How to make amazing panoramas

I’ve had a few questions from various people, and overall my panoramas have been quite popular… so I thought I would write up a few tips, and a kind of short instruction guide. To start with, the hardware and software:

Software — Download autostitch (for Windows), or one of the other software packages including autostitch’s algorithm, such as Calico (for Mac OS X).

Camera — You don’t need anything incredibly fancy, but you do need something that can produce clean, sharp pictures. All of my older panoramas were taken with a 3.2MP Canon PowerShot S230, and my newer ones with a 6.3MP Nikon D100.

Tripod — In order to take good panoramas, you will probably want a tripod. It isn’t completely necessary, but it helps. Keep in mind you will be taking up to 20+ pictures, and you want them to line up as well as possible. A cheap tripod with a built-in level will be fine.

No tripod? — If you want to take a good panorama without a tripod, it’s possible. Hold the camera very steady, and try to move it as little as possible. When you turn to take each shot, turn the camera (as a tripod would) instead of turning your whole body (which swings the camera). This is especially true if you have foreground in your picture which you want to come out nicely.

Settings — For best results, you should consider setting your camera to full manual mode. Manual focus will ensure that you don’t accidentally re-focus between shots. Manual aperture and shutter speed will ensure that each shot is exposed the same as the others, so that there’s less blending work to do for the stitcher.

Orientation — Decide how much vertical space you want; you can shoot either portrait or landscape. I find that portrait shots are best, and give you the most options later. You can always crop out parts you don’t like, but it’s hard to add them in later.

Next, the method for getting the shot:

  1. Find a good view; something with a wide field of view, with nothing significant in the foreground to block the view.
  2. Decide what you want your shot to look like. If you’re on a mountain top, for instance, decide how many degrees to shoot, where to frame interesting objects in the overall panorama, etc.
  3. Decide whether to shoot portrait or landscape.
  4. Set up your tripod. Ensure that it’s level.
  5. Attach the camera and determine how you will move the camera through the entire range you need for the panorama. Look through the lens (or at the display) to be sure that the shot is framed how you want it. Check the camera’s level with the horizon using the built-in marks in the eyepiece.
  6. Take a few test shots, and adjust your exposure and focus. Make sure your test shots include both light and dark areas in your shot.
  7. Frame the first shot. I usually shoot left to right, but it’s up to you.
  8. Take a shot, move the camera a few degrees, but be sure that each consecutive shot overlaps the previous one by a fair bit. I usually aim for about 50% overlap. This gives the stitcher plenty to work with. Continue through all the shots until you reach the opposite side.
  9. Quickly scan through the shots you took, and make sure they all came out alright.
  10. You’re done shooting!

When you get back to a PC, download the contents of the camera, load it into your autostitch, and stitch away. It will normally take up to a few hours to stitch a single shot, but the results are worth it. If you intend to print your panorama (and who doesn’t!) be sure to set the size to 100% and the JPEG quality to 100% before stitching.

When you’re ready to print it, use ezprints “classic site, ideal for professional photographers” to print the panorama. They allow printing of unlimited-length panoramas at 6-inches and 12-inches tall.

One thought on “How to make amazing panoramas

  1. Why can’t I get my Sunpak DX-8R ring flash to work with my Nikon D100? » chammers

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