panoramic landscape photography
Panoramic photography is one of the oldest photography techniques that has existed since the beginning of film. Panoramic photography creates an image with a wider field of view than we can achieve in one shot, regardless of the type of lens and the focal length we use. I think it is a photography technique every photographer and especially landscape photographers should know. How to do it the best way? here it comes.
what is a panorama?
Panoramic photography is a photography technique in which several images are taken in the field and then combined into one image with a larger field of view. In the days of film it was done by developing each individual image and then arranging/stitching them next to each other in proper overlap to create the panoramic image. Today in the age of digital photography, after taking the photos in the field, we can merge the photos to a panorama in editing software. There is no limit to the amount of images that can be taken and merged to a panorama, but it is of course recommended that the end result will be interesting and in pleasant proportions for viewing.
recommended panorama types
Since our goal is to increase the field of view and the area we photograph, it can be maximized by photographing panoramas in which each frame is opposite of the final panorama orientation. For example, to create a final horizontal oriented panorama, each frame composing it will be shot vertically. to create a final vertical oriented panorama, each frame composing it will be shot horizontally. That way we can maximize the area photographed from all directions.
Horizontal panorama from vertical shots
Vertical panorama from horizontal shots
advantages of panoramic photography
The purpose of panoramic photography is to obtain an image with a wider field of view than one can achieve in a single image. Panoramas have a number of benefits that can help us in a variety of situations, some of which are clearer and some of which may be less clear:
In the image above of a sinkhole in the Dead Sea (Israel) the panorama solved two problems I had at once: the first one was I couldn't get all the field of view and composition I wanted in a single image. The second is that I did not want to move too far away from the edge of the sinkhole to emphasize the textures in the ground and emphasize the sinkhole it self. When I stood relatively close I could not photograph the whole composition in a single image. Although I could walk back and shoot with a very wide lens (16mm on a full frame camera) I preferred to shoot closer and take a panorama to get everything I wanted. This panorama consists of 10 vertical frames (fewer frames were sufficient, but I didn't want to take a chance and miss something).
This image I took at Dor Beach (Israel) is a panorama consisting of 5 horizontal images. I positioned myself relatively close to the rock at the bottom of the image to make it big and dominant, but I could not see the background at all even though I was shooting with a 17mm lens on a full frame camera. The only way to achieve a picture with a composition where I stayed close to the rock and got the rest of the composition was to take a few more pictures that would include both the foreground and the background, and then merge them to a panorama.
In the photo above I photographed a group of mist-covered trees at sunrise (photographed in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania). I photographed the trees from a distance and from a high angle using a focal length of 400 mm to get the right size and composition of the area. In a single frame it was impossible to everything I wanted so I took a panorama.
choosing the right exposure for panorama
From the initial thought that we are going to shoot something that will eventually be one uniform image, we have to take in consideration that the general exposure and exposure parameters (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) have be the equal in each of the images that will make up the panorama. If the exposure is not the same in all the images, we will brighter frames and darker dark frames which won't match in the merge. When shooting a panorama we will use exactly the same ISO, aperture and shutter for each of the frames. Aside from the exposure, it will also maintain a uniform image quality and depth of field.
If the whole area we photograph has relatively even light, then we also won't have dynamic range problems and all the frames will be properly exposed. But there are situations in which due to the fact we photograph a relatively large area, there can sometimes be cases where there will be large lighting differences between areas - what do we do about it? We need to determine the general exposure and exposure parameters for all the frames according to the brightest frame in the panorama and work with the ETTR exposure method - shoot as bright as possible without burning. That exposure will be for all the other frames of the panorama. This exposure method is the one I also use for individual frames and I highly recommend it. You can read about its benefits in the link I highlighted above. A second and slightly more complex option is to shoot the panorama in HDR. It's a little more complex in the field since we'll have to shoot each frame in the panorama in multiple exposures (exactly the same exposures each time per frame). It used to be even more complex merge such a panorama in post processing, but today Lightroom knows how to automatically merge panorama in HDR.
focus and depth of field
Focusing is just the way we are used to. It is just important to remember that after the initial focus it is highly recommended to switch to manual focus. That way it won't change from frame to frame and might cause depth of field differences. When focusing take in mind to consider all parts of the panorama (not just a single frame) to determine the focus and depth of field.
In order for the post processing software to be able to merge the images we took in the field, there must be an overlap between frames. There is no rule that determines how much overlap there should be, I recommend an overlap of 20% -30% between the frames. (There are lots of editing software that do panoramas, from Lightroom and Photoshop to other free software that can be found online).
extra safety space
Perhaps the most important tip I can give about taking panoramas is that it is never recommended to shoot exactly the composition we want - we must always shoot extra space of all directions (top, bottom, right and left)! This is due to the simple reason that in 99% of cases, after merging the panorama we will have to straighten or crop it and we then risk cropping important areas getting a composition which too tight. How much extra space to take? Don't be shy… I recommend at least 2 times the space you would have left for the final composition. In the pictures below you can see the original full panorama before cropped and processed it, and also the final panorama.
using a tripod
It is not compulsory to use a tripod for panoramas, but it is very effective and helpful - it allows you to compose accurately and also helps to keep straight in all frames and avoid going diagonally. In order to work correctly with the tripod, it is important that the base of the tripod will be leveled (the part on which the tripod head is attached and not the tripod head itself). If it gets too complicated for you in the field and takes up too much time that will make you miss the moment or the good lighting during the photo shoot, I recommend not to put too much with leveling the tripod, but simply shoot with larger extra space. Same goes for shooting panoramas hand held without a tripod.
composition guide lines for panoramas
The composition guide lines in panoramic photography are the same guide lines for landscape photography. What does need to change is how we think - when we shoot a panorama we have to imagine in advance the composition of the overall result and not for each frame individually. It is recommended to do a preliminary planning for the composition (do not forget extra spaces!) before starting to shoot of course.
Shooting panoramas can sound a bit tricky and might take some time at first, because there are quite a few things to think about before and during shooting, but with a some practice you will find that it becomes simple and easy to do at any time and place!