In the previous article in this series about panoramic photography for beginners, I shared seven simple secrets about how to shoot photographs to give you the best results when you stitch them together into a panorama.
Here are seven more photo shooting tips to help you create panoramas like a pro.
Hand Held Shooting Guidelines
To get the best results in panoramic photography, I recommend that you should use a tripod whenever you can. But… don’t be afraid to shoot your panoramas hand-held. I’ve taken lots of great panoramas without a tripod, usually when I was on vacation and couldn’t justify the extra weight and hassle of carrying a tripod around.
Just make sure you follow these simple guidelines for steady hand-held shooting.
Stand with your feet apart for balance. Hold your camera firmly with two hands, with your left hand underneath with the elbow locked against your body, and your right hand at the side to press the shutter button.
If your camera has a viewfinder, use that instead of the LCD screen — this will bring your camera up to your face in a much steadier position than holding it at arm’s length.
Holding the camera to your eye instead of at arm’s length will also reduce the amount of parallax error in your shots by keeping your ‘turning circle’ smaller. Ideally, to eliminate parallax error your camera should rotate around the ‘nodal point’ of the lens. There are special panoramic tripod heads to help you achieve this, but for normal outdoor landscape panoramas, you can get good results without one.
Also, when shooting by hand you need to pay extra attention to keeping the camera horizontal and rotating in a single plane. Aim the center of the viewfinder at the horizon for each shot.
And remember, if you do decide to buy a tripod, make sure you practice using it before you leave home. Standing in the freezing pre-dawn wind on the rim of the Grand Canyon, waiting for the sun to come up and illuminate your once-in-a-lifetime panorama opportunity, is not the time to be learning how to attach your camera to your tripod!
Lock the Exposure
A very common problem that can spoil your panoramas, or at least make them much harder to put together, is variations in exposure that cause visible changes of brightness along the seams where the photos join.
To avoid this problem, you should set your camera to a manual exposure mode, if it has one. Pan around the scene you will be photographing and lock the exposure at a setting in the middle of the range.
This is extra important with very wide (or 360 degree) panoramas, as there can be a big difference in exposure between the shots taken into the sun, and the ones where the sun is behind you.
Lock the Focus
If your panorama includes objects that are both close and far away, you might want to try switching your camera from auto-focus to manual focus, and using the same focus distance for all your shots.
With a lot of digital cameras, you might find that this is impossible or just too difficult to be practical. In that case, don’t worry about it — I always try to lock the exposure, but I rarely bother locking the focus.
Minimize Foreground Detail
Try to avoid having objects in your frame that are very close to the camera. You will typically be using a wide angle lens for your panoramas, and very close objects are more distorted by the lens which makes them harder for the software to match up.
If you do want to include a close-up subject (like a person) to add interest to a scenic panorama, put them into the first or last frame of the sequence. This can be very effective, and you don’t have to worry about stitching problems because they won’t be in the overlap zone.
Be Aware of Movement
Moving objects, such as clouds, waves, and people can cause problems when you come to stitch your photos together.
Don’t be put off, though — you can still shoot great panoramas with some movement. Just be aware of it and try to plan around it.
For example, in a scene with slow-moving clouds, try to minimize the delay between your shots. The same applies to people shots. If you can shoot fast enough, hopefully most of the people won’t have moved enough to spoil your result.
Remember — it’s movement in the overlap zone between shots that is critical. If you are organizing people for a wide group shot, consider leaving a gap in the middle to simplify the join between the photos.
Look for Unexpected Opportunities
I hope that the tips in this section will help you to avoid some common problems with your panoramas. But I hope they don’t make you think that shooting a panorama has to be a big complicated affair.
Some of my favorite panoramas have been quick, spur-of the moment shots that captured a great group scene. Going wide with two or three shots can really bring a big group scene to life! Keep your eyes open, and be ready!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Make sure you’re familiar with the whole process of shooting and stitching together some panoramas before you set off on your vacation. The more practice you do before you leave home, the better your chance of coming home from your vacation with some exceptional images.