My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

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Create perfect panoramas

 SHOOTING WIDE: This image is the completed panorama I shot during a trip to downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. The image is composed of four shots that were stitched together in Photoshop.

SHOOTING WIDE: This image is the completed panorama I shot during a trip to downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. The image is composed of four shots that were stitched together in Photoshop.

Panoramas are really something to behold. A panorama is a large image that is mostly used in landscape photography.

Most everyone who owns a smartphone has played with the panorama feature using the camera application built into their phone’s software.

The concept is to take your phone and move it horizontally along the course of an area and the phone will take an image of the area that you shoot. This image is one long image that is technically multiple images stitched together to create one image that is a lot wider than what just one shot could accomplish on its own.

Panoramas have existed for far longer than our phone’s ability to shoot them.

Creating a panorama using your phone is easy because the device walks you through each step and basically does all of the work for you; wonderful technology.

The technology is good, but it can be a touch limited as far as image quality goes — and as many of my readers know, image quality is a high priority of mine. The downside to using a phone is that the image sensor doesn’t have the pixel density of higher quality cameras, and sometimes the images can be stitched together improperly which can create a whole course of trial and error reshoots that can be annoying.

So, the focus of this post will be on shooting panoramas with a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.

 INDIVIDUAL SHOTS: These images are the shots used to create the final panorama above. Each image contains parts of the previous image to make the merging process in Photoshop cleaner and easier.

INDIVIDUAL SHOTS: These images are the shots used to create the final panorama above. Each image contains parts of the previous image to make the merging process in Photoshop cleaner and easier.

The same concept applies when shooting with a DSLR as when shooting a panorama with your phone; you’ll be taking several images in a row, one right next to the other for as long as you want the image to be.

This requires some planning. You’ll need to decide where to begin the image and end, what lens to use for the shots and you’ll need to use some imagination as to how the final image should look. The one downside to shooting panoramas with a DSLR is that you won’t see the final image until you get the images back on the computer at home (or on the go if you have a laptop).

When I shoot these kinds of images, I generally tend to shoot between three and four images to create the final image. However, that’s due to my using a very wide lens — if you’re using a lens that is longer than 24mm wide you’ll probably need more than just four images to create a decent panorama, and that’s OK; whatever works.

To successfully shoot the series of images that will make the panorama, you’ll need to keep parts of the previous image in the frame in order for the image to stitch together properly and to decrease any image distortion the lens may introduce. If you look at the four individual images attached to this post, you’ll notice they all share many of the same structures as the previous shot. 

The panoramas I put together come together nicely nearly 100 percent of the time and that is largely due to shooting the individual images properly the first time around. 

 UNCROPPED: The image above is the uncropped version of the images that were stitched together using Photoshop’s photo merge function. Zooming in to look for misalignment in the image is important at this point, but if everything is lined up all that’s left to do is crop the image and you’ll have a completed panorama.

UNCROPPED: The image above is the uncropped version of the images that were stitched together using Photoshop’s photo merge function. Zooming in to look for misalignment in the image is important at this point, but if everything is lined up all that’s left to do is crop the image and you’ll have a completed panorama.

Once Photoshop is finished stitching together your images into a panorama, you’ll want to zoom in and scour the areas where the images merged together to make sure that there are not any lines from buildings intersecting in strange ways.

A good example would be a panorama of a skyscraper. Say you have one image with part of the skyscraper in it, and the next image in the lineup has the other half ... but not quite enough of the skyscraper to line up properly. Suddenly, Photoshop doesn’t know what to do with the images and your image has windows that are misaligned and deformed; not good.

That’s why making sure you shoot your images properly the first time is key to making this process work.

One thing to also keep in mind is moving subjects. You’ll notice that there were some people in the panorama I have attached to this article. I had to shoot my images quickly so the people didn’t end up moving too far before the next shot was taken.

If a person moves from one shot to another, chances are you can have two sets of the person in the same panorama, which creates a headache in post processing.

Once you have your images, the magic happens. Take your images to the computer and use Photoshop’s photomerge option to stitch the images together. Much like your phone, Photoshop can (brilliantly) stitch together the images you’ve taken with great accuracy.

After Photoshop has merged your images together, you’ll need to do some cropping to get rid of some of the jagged edges of where the photos jut out in odd places, but after you do that your image is complete.

Panoramas are a fantastic way to show a large area in a single image without needing the use of a wide angle lens. 

Recent technology allows for us to create these kinds of images on our mobile devices, and that’s simply awesome, but if you want to create a high quality image worthy of a large print size, stick with a DSLR set up.

You won’t regret it.