Creativity Challenge #8 - Panoramas

I love panoramas. I love looking at them when other people shoot them and I love shooting them myself. There is something about an image that draws the eye from one side to the other just by its shape.

There are two ways of shooting a panorama: (1) shoot one frame and crop it into a panoramic format later, (2) stitch multiple images together (horizontally, vertically or both (i.e. shoot a matrix). In this post I will concentrate on stitching multiple images together using software (and for the purposes of this discussion assume I am talking about a single horizontal row of frames). 

The technical stuff:

Rule 1. Level your tripod and your camera. If you want to get really fancy, use a panoramic head and adjust it so the pivot point is on the point of no parallax error for the lens length you are using. This is a bit tedious but easy enough with practice. However, modern panoramic software is very good at stitching images so you can usually get away with just mounting your camera directly on the tripod head providing both are level.

Rule 2. Turn everything to Manual

  • Exposure - this needs to be consistent across all frames. If you use auto settings the camera will adjust the exposure for every frame and this may give you different lighting levels resulting in vertical banding. 
  • Focus - set your focus on the most important subject in the scene (either focussing on it directly or using enough depth-of-field to ensure it is in focus) and switch to manual focus - even better, learn how to use manual focus on your camera - this can be really helpful in scenes where auto-focus gives less than perfect results. If you leave the camera on auto-focus, it will refocus on every frame and you may end up with parts of the image appearing to be out of focus.
  • White-balance -  if you leave this on auto, the camera might change the white balance for each frame so you end up with different colour balance in different parts of the scene.

Rule 3. For a horizontal panorama, shoot in vertical format - you end up with a larger image - more pixels gives you more flexibility in post-processing.

Rule 4. Do not use a polariser on blue skies if you are using a wide-angle lens as it will differentially polarise across each frame and this will cause banding which is virtually impossible to fix in post processing.

There are creative challenges too when designing a panoramic composition - mostly making sure the image has interest and the whole image is tied together rather than just being a wide shot of a scene that may be better shot as a series of 'normal' format images. 

Thompson Creek, Point Impossible

There's a pull-out on Point Impossible Road (between Breamlea and Torquay in Victoria, Australia) a few hundred metres from the beach car park, right where Thompson Creek does a 120° turn on its way to the ocean. 


The symmetrical view upstream towards Breamlea and downstream towards the ocean makes this an ideal location for a wide panorama.

When I was setting up about 20 minutes before sunset there were a few minutes with a glorious pink glow on the high, wispy clouds in the sky and their reflection on the mirror-like surface of the creek so I grabbed a quick sequence of six frames (each one bracketed -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV and merged with HDR)

6-shot stitched panorama (x 5-shot HDR) 24mm, ISO 100, 1/10-1.6 seconds @ f/11 (no filters)

6-shot stitched panorama (x 5-shot HDR)
24mm, ISO 100, 1/10-1.6 seconds @ f/11 (no filters)

before settling into the video where I explain how to shoot a panorama and shoot another sequence right on sunrise (again six frames, each one bracketed -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV and merged with HDR).

6-shot stitched panorama (x 5-shot HDR) 24mm, ISO 100, 1/200-1/13 second @ f/11 (no filters)

6-shot stitched panorama (x 5-shot HDR)
24mm, ISO 100, 1/200-1/13 second @ f/11 (no filters)

Check out the video from my YouTube Channel where I talk through this (including stepping through stitching the images together in Adobe Lightroom + a bonus night sky shot from when I first arrived at the location in darkness).

Please feel free to comment below. Constructive criticism and informed discussion are always welcome.

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