in from the edge of the frame. Then rotate your camera so that object is now on the edge of the frame. This will give you a one third overlap, which is ideal for stitching your panoramas.
7. Use a Tripod if You Can
Using a tripod will give you the best results. You can be sure all your photos are in the same plane and it’s easier to keep everything lined up. Remember to make sure your tripod is level before you start shooting. Many tripods come with built in bubble levels to help with this job.
If you’re buying a tripod, look for one that has two separate levels, one for leveling from front to back, and one for leveling left to right. These are more accurate than the kind that has a single ‘dome’ style bubble level. If you already have a tripod without a level, you can buy a small plastic builder’s level from your local hardware store for under $10 that will do the same job.
In the next article in this series, I’ll give you seven more panoramic photo shooting tips, including the best way to shoot your photos if you don’t have a tripod, and a simple shooting technique that can prevent the common problem of vertical banding in your panoramas.