Panoramic Photos – How To Shoot & Process

Panoramic Photos - How To Shoot & Process 

Printed panoramic photos looks a little out the ordinary and can really set off a room.  Beyond the simple world of automatic mobile phone panoramics, Werner Kaffl has perfected the art of the high resolution, high detail. stunning panoramic shot.

In this article he tells us how to replicate one of the many incredible panoramic photos he sells in galleries around the country.

"Many people just use their mobile phones to shoot a panorama. Those look alright on social media, but with such a small lens and sensor, those panoramas lack quite some detail and quality on a big screen or even printed. Also, you don’t have much control over the outcome." - Werner Kaffl

Gear: What's needed?

Camera:

Most digital cameras can be used. 

This tutorial goes for DSLR, but essentially the process is similar with cheaper gear.

Lens:

As panoramics typically cover a wide area, you'll want to use a wide angle lens rather than a zoom lens, if possible.

The ideal lenses will have little distortion but high sharpness.

Tripod:

A good idea is a tripod with a pano head, but in bright daylight handheld shooting is possible too (for 1-row panos).

A pano head has some important features...

It can be adjusted to different vertical angles and then be moved horizontally (or the other way round for vertical panoramas), many will even have scales. It becomes essential when shooting more than one row, as you need to keep the same vertical angle for each shot in each row.

Many tripods have a so called “ballhead”, which allows you to fix a camera in any angle, but those aren’t very good for panoramic photos shooting.

Filters:

Not essential, but some filters can be useful too, especially for sunsets (or sunrises).

Preparation: What you need to know

1st:  First it’s important to know if you want to shoot during daytime or in twilight/night.

2nd: You need to know how high OR wide your panorama shot will be.

For example, most sun sets will be horizontal panoramas, but a milky way shot can be a vertical pano.

The Process: Shooting

Panoramas can consist of just 2 images (easiest version of a 1 row pano) as well as virtually any number of shots at different vertical angles (multi-row pano).

To capture as much as possible in any given scene, you'll be shooting in rows.

For example, 10 shots when the camera is pointing down a bit, to capture the foreground, then another row of 10, camera pointing up slightly, to capture the sky and distant scenery.

I like to use graduated filters which darken the upper, bright part of a sun set, but leave the bottom part clear. This allows to expose longer without blowing out the highlights, and this gives you effects like creamy looking clouds or milky looking water.

The Shoot:

In daylight, without a tripod, you should try to shoot in one direction (I shoot left to right).

You should try to keep your vertical angle (if there is a horizon, try to keep the horizon at the same height of each shot).

Your single shots should overlap at least by 30% - I personally overlap up to 70%, more shots make more detail.  Also, if one pic sucks, you can just leave it out.

You should not change camera settings (like exposure) within a row, as this would cause darker or lighter patches in the final picture.

If your pano has more than 1 row, shoot each row in the same direction as the others. The single rows should overlap as well, at least 30% or more.

When shooting a sunset (multi row), you might start shooting from the bottom row, then the next higher row etc. Reason being, it’s getting darker quickly, and that way you get still good light on the foreground.  In the next row it’s already darker and the highlights won’t blow out too much.

For sunrises it’s the other way round.

Pro Tip:  

Shoot sceneries which give you enough reference points – i.e. if you shoot 100 degrees of horizon, the stitching software can’t find differences between photos and so it can’t determine which shot belongs to what place within the pano.

The Process: Stitching

If you use a DSLR, you would shoot in RAW, and I assume you are already familiar with converting the RAWs to JPG format, adjusting contrast etc.

Usually you would process all of them the same way, otherwise you will get patches.

Stitching Programs:

There are a lot of programs out there for stitching. Many of you will use Photoshop for editing and stitching.

I personally prefer Microsoft ICE. It’s freeware, more powerful and a lot faster than Photoshop or Lightroom. But that’s personal preference, and if ICE fails, I can still try Photoshop.

Here is a pano, stitched “manually”, to show how it might look like without panorama software.

It not only puts the shots together, it also alters distortion etc. You can also see how far those shots overlap. This one is composed of 38 single photos in 2 rows of 19 shots in portrait mode each.

The final version is over 150 Mega Pixels, should be easily printed to a size of 4 m wide or more, without losing detail.

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot Manually Stitched

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot, Manually Stitched

The Results:

Below is the result I got with ICE – Color, contrast and highlights needed to be adjusted too, as you will have variations in your single shots, “steps” in the horizon and clouds needed to be corrected (as clouds moved during the shooting).

Mostly this will be done in Photoshop (or similar software), which allows you to brighten or darken parts of a photo – and a lot more, which I might explain in another article, as this doesn’t only count for panoramas.

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot - Stitched With ICE

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot - Stitched With ICE

I used a 24 mm wide angle lens for this, which allows quite a high level of detail, here a 100% crop from bottom right:

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot - Close Up

Panoramic photos: Werner Kaffl - Panoramic Shot - Close Up

Getting an amazing result like this can be a quite long and complicated process...  on some of my photos I work 10 hours or more to get them right!

ABOUT WERNER KAFFL

Originally from Germany, Wener's passion for Photography started with his first 1.2 MP digital canon camera, which he quickly outgrew.

After moving to NZ in 2010 his interest in low light and astro photography was ignited after seeing some astro photos on the internet.  Like many photographers, this meant a lot of learning, stocking up on gear and practise with post shoot processing.

Want More?

Check out Werner's work on his website or on Smugmug

He also runs 1on1 and group coaching sessions, so get in touch via email!

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