Photo of the Day / Photo Tip: Panorama Shots – November 25, 2009

The image below is a composite of 3 separate images ‘stitched together’ (photo shop term for combining photos).  I know it’s a little hard to tell it from a simple crop on a small image like this, but there is a big difference.  This image is large and detailed enough to easily print a high resolution image 4 feet wide!  Below the image are some tips for shooting and photo stitching.

Elephants Crossing the Chobe River - Copyright 2009: P. B. Eleazer

Elephants Crossing the Chobe River - Copyright 2009: P. B. Eleazer

Tips for panorama photos:

In the Field:

  • Lens selection – Any lens will do, however, the wider the lens, the more distortion/stretching occurs on the edges of each image.  I recommend using a 50mm lens of greater.  This particular image was shot with a Canon 100-400L Zoom lens.
  • DO NOT USE A POLARIZER – Often people will use a polarizing filter on the camera to impact water reflection or enhance the sky.  The problem with using a polarizer on a panorama is that as the angle of the camera to the sun changes (as you pan to shoot the individual images), the level of polarization will very – being strongest at 90 deg. the sun and least shooting into or away from the sun.  This variation will create a non-uniform sky when the images are stitched.
  • Overlap each exposure by about 1/3 to the alignment of the prior image.  My ‘trick’ is to mentally align the right focus point in the viewfind with some distant landmark as I shoot the first exposure.  With the next exposure, I make sure that this landmark is within from on the left side of the viewfinder with the second shot.  Before clicking, I also pick a new landmark on the right side for overlap with the subsequent image.  Of course you can work this same concept panning left to right, but the key is to develop a consistent method.
  • Keep the camera level for all shots.  Watch to align your horizon, water line, etc. as you shoot. This is important because the better aligned you are, the less you will have to crop when stitching to even out your exposure.
  • If you have moving subjects (elephants in my above case), the faster you shoot, the less post-processing (photoshop) effort will be required to finish your image.

Editing your images

  • Generally Some photoshop skills are required; however, some software has drop down options like auto-stitch or panorama setting that do a pretty good job.  I know Adobe Elements has this option.  The following instructions are for more detailed adjustment.
  • Open all of the images to be included in your photo editing software (I used Adobe C3S for this  image).  Do not adjust levels or curves yet.
  • Create a ‘canvas’ large enough to accommodate your final shot. I typically take the ‘middle image’ from my series and expand it’s canvas size.  I refer to this as my BASE LAYER.  In photoshop, you have an option to change image size or canvas size. You want to change the canvas size.  If you make it too big – that is fine, as you will crop later.
  • Capture the area of the each of the other images to be included and drag onto the expanded canvas. Each image will create a new layer for the large canvas.  You can now close those other images as they will not be used and take up memory/slow processing.
  • Alignment – I typically lower the opacity to about 50% in this step.  This allows me to see the ‘base image” as I drag/more the new layer around to align background features.  Once I feel they are closely aligned, I increase the opacity back to 100%.
  • Initial Crop – once all  images are aligned, I make an initial crop to downsize the canvas to the edges of the created panorama.
  • You now have a panorama, but there are probably some problems – for example the sky or background tones may be slightly off and the water ripples do not alight.
  • Levels Adjustment –  I correct the tone first.  For each layer above the ‘base layer’, I use the ‘levels’ command  to adjust the middle slider until the colors look about right.
  • Masking or erasing – I use masks to adjust layers.  If you are not familiar with this term, it creates a similar effect to erasing (but is more easily reversed if a mistake is made.).  Basically I ‘erase’ some of the overlapping images where the edges occur on each layer using a soft brush.  With a little care,you can blend the backgrounds to look quite natural.
  • Flatten the layers and save the image.  Further process – curves, highlights, contrast, saturation, etc. can now be done like any other image.

Sounds a little complex as I type in these steps, but trust me this is easy.  The above image was created in less than 5 minutes.

1 comment for “Photo of the Day / Photo Tip: Panorama Shots – November 25, 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *