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Photographing panoramas

Written by Bernard Dery

Panorama photos are made by combining a series of individual photos into a single, ultra wide-angle image. Learn what you can do to ensure your pictures will be easily and correctly stitched together.

Most point-and-shoot digital cameras offer a stitching assist mode to help you capture large panoramas in a series of shots and later assemble them in a single digital file. Using the Stitch mode helps you capture a field of view that is too wide for a camera lens to capture in a single frame. Stitching also increases the final resolution of your image, allowing for larger prints.

Here are tips to help you effectively take a series of images that can be later stitched together to make a panorama.

Overlapping pictures

Panorama serieThere are things that you can do to ensure your pictures will be easily and correctly stitched together. First, remember that for any software to stitch your images correctly, they have to overlap by at least 30%. When framing a shot, you’ll be tempted to reduce this ratio, but it’s better to have more overlap than less.

Quite often, the stitching mode shows parts of the previous scene to help you take the next picture. Some cameras show the actual edge of the previous picture, while others show the area where both images should overlap. Read your manual and experiment a bit before taking your first “real” panorama.

Making sure your images overlap is not always enough, however.

Visible features

Stitching programs need visible features that they can recognize and superimpose (ideally at least three of them each time two images overlap). Moreover, those features need to form a triangle of some sort on the image, not a line. So the worst case scenario would be trying to stitch a panorama of the sea. Moving objects are also horrible for stitching.

Common problems when stitching photos

Curves

Horizons stitchedOne mistake many photographers make is to include both near and far objects in their frames. When that happens, the horizon will likely end up curved when stitching, and sometimes the junction between two pictures will become very apparent.

Seams

Visible seams between stitched images will appear if the exposure is not consistent between all the images in your panorama. Digital cameras with stitching scene modes take care of that problem by automatically locking exposure when you take the first shot. However, if you want to capture the images without the help of the Stitch mode, lock exposure or use manual mode if your camera has these options.

Change in perspective

The last common problem arises from the fact that most people capture panorama images while holding the camera at arm’s length and rotating their whole body. This creates a change in perspective and will likely distort the stitched image. The best way to avoid this is to use a tripod, so that the camera remains roughly in the same spot all the time. The tripod also helps keep your images level. If you don’t have a tripod, keep in mind that your camera should move as little as possible, and you will be able to minimize this problem.

About the author

Bernard Dery

Bernard was born and still lives in Quebec City, Canada. A doctorate candidate in Physics, Bernard works full-time as an optical designer at EXFO, a world leader in telecom tests and measurements tools. His professional interests go from fiber optics to atmospheric data collection and lasers.

His first contact with photography was a Vivitar fixed lens camera that he had purchased at age eight. His interest developed slowly, and for many years Bernard limited himself to family and travel pictures.

Bernard discovered the world of digital photography in February 2004, when he purchased his first digital camera. Developing an interest for composition, he experimented with many subjects: landscapes, nature, cities and architecture.

Bernard
soon began to invest more time and energy into his new found hobby, finding new and beautiful subjects to capture everyday. His challenge is to capture the mood and emotion carried by a scene as it presents itself to him.

A trip to Italy in
September 2004 fueled his growing interest with numerous magical photography opportunities.

Bernard and his wife like to spend free time near a lake at his family's summer house, where he finds new subjects to capture every day. His interests are varied and include hiking, camping, swimming, boating and reading, as well as most winter
sports.

Bernard, known as bdery on forums, uses a Pentax K20D and W80, Canon S2 and a Nikon SQ as a backup.

Thumbnails are of photos by Bernard Dery - used with permission
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