Post Processing » Creating Panoramas
When I was very young my dad took me to see the New York City Panorama. Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, this Lilliputian 3D model of all 5 boroughs of the city caused my brain to expand and contract in an unending cycle. At the same moment, I felt both drawn in and engulfed by this mini-metropolis’ endless byways, and also bird-like, soaring above this giant city, feeling that it was my kingdom. While I don’t suffer from quite that same sense of dissonance, creating panoramas with my camera brings back some of the same emotions. To me a great panorama works on those same levels I felt as a kid, feeling at once pulled in and pulled out.
|A panoramic view of the Catskills Mountain in NY.|
Cropping to Make a Panoramic Image
Before sophisticated digital cameras and processes came along, the most common methods for creating panoramas involved either a camera that utilized a rotating lenses that exposed the film on a curved plane, (like a Noblex), or a fixed lens camera that exposed the film on a flat plane, (like a Hasselblad X-Pan). Though film is being muscled out, both types of cameras are still being made should you wish to experiment.
Certainly you can crop a digital image you have shot traditionally to create a panorama, but keep in mind you are dumping a lot of pixels and that may hinder the size of the print you are able to make. This type of ‘cropping’ was a technique I used at The New York Times when I would shoot panoramas for the their ‘Living In’ features.
|A street scene in Greenwich Village, NY ready for editing in CS5.|
These stories would explore different neighborhoods across the boroughs and I had to capture what appealed to me but I always had to include a panorama. In newspaper work, heavy digital manipulation is a huge no-no. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, Photoshop is almost a curse word in photojournalism.
|After cropping, the street scene is now a panorama.|
|Another NYC shot, from the financial district. This panorama has a vertical aspect|
Prowling the city I would search out vistas that would lend themselves to panoramas. I would force my eyes to ‘see’ in panorama. What expanse would show the different aspects of a neighborhood? What shapes and forms would ‘pop’ when shot in this format? When you go out to shoot panoramas, turn on that internal lens. What will a panorama say about a place that a 35mm rectangular or square format can’t convey?
When shooting those panoramas for The Times more often than not I would be handholding my camera. Ideally when you are shooting panoramas it is best to work with a tripod that has a head with the ability to pan or rotate. I would also strongly suggest a small leveling device on your camera (or tripod) to ensure that as you pan your camera will stay as level as possible. I use one that fits in my hot-shoe mount on top of my camera.
With digital capture we use photo stitching, also called segmented panoramas. There are quite a few software programs out there that can stitch your exposures together. Some are free, some are expensive, some are easy and some verge on rocket science. I use Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Photomerge. It is also available in Photoshop Essentials. The principles are the same. The software is able to merge multiple exposures together blending for exposure to a degree and compensating for distortions that occur during capture.
|A panorama of a Pennsylvania farm created digitally with photo stitching.|
While today’s panorama software is pretty incredible, there are a few rules you need to follow. The most terrifying one is – take your camera off automatic. You want to ensure that all of your exposures are the same. By that I mean you need to set your camera’s white balance, you need to keep the same aperture (f-stop), and where possible keep the same focal point. With many landscape panoramas the last point may not be an issue as you are probably focused out to infinity. Shutter speed doesn’t matter as much unless you have movement in your images.
|A striking panoramic shot of an old Cadillac.|
For the landscape panorama at the top of the article I shot 12 verticals to create a 2.1 Gigabyte file with an 85mm lens at f5 on my Canon 5d Mark II. Shooting from left to right I let each exposure over lap the next by about 30-degrees. As always, I shot in RAW. This would allow me to use the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in to work the exposure, color and input sharpening.
Using Adobe’s Bridge I sort and highlight the corrected image RAW files in order, from left to right, in the program’s Content panel. From the Menu bar I select Tools> Photoshop> Photomerge.
|A screen shot from Bridge showing where to access Photomerge.|
|Buttermilk Falls, Catskills, NY, another vertical panorama.|
In the next dialogue box Photoshop offers you six layout and blending options to choose from. I find 4 out of 5 times Auto will do a good job. If I am not happy with the outcome I’ll try the Perspective and Cylindrical options next. Since I have CS5 Extended I can create 360-degree panoramas by checking Spherical and then utilizing the 3D capabilities of the Extended version. Other software such as PTGui and Hugin have 360 capabilities built in. If you have ever visited a real estate site and looked at the virtual properties you have seen how ubiquitous these 360-degree panoramas have become. The Collage and Reposition options allow you to blend your panoramas manually using masks created by the CS5. If you are not familiar with masks I would stick with Auto. At the bottom of the source file window I make sure to check Blend Images Together and Geometric Distortion Correction. The latter is a great feature for removing distortion that occurs when shooting with a wide-angle lens. Click OK and let the software do its magic.
Experiment with your DSLR
I think you will find that once you make and print your first panorama you will be hooked. Most of you will probably start with landscape panoramas but these should just be the starting point. Sometimes a panorama is about bringing in a little more space in your shot.
They don’t all need to become your version of a Chinese scroll painting, (though I like those as well). The tricky part is finding where panoramas offer more than a ‘normal’ format would. Experiment with vertical panoramas, environmental portrait panoramas, macro panoramas – anything that plays upon that sense of being enveloped by a place. Let your foray into panoramic images be more than experiments with cool software, let panoramas stretch your photographic muscles. Create your own kingdoms to soar above.
|Mist on a golf course in Margaretville, NY.|