I Love Panoramas

I love panoramas. Shooting panoramas (panos) allows you to capture so much more in your image. To shoot a panorama, you take several overlapping shots of sections of a scene. These images are then stitched together using software. The two pieces of software I use are Lightroom for simple panoramas and PTGui for more complicated ones and generally for all my night shots. I consider a simple panorama to be a single row or column of shots that was taken in the daytime with good overlap. All my gear is very basic (a ballhead and tripod) and I haven’t used any equipment to take into account parallax errors in camera. In this post I’ll go over some tips for shooting panos and show the different situations I’ve used panos to create a full image.

Pano Tips

  • To create a panorama it is best to have the camera mounted on a tripod, but I will discuss cases where I don’t do this.
  • Try to level your tripod, then attach and level your camera. If I’m honest, my panos aren’t always taken completely level. Sometimes I’m shooting on some very difficult surfaces.
  • Set up your camera in a vertical position (so you’re shooting portraits). I will also shoot horizontally (landscape orientation) though.
  • Have good overlap on your images. I find around 30% is sufficient for daytime shots at wider focal lengths, but for longer focal lengths and my night shots I go for 50% so the programs have more information to match.
  • Shoot manual. You don’t want your settings to change across the image (unless its intentional).
  • I always manually focus for nighttime shots and often also for daytime panos.

Daytime Pano:

There are a variety of reasons I choose to shoot a scene as a pano. Before I acquired my Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 I would have to shoot some of my landscape photos as panos since my widest focal length of 24mm didn’t always encompass everything I wanted.

Mount Kidd reflecting in Wedge Pond Alberta

This was shot just after sunrise at Wedge Pond. My 24mm wouldn’t have captured this as a single shot so I stitched a few frames together.

During the last year I’ve been using my Nikkor 28-300mm lens as my go to for hiking and scrambling adventures. This gives me a very wide range to shoot with but I do feel limited sometimes by the 28mm. It’s not always convenient to just switch lens and the moment you see may not last long enough for that. Sometimes I will shoot two or three frames handheld to create a pano so I can capture just a bit more than the 28mm can offer. This example was chosen for fun and is a good example of a time someone probably won’t really want to wait for you change lenses.

Hiker climbing out of a small tunnel in the Canadian Rockies

A single frame at 28mm of Gina climbing out of a small tunnel with some nice morning light behind her.

A hiker climbs out of a small tunnel in the Canadian Rockies

A three shot vertical panorama that brings in more of the background and mountains behind Gina. She probably wouldn’t have waited for me to change lenses…

Night Sky Panoramas

I will often shoot a pano to capture a night scene. These are more difficult to shoot and stitch than daytime images because of noise, available light, dark foregrounds, star movement, etc. However, there are many subjects in the sky that a pano shot works really for and I think they are worth the effort.

Milky Way

In the spring, the Milky Way is seen as a low arc in the sky. Even with my widest lens at 14mm I cannot capture the full arc of the galaxy in the sky. To capture the full arc, I will shoot a panorama.

The Milky Way arcing over a large formation in the badlands captured as a panorama.

The Milky Way arcing over a large formation in the badlands captured as a panorama.

Aurora

Aurora can be tricky to capture with a pano. The shape and colour can change so quickly between frames if the lights are really dancing. Shorter exposures can help as well as a good software program like PTGui.

A 360 Degree Panorama at Bow Lake during a G3 storm.

A 360 Degree Panorama at Bow Lake during a G3 storm.

Vertical Aurora

I’ve also captured the aurora using a vertical pano. I used landscape oriented shots to include the corona that formed above Crowfoot Mountain. A single frame is shown below – at 14mm the corona is barely included in the image.

14mm shot of Crowfoot Mountain with a corona forming above.

14mm shot of Crowfoot Mountain with a corona forming above.

An aurora corona over Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Lake.

A vertical panorama was used to capture the corona over Crowfoot mountain.

Longer Focal Lengths

This year I tested out the sigma 50mm f1.4 lens. The detail I was able to get out of the Milky Way was amazing. A single frame is almost completely filled with the core, so a panorama is required to shoot a “full” image.

A shot of the Milky Way using a 50 prime lens.

A shot of the Milky Way using a 50 prime lens.

A single frame from a panorama of the Milky Way shot using a 50mm prime lens.

A single frame from a panorama of the Milky Way shot using a 50mm prime lens.

Milky Way reflecting in forget me not pond in Alberta

Full stitched panorama of the Milky Way shot using 40 frames with a 50mm prime lens.

This blog post was inspired by a Facebook post in the Offbeat Community. The group has weekly challenges and when panoramas came up, quite a few people tagged me saying they couldn’t wait to see what I came up with. Of course I did not go out to shoot any panoramas that week…but I do really love them and most of the time I am out capturing some đŸ™‚