Tutorial: Panoramas (Part 2)

Here’s Part 2 if I didn’t manage to bore you too much with Part 1…

Stitching vs. Cropping – Cropping is a great option since you don’t have to worry about anything moving during the shot, and long exposure panoramas take much less time. You have to keep in mind how many megapixels you have though, just in case you might want to make a large print later. For example, with my old Canon 6D I could crop a shot in half and have 10 megapixels, or with my Sony A7R2 I would have 21 megapixels after the crop. Also, keep the final ratio in mind too; do you want all of your panoramas to be the same ratio of length to width? Are you ok with having them all be different ratios? Consider the ease of printing later on, maybe a 3:1 ratio or 2:1 ratio is a “standard” type of print, instead of something that’s 4:1.5 or something. But some printing places can print as wide/long as you want. I try to keep my cropped panoramas in a 3:1 or 2:1 ratio, while my stitched ones can end up being much wider.

Overlap – If you’re stitching, some people say you should overlap the shot by one third, some say one half. It’s up to you, they should both work. I usually put a noteworthy object near the edge of the frame, then move it to the centre, then the other edge, and just pick new objects as I go. Or you can use a degree indicator on your tripod if it has it; this lets you rotate the camera by the exact same amount each time. One tip to remember is that you should try not to cut objects off at the edges. For example, if you have a lone tree in a field, try not to cut the tree in half on one of the shots. It’s just easier for the computer software later on.

Here’s a cropped shot of a field about an hour west of Winnipeg, Canada.

Movement – As with any type of shot where you’re putting multiple photos together (HDR, focus stacking, panoramas), you have to be very aware of moving elements of the photo. There may be waves that don’t line up later when you’re stitching, or wind moving the trees from one shot to the next, etc. You can try to overcome this by using a long exposure, which would mean that the waves would be smoothed out to a flat surface, or the trees that moved in one shot are showing motion in all of the shots, so they may line up at stitching time. Be careful of boats going by as their wake can make lines in the water that long exposures can’t erase. Or you can spend time learning photoshop and use multiple layers and manually blend in which areas of the shots you want to keep.

Really long exposures – Another thing to keep in mind if you’re doing really long exposures (a minute or more each) is that if you’re shooting during the golden times at the beginning or end of the day, the light levels may change while you’re shooting the panorama. So the exposures won’t match. But, if you’re processing in Lightroom (other programs might have this function too) you can get the program to match the exposures of each photo.

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Florence in the evening, shot from Piazalle Michelangelo. I shot horizontally, so the (height from my 24 megapixel camera) is 4,000 pixels. At about 200dpi I could print it about 20 inches high, but I could use a lower dpi and it would still look ok. If I had shot with the camera mounted vertically I would have had a 6,000 pixel high panorama, 50% bigger.

Vertical vs. horizontal camera orientation – You’ll often see people shooting horizontal panoramas with the camera mounted for vertical shots. This helps to avoid getting a long skinny panorama, and people say it adds more “depth” to it. This is also a good technique to use if you want to do a large print later on. For example, in the shot of Florence, I shot in the horizontal orientation and my travel camera makes images at 4,000 x 6,000 pixels. So the maximum height of my panorama without any cropping would be 4,000 pixels; if I can shot vertically it would have been 6,000 pixels high, and I would be able to print much larger. Plus, it can help you include more into the final product, for example, more sky or more foreground. And if you’re in a tight space you might have to shoot vertically just to get everything in. There are ways to shoot a grid of images and put them all together but I haven’t experimented with that yet.

Vertical panoramas – Don’t forget about vertical panoramas! Not to be confused with having the camera mounted vertically during a horizontal panorama, this is a vertical panorama as the final product. You rarely see these and they can be difficult to do, but it will definitely be unique. This can be hard to do if you’re using a ball head on your tripod rather than a pan/tilt type.

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Don’t forget about vertical panoramas as they are a bit rare and can set your work apart. This is a cropped shot of a tree about 30 minutes west of Winnipeg, Canada. Since it was shot with high megapixels there are still enough left after cropping for a nice print.

Software – There are many programs that you can use for making panoramas. I have tried the one that comes with Canon cameras, with mixed results, and I also tried the panorama mode in an old version of Photoshop, again with mixed results. But I probably wasn’t shooting with proper technique at the time. I had some good success with the free program called Hugin. Currently I’ve been using Lightroom, which works great, but I realized something after my recent trip to new york. When you’re working with RAW files, it doesn’t matter what edits you have done to them, Lightroom will combine the original files. The way around this is to do the edits, export the photos into Tiff or Jpeg, then re-import them and do the stitch; that way the edits are “baked in”. Interestingly, I was worried that working with all Tiff files would slow the process down considerably but it wasn’t that bad. Also, another tip is that if you have a stubborn panorama that won’t stitch properly, and you shot with sufficient overlap, you can try leaving some of the shots out of the stitching process and sometimes it will work out. It’s trial and error though.


So you may have noticed that there are a lot of things to think about when making a panorama. As I mentioned, you can try using the auto-stitch in your camera or phone, but you’re most likely not going to get a professional product that lines up correctly, has low noise, and can be printed large. It’s just my opinion about shooting in general, but if there’s a special or rare moment that I’m capturing, I would rather shoot with high quality, rather than looking back on that moment (that may never happen again) wishing that I had done a better job with the shot. Anyway, the short version of the tutorial, use a tripod and make sure it’s level, or shoot with high megapixels to crop into a panorama later. My success rate with stitched panoramas was much higher once I stared making sure my tripod was level. Happy shooting!

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Another example of a cropped panorama. The wide-angle shot looked good but I decided to try a crop and I think it turned out ok. This is the ceiling of Notre-dame Basilica in Ottawa, Canada.

I post to the blog about once a month, so if you want to get an alert when there’s a new post just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Follow button.

– Patrick




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