If you’re into shooting landscapes you gotta be into panoramas. Some of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen were in the long skinny panoramic format. So how are these done? There are a few different ways to get the look.
It should go without saying that to do this most appropriately you must have a tripod. Without a tripod you can probably get the images and stitch them together, but you will almost assuredly not get the quality you will want. Especially if you are going to enlarge them.
The best way to shoot panoramas is to plan in advance. The most common method of shooting these types of images is by shooting several images and then stitching them together. When you do this it is very important to maintain exposure, maintain focus, and keep the horizon level. To maintain exposure it is probably advisable to shoot in the manual mode. Failure to do this could cause inconsistency in one or two of the images that will be stitched. Shooting in one of the automatic modes may keep a close consistent exposure, but when the image is enlarged the difference may become noticeable. In particular, you should maintain the aperture setting. Otherwise, depth of field could change.
One of the problems I have seen, and experienced, is inconsistent focus. Autofocus is almost a given for most photography. It makes it so easy to assure the proper focus without having to determine it manually. However, when shooting a pano you must be aware that shooting multiple images may result in different focal lengths. They may all seem to be focused to infinity, but relying on the camera and lens to consistently determine this is not always a good idea. Especially if there is something (like trees) in the foreground at one part of the pano and something farther away in the background (like mountains) at other points in the pano. Therefore, to assure a consistent focal point be sure to turn off autofocus and set your focus manually. Then, start shooting your images.
Another consideration that will cause heartache is not staying level with the horizon. Typically when you shoot panos you will start in one direction (like your left) and then progressively shoot several overlapping images across the horizon (to your right). As you do this it is vital to maintain a level position. If not, the final image will definitely show a distortion. Here’s what it could look like if you do not maintain a level horizon.
See how the edges seem to dip down. You obviously don’t want this, so be sure your tripod is level as you swing it around for all of the images you are stitching together.
When shooting these images you’re probably thinking about shooting them horizontally. However, if you shoot them vertically you will add more sky and foreground which will give you more flexibility for cropping. It will require more images, but that’s not really an issue.
Here is a recent image of the Dallas skyline. There were six vertical images that I later stitched together in Photoshop CS5. Only after being stitched together as a single image did I add some retouching. Any kind of retouching before that would have the possibility of inconsistency.
Another way is to take a distant shot, maybe with a wide angle lens, and then crop it to the pano format. The issue you will face with this is the quality of the image. It must be very very sharp, or your final image must be a fairly small size, because you are basically zooming in. As you grow the picture you are spreading the pixels out causing the image to contain a grainy look. This option is probably only a good one if you image is going to remain small.
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