Reader Paul commented on one of my panorama images and asked if I could share some information on how I create them. I’m sure there are many ways to shoot and assemble panoramic images – this is what I have figured out that works for me:
1. Look at the scene – if it isn’t brightly lit (or if you have shaky hands) you will probably want to use a tripod.
2. Consider removing a circular polarizer filter if you are using one. The frames in your panorama set will be at different angles relative to the sun and that can cause some odd looking effects in the sky if the filter is not adjusted across the set of images you will shoot to make the panorama.
3. Decide if you want to shoot with the camera in horizontal or vertical orientation. Horizontal will let you get a panorama set in less shots, vertical will give you more ground and sky to work with. If you need to work fast (temporary lighting conditions with moving clouds, trying to get those darn cows to hold still for a minute) then I would go horizontal.
4. Pick out some reference points (landmarks, clouds, etc.) that mark where the corners of the panorama will be.
5. Take a few reference shots so you will have a guide to use when assembling the panorama.
6. Set up the camera as you’re going to shoot with it (tripod or handheld, horizontal or vertical) and look through the viewfinder as you sweep through the range of the panorama. Adjust zoom, angle, and panning range as needed. Make sure you can see your reference points.
7. If you’re shooting handheld point your feet at the center of the range you’re going to pan through. (I have a bad habit of pointing in the direction of the beginning of the pan and getting seriously twisted up when I get to the other side.)
8. Plan the number of shots – I tend to overshoot, anywhere from 25% to 50% between frames depending on how much motion (waves, cloud movement) is in the scene. Decide on how much overlap you want, and sweep the camera through the pan range again to get a count of the number of shots you are planning to take.
9. Auto focus on your desired focal point for the panorama and then put the lens in manual focus mode. You can get some odd results if the camera autofocuses for each frame of the panorama set.
10. Take your panorama set. Remember to pace yourself especially if you are using a camera with a small buffer or a slow memory card. You want to avoid having to pause in the middle of a panorama set to let the camera catch up if possible.
11. There are a number of tools that assist with stitching a panorama together. I use Microsoft ICE most of the time – it’s a free product and works well. http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ice/
12. When you have the basic panorama stitched together, use your image editing tools of choice to crop and adjust. I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, DXO Optics Pro (http://www.dxo.com/us/photo), and the Nik tool set (http://www.niksoftware.com) to produce my final images.
As with many things, I don’t believe there is a single “right way” to do it. Take a shot (I made a photography funny!), be creative, see what you get!