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How To Photograph Panoramas With And Without A Panoramic Head

Panoramic images can have real impact but not everyone has a panoramic head in their kit bag so we also have some top tips on capturing panoramic images hand-held.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Glencoe Lochan Panorama


Panoramas and landscapes go together like gin and tonic and make a potent combination. There are several panoramic heads available and we will be discussing how they are used in due course. To start with, though, this is a technique that you can shoot handheld.


Working Without A Panoramic Head

This technique works fine for subjects some way from the camera position. If you have subjects quite close to the subject you do need a proper panoramic head that can be adjusted to get the optical centre of the lens directly above the tripod's centre axis.


1. Gear Suggestions

Your normal DSLR and a standard zoom are fine (30-50mm on an APS-C sized sensor and 50-75mm on a full-frame camera.)


2. Work Manually

Go manual control for this technique. Set your DSLR's white balance to manual using a suitable preset, set manual focus and set manual exposure. Shooting manually does make life easier and streamlines workflow rather than having to tweak each image before stitching.


3. Check Your Exposure 

White-balance and focusing are pretty straightforward, but manual exposure needs a little thinking about. Ideally, you want an exposure that ensures good highlight detail and shadows will look after themselves. Take a meter reading and shoot three images, one at the centre of the panorama and then one at each extreme edge. If the exposure works for each area you have got it right.


4. Don't Adjust The Focus Once Set

It is also important that focus is not adjusted during the panorama so take care not to touch the focus barrel once you have focused.


5. Take Your Shots

Try shooting in an upright format and start from the left, allowing a one-third frame approximate overlap between each frame. Capturing between six to eight frames should be fine.

Shooting horizontal format is fine too but it is good to have some area spare to crop into should it be necessary. Shooting upright gives less of a letter-box effect, too.


6. Stitching

There are various stitching software packages available. Try Panorama Factory - it is quick and very effective or you can always use Photoshop.







Working With A Panoramic Head

For panoramas where there are elements much closer to the camera, you need a purpose-built tripod head.


1. Gear Suggestions

There are various models of panoramic head available at a variety of prices and enable single row panoramas and some multi-row. The key thing is that the instructions of the head are followed to find the no-parallax point of the lens, usually called the nodal point.


2. The Set-Up

Find your scene, set up the tripod and camera so that it is level. Set manual white-balance, manual exposure and manual focus. Meter to get tones in the important part of the scene – and bracket exposures if it is contrasty.


3. Take Your Shots

Shoot from left to right once you have set up and the head has click stops to ensure that you get the correct amount of overlap. Do a ‘dry run’ before shooting for real.


4. Stitching

Back home, get the images corrected and cloned and put them through your usual panorama software. 


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kab0811 8 2 United States
7 Jun 2017 2:57PM
An circa 1890 downtown building was recently torn down in New London, MO; this lumber company advertising was exposed which predates the demo'd building since they abutted one another except for a covered stairwell.Taken June 3rd, 2017; 11am; f9.7, 1/56s, ISO-100; Fujifilm s8400w superzoom; 4 images stitched in Photoshop Elements 9.247484_1496843794.jpg
kab0811 8 2 United States
7 Jun 2017 3:02PM
Great tips; I have been using this technique since the mid 1990's, but on 35mm film! I then physically stitched the pictures together with tape. The trick is as you point out, don't change focus or f-stop or apertures. Sweep left to right or vice versa. I have used a tripod, but mostly it's more convenient to sweep by hand. Also, do a dry run by sighting in your subject either vertical or horizontally. Then shoot away. Good luck.
kab0811 8 2 United States
7 Jun 2017 3:07PM
Cuivre River State Park Stone Bridge, c1930's CCA Camp work project, east of Troy, MO(Lincoln County). Taken May 9th, 2017; 3pm; f3.2, 1/320s, ISO-100; Fujifilm s8400w Superzoom; 5 images stitched & cropped in Photoshop Elements 9.247484_1496844428.jpg

TIP: Be sure to allow about 1/4 to 1/3rd frame overlaps when shooting these kind of pictures.
kab0811 8 2 United States
9 Jun 2017 3:09PM

c1910 Pony Truss over Crooked Creek, Monroe County, MO; June 7, 2017, 3:07pm; f2.9, 1/140s, ISO-200; 4 vertical images, stitched & edited in Photoshop 9 Elements. Very strong afternoon sunlight this day, but it was filtered nicely by the dense trees/brush from the low water crossing upstream of the bridge.

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