Panorama Tips - Shooting With And Without A Tripod
Building on a previous blog post on why it’s still great to be shooting panoramas, I’d like to share some hints and tips on creating multiple image landscape Panoramas using nothing but your own hands, and also your trusty tripod - if you feel that way inclined :)
While on assignment in Namibia a few months back, I got to shoot a handful of pano’s, and although my tripod wasn’t always with me, the final images came out great once I had them all stitched up in Adobe Lightroom. Now I know Lightroom may not be the most powerful stitching tool out there, but I really don’t see the need for anything else (for now). And I find some in-camera panoramic features on certain cameras and phones to be pretty darn good too.
My only gripe is that panoramic images created in-camera, are normally saved in-camera as Jpeg files. While there’s nothing wrong with Jpeg’s, I can extract extra info and do a lot more work on individual captures if they are RAW files. So I have opted to shoot my RAW files, work on those in Lightroom, and then stitch them together thereafter. Saving a hi-resolution TIFF file for large-format prints, and the Jpeg copies for use online or sending to clients for marketing and web stock (if I’m on assignment).
For all the images below I used my cropped sensor Canon 200D (better for travelling light) and a mix of 50mm, 24-105mm, 18-55mm, and 70-300mm canon lenses, all depending on the image and what I had picked to travel with that day. Images shot hand-held were done so because I was actually cycling at the time (shooting form the hip!) and had to piece together the scene without the help of my tripod or monopod.
Scroll down to the bottom of the images for a quick-list of hints and tips that work (and that I use) to produce clearer, sharper, print-worthy landscape panoramic images with and without a tripod. If you have any questions or some of your own tips on creating great panoramic photographs - please share them in the comments below.
READ MORE - 7 Tips on Composing Better Panoramic Images
NOT SO WIDE.
The wider the lens you’re shooting with, the harder it will be for any photo-stitching software to overcome distortion. Rather, opt to shoot with a 28mm lens over a 14mm lens, or even a 50mm lens over a 35mm lens, if you have the choice. Or take multiple shots with a 70mm or 85mm where you would have shot with a wider lens covering the same area. You’ll have more images to work with but the bonus is you get even more resolution in the end.
Shooting more frames with the camera in the vertical position reduces the apparent distortion. This is how I shot the first image (black-and-white), and the last two images of the Land Cruiser.
OVERLAP MORE THANK YOU THINK.
I would suggest at least 15-20% overlap between frames. I tend toward 25% most times to give software as much real estate to work with.
LEVEL THINGS UP.
Keep the camera level through all the exposures. Use the horizon, or similar feature as a guideline. When using a tripod, mount/adjust the tripod plate as close to the front of the camera as possible, where the lens connects to the camera body, to reduce parallax discrepancies between frames when creating super wide images.
LOCK THAT EXPOSURE.
Shoot in Manual exposure mode to lock in the same exposure settings through all the frames and to have the same depth of field throughout all the frames. This can still be tricky when one half of the scene is a lot brighter than the other half. I will usually attempt to shoot with the sun at my back, or at midday with the sun high above the scene. The light might be harsh, but at least there will be an equal amount of illumination in most parts of what you’re shooting.
Shoot in manual focus mode to keep the same focal distance through all the frames. When using a tripod, do this by auto-focusing on your subject, then turning both image stabilisation (the motor/mechanism in older lenses especially, can cause micro-vibrations when shooting longer exposures) and then turn off auto focus by switching to manual focus mode. Using the display screen on your camera, zoom into the subject area and check to see if the subject is sharp and in focus. If not, lightly and gently turn the lens focus ring to get the subject pin-sharp. Shooting in Manual focus will also mean that the area of focus (the focal plane) with be the same for each shot in the sequence.
Shoot in Aperture f/4 - f/11 in most cases. I will normally opt for f/8, but without any ND lens filters on hand, I will sometimes need to push it as far as f/16 - f/22 although I don’t recommend you do the same as you will lose a lot of detail. However, this can work in your favour if overall image detail is not the objective, but rather the representation of patterns, shapes, symmetry, or if you’re going for other types of creative compositions. Sometimes my lack of equipment when traveling or exploring will dictate these compositional choices more than anything!
A handy tip I can recommend would be to “book-end” your panorama shots. By doing this you will know where to start sticking from, and where to end. This is especially useful when you are stitching a lot of images, and doing multiple pano’s of the same or similar scene (playing and experimenting with different settings for each sequence. I will shoot either my hand, or simply a black frame with my lens cap on. It also helps me locate a specific sequence visually a lot easier, as well as give me an overview of what it might look light with a simple glance between book-ends. Here’s a screenshot from Adobe Lightroom as an example of a book-ended sequence before the RAW images are edited and stitched.
STEADY - STEADY.
When shooting hand-held, keep things as steady as possible. Here’s where you will need to ensure lens image stabilisation is on, and that you are shooting with a shutter speed that is at least double (in number value) the focal length. For example, at 50mm, you will shoot at a minimum of 1/100sec. The faster the shutter speed the better if you want to create crisp images. on a sunny day I will often shoot at over 1/1000sec. Keep the long exposure stuff for when you have a tripod, bean/sand bag, handy rock, ledge, backpack, etc. Basically anything that’s not moving!
BREATHE and HOLD.
Control your breathing when shooting hand-held. If you’re not able to get to more than double the focal length with your shutter speed and you don’t want to compromise on aperture or ISO. Keep the shutter speed at just above the same focal length (for full-frame cameras) and close to double (for cropped sensor cameras). Frame up the shot, breathe in slowly, breathe out and hold your breath once you’re done exhaling, make sure of your composition again, take the shot, and all others in the sequence, all while holding your breathe and remaining steady and calm. Also, make sure to press lightly on the shutter release button for each shot to avoid any jerking.
Holding your camera close to you, but out enough to see the screen or look through the view finder, scoot around on one spot each time as you capture your shots, rather than holding the camera far out in front of you and sweeping from left to right like you would with your smartphone. This will create a smoother end result with less distorting and parallax issues further down the line.
And that’s it! Those are some of my best hints and tips when it comes to shooting pano’s with or without a tripod. The only tip I have left is that you shoot a ton of images. The more you shoot the more you will be practicing, learning about your own camera, and perfecting your technique. Have fun!