My Top Tips for creating easy Panoramas

May 14, 2023  •  1 Comment

First things first, I'm a very lazy photographer. I don't like too much technical faff. If I can get an image in a oner then I will do it. I don't like shooting into the sun.....too much faff, don't like bracketing images....too much faff, I HATE panoramas......beyond faffy. Well that was until a couple of years ago, now I absolutely love panoramic images and shoot them all the time. Why the change of heart? Well the biggest influencing factor was my increasing love of shooting handheld with my 70-200mm lens. My biggest beef if you like, was messing around with the tripod and getting it level. I'd spend ages in the field making sure my tripod was dead level, only to get home and discover my pano was as straight as the leaning tower of Pisa. Shooting handheld has negated this issue and as a result made taking panoramic images very enjoyable and hassle free. Over the last few years I've really worked on developing my technique when out in the field and in this little blog I thought I'd share tips and my method on taking great handheld panoramic images. 

Burnmoor Tarn Panorama. 6 shot pano ISO 200, f5.6, 1/1000th sec @ 70mm. 

Breaking Light over Burnmoor TarnBreaking Light over Burnmoor TarnGorgeous light breaking across Burnmoor Tarn, Great How, Hardknott Fell, the Coniston Fells and Harter Fell.

The Why? 

A panoramic image is made up of multiple shots all merged together to make one super wide image. So why do we take them? Well firstly they are highly impressive looking and you can capture a wide vista that simply wouldn't be possible on a normal lens. Why not use an ultra wide angle lens? Well these are often expensive to buy and with ultra wide angle also comes a bucket load of distortion. Panoramas can be taken on a normal lens and they will give a more natural perspective to that of a wide angle lens. You can also print these images bigger because as it is multiple images combined they will yield a larger resolution and file size. Compositionally they are great as you can cut out any unwanted and dull foreground and concentrate on the main subject in your image. You don't have to worry about messing with depth of field, front to back sharpness, finding interessting foreground etc. You also have the ability to crop the larger panorama down to make other interesting images. As you can see they have a lot going for them and once you've nailed your technique you honestly won't look back.

Moasdale and Upper Eskdale Panorama. 8 shot vertical pano ISO 200, f6.3, 1/800th sec @ 70mm. 

Upper Eskdale and Moasdale PanoramaUpper Eskdale and Moasdale PanoramaDappled light over Upper Eskdale, Moasdale and the Scafell Massif.

Going Handheld: 

This was a game changer for me. Going handheld has opened up my photography creatively, reactively and unleashed me from the shackles that a tripod can bring. Since moving to handheld I've not messed up a panoramic image, I don't have any faffing around with levelling tripods, I simply point and shoot. I feel I have greater control over the creation of a perfectly level and clean pano. I can also quickly adapt to the changing light and scenes which I cannot do with a tripod. However, with moving away from a tripod we really have to be on the money with our technique and settings to get the best quality images. So my first tip is to practise shooting handheld and knowing what settings work best in these circumstances. Once you have mastered these it will open up real freedom and limitless creativity with your photography. 

Wastwater and the Lakeland Giants: 10 shot pano, ISO 200, f6.3, 1/1250 sec @ 70mm

Wasdale PanoramaWasdale PanoramaThe jaw dropping view over Wastwater towards Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell, Scafell Pike and Scafell. Surely one of the finest vistas in the whole of Great Britain. Taken on a beautiful winters afternoon.

Settings: 

The beauty of panoramas I find is we don't tent to have to worry about depth of field. I don't include foregrounds in my panos and let the wider vista be the star of the show, so from a settings point of view its easy peasy. I always shoot in manual mode because we want the panorama to have a perfectly consistent exposure across the frame so it can be stitched together seamlessly. If your shooting in an auto mode the camera may readjust your exposure every time you press the shutter button, so we need take control of this ourselves. My standard settings are usually ISO 200 (as a starting point), an aperture of f5.6 to f6.3 and my shutter speed to be greater than my focal length, for example if I'm shooting at 70mm I would like a shutter speed of at least 1/100 sec, that way I'm able to freeze the action and get lovely sharp images. To hit these faster shutter speeds we need to choose a wide aperture and higher ISO to let in more light. I find f5.6 perfect as it allows enough light to hit the sensor and increase that shutter speed as well as being the sharpest aperture for my lens. I always utilise my IBS (In body stabilization) when shooting handheld. This is another useful tool which is great for helping to minimise camera shake and allow use to use slower shutter speeds yet still maintain sharp images. I will stress it is still best practise to have a good understanding of the settings you need to create sharp images without the use of the IBS. 

Settings Recap:

  • Manual Mode
  • Shoot in RAW
  • ISO 200 (as a starter, don't be afraid to increase if necessary)
  • Aperture - f5.6 to f6.3
  • Shutter Speed - to be greater than your focal length ie shooting at 70mm have a shutter speed of 1/100 sec.
  • Switch on your IBS

Elterwater and Great Langdale Panorama: 11 shot panorama, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/640th sec @ 70mm.

Langdale PANOLangdale PANO

Technique: 

Now we need to look at the technique of actually taking the images. Like with our settings I like to set my focus manually as I don't want the auto focus to focus on different areas within the image. I tend to set my focus point manually and then use auto focus on that same spot throughout my pano, this will usually be middle of the frame and to infinity, this is the furtherest point in my image (far distance). I shoot my panos vertically this way when I do stitch them together and crop them I'm not losing too many mega pixels and resolution. It also gives far much more leeway when cropping and shaping your image than a horizontal shot panorama. When shooting your pano you will need to have an overlay of around 50% to guarantee the images will stitch neatly in post processing, it's better to take more images than less just to be sure. When we are ready to go with our settings we also need to make sure we are set up correctly with our body position.  I use the view finder and keep the camera as close to me as possible with my arms tucked in to my body with one arm supporting the lens. My feet are slightly apart and I'm side on for stability. While remaining in this stance I gently rotate my waist from left to right keeping the camera as level as possible taking my image. We want to keep our movements to a minimum to ensure a clean and controlled action. Once you've taken the image, remember to review them and make sure all images are in focus, if one isn't it will ruin your final panorama. 

Technique recap:

  • Select your focus point manually 
  • Focus to infinity
  • Shoot vertically 
  • 50% overlay on each image for easy stitching
  • Keep camera close to your body, legs apart, gently rotation from the waist left to right
  • Review images after taking

Southern Fells Panorama: 11 shot pano, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/500 sec @ 70mm

Southern Fells PanoramaSouthern Fells PanoramaAn 11 shot panorama of the Southern Fells shrouded in clearing mists and gorgeous warm light. From left to right - Pike O'Blisco, Wetherlam, Black Sails, Cold Pike, Swirl How, Great Carrs, Coniston Old Man and Crinkle Crags.

I won't go into too much detail of the post processing side, but I create my panoramas in Adobe Lightroom. There are loads of programs on the market and the image editor you use will probably have this function. There are many great tutorials online for helping you use the software, so if need be feel free to check those out. The main thing for me is to get your images right in camera first and foremost and the creating of the pano in software will look after itself. I can't really stress enough the importance of getting your settings and technique right, once you do you will be well away and will enjoy the freedom of creating stunning handheld panoramic images. I hope this little blog helped and you have taken something away from it. 

Tim 

 


Comments

Simon Evans(non-registered)
Great guide Tim! I might just follow your lead and try less faff next time I'm out in the fells!
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