Good panorama landscape photos are impressive and contain breathtaking beauty due particularly to its wide angle of view. Here are some tips on shooting better landscape panorama.
- When and where. It is easier to answer the “where” question. Places such as beaches, marinas, stadiums, city skylines, bridges, harbors, mountains, and other location with unobstructed wide angle view are the most interesting locations for panorama photography. The “when” question has more to do with the quality of the light than anything else. When the sun is high at noon time, the light tends to be very flat and uninteresting. Dawn and dusk are usually better times. Cloudy or foggy days may work out better than a sunny day.
- Tripod or not? If you have a tripod with panning head, great! Make sure to use it whenever it is possible. However, you do NOT have to shoot your images on a tripod. This may seem contrary to many recommendations you have read elsewhere. What is the catch? First, good hand holding techniques helps (Read more about this later in the post). Second, you may need to get a better stitching software. Do not let the myth stop you from taking panoramas when you don’t have your tripod with you.
- Focal length. Select an good focal length for a desired field of view (FOV). You may have the desire to use a short focal length to reduce the number of photos you need to take. However there are a few reasons not to do it. You will waste precious pixel count when you have to crop away the unwanted parts. Shorter focal length also tends to produce more distortions that are difficult to correct, therefore may cause stitching issues. Please also note that the photo stitching process will cause some pixels at the edges to be cropped out when the shots are not aligned perfectly, so leave some room for error and do not frame too tightly.
- Aperture. Select an aperture that is appropriate for landscape photography on your camera. f/8 or smaller (larger f-stop numbers) for a ~1.5-crop DSLR is typical. For point and shoot cameras, the f-stop required will be smaller depending on the camera’s sensor size. You should choose the aperture based on your experience or the manufacturer recommend settings for landscape photography.
- Meter and exposure. Active the exposure meter of your camera and scan the entire scene that you want to take a panorama. Most likely, the exposure reading will be different when you point your cameras at different directions. If the difference is significant, you may have to make a decision on the exposure to either properly expose the shadows or preserve the highlights. You may consider visiting again at different time of the day when light is more uniform, or change your location. After determining the exposure, lock the exposure (consult your owner’s manual) or turn the exposure to manual mode and set the exposure. Be careful in a cloudy day because the clouds may block or reveal the sunlight quickly, causing drastic changes in exposures.
- Focus. The best practice is to use manual focus and focus at hyperfocal distance, which yields everything from approximately half that distance to infinity to be sharply in focus (within the depth of field). Hyperfocal distance focusing works best with lens 50mm or shorter (35mm equivalent). By using manual focus, you also eliminate another variable for the stitching process.
- Be careful with a polarizer. Some people love the polarizer. It produces nicer looking blue skies, cuts down unwanted reflections from water and foliage, and improves contrast. However if the panorama includes a wide span of the sky, it could produce a very uneven sky in the final stitched image. It may also cause more noise in the blue sky due to the reduction of light (2 stops possible!).
- Camera orientation. For a horizontal panorama, setup or hold your camera in portrait orientation to maximize the pixel count in vertical direction. This would require more images for stitching but will be great for large prints. Similarly, setup or hold the camera in landscape orientation for vertical panorama.
- Grid lines in viewfinder. The grid lines help you to align your camera with the horizon. It also provide guides on ensuring proper overlap between the shots. Some point & shoot models even have special panorama-assist grid lines in the viewfinder.
- Taking the shots. For best results, ensure you have at least 20%-30% overlap between shots. Pay special attention to the grid lines in viewfinder to make sure the shots are lined up properly and there is no unwanted pitch and roll.
- Hand holding. Firmly grip the camera with both of your hands. For SLR cameras, it is typical to use left hand to support the lens and adjust zoom/focus dials and use right hand on the shutter release, exposure/focus lock, and focus point selector. Watch out for the shutter speed. If it is slower than 1/f (the 35mm equivalent focal length), it may be too slow for hand holding. You may want to consider increasing the ISO setting to increase the shutter speed. When shooting the frames from left to right, use your right heel as the rotating point and use your left foot to propel your entire body. It is just the opposite when shooting frames from right to left. Do not twist your upper body for the shots. It is uncomfortable and instable.
- Moving objects. If there are moving objects, the chances are high you will see some ghosts in the stitched image. Removing the ghosts is typically a complicated process. The best practice is to avoid any moving objects during the entire sequence if possible.
- Stitching software. Some software, including the one shipped with your camera and Adobe Photoshop, may not be as feature-rich as the 3rd party panorama software. Obviously the choice is a personal preference. I use Panorama Factory and have great success with it. It works great for handhold panoramas because it can automatically detect unintended camera roll and misalignments during the stitching process.
Please let me know if you enjoy reading the tips. I’d love to read your comments and suggestions. You can either use the comment box below, or drop me at line at picmax at gmail dot com.
Keywords: How-To, Howto, landscape, panorama, panoramic, tips