Lasm's Tutorial on Panoramic Photography using Digital Cameras
Digital cameras are gaining popularity and momentum nowadays. This is a short tutorial on using the digital camera to make stunning panoramic photographs..

Here's what you need :
1) A good digital camera, at least 2 megapixels. It should work with conventional film cameras as well, but there is an additional step of scanning your color prints if you use it.

2) A good photo-stitching software. You can find quite a few of these on the market and some are free. Check your digital camera accessories box. It may already be in there.

Here's a first look at a series of 4 digital photos taken along the horizontal axis.
panoramic photo tutorial Panoramic Photo Tutorial Panoramic Photo Tutorial Panoramic Photo Tutorial
This is the first photo in the series. "Stitch-assist" mode, hand-held fixed exposure F3.5 1/50   This is the second photo on the horizontal series   This is the third photo on the horizontal series   This is the last photo on the horizontal series
 
Panoramic Photo Tutorial
  This is the final result after stitching together 4 photos in a row

Tips

  1. For each photo taken, leave an area of overlap about 20% to 50% with the preceding photo. Some low-end photo stitching software offer only one mode of stitching, which is the overlap method and will not stitch any two adjacent photos which have less than 10% area of overlap.
  2. Try to capture a landmark or an object within the overlap area, such as a lamp post, a tree or a building. This will cause the stitching process to proceed smoothly and blend in seamlessly with the subsequent photos. In the example above, the tile pattern on the floor serves as a distinguishing landmark to link the 2nd photo with the third, while the cluster of trees appear in the overlapping area of the third and fourth photo.
  3. With some digital cameras, there are special modes or features to assist in panoramic photography. These could be visible grids which can be turned on or off, or stitching mode which shows 50% of the previous photo to assist you in selecting a good overlap area. With such preview, it is a breeze to follow along the horizontal visual cue lines, such as telephone line, railings and fences. Get to know these features and learn how to use them, they can be quite useful.
  4. When taking a horizontal series of panoramic photos, do not deviate from the horizontal axis by more than 10%. Use a tripod if necessary, particularly if there is a spirit level indicator, it will help you maintain the same horizontal movement from one photo to the next. The same rule applies to a portrait-oriented panoramic shot.
  5. A tripod is not absolutely necessary, though it is useful. Always keep the camera in the same position when taking photos, only rotate the camera to pan to the next scenery. Some stitching software do an amazing job even with hand-held camera. Maintain the same exposure value for each photo in the series. This helps to create a final photo with the correct exposure.
  6. A good digital camera should have a "Manual" program mode. This allow you to set the shutter speed and aperture value for all photos in a single panorama. Choose an exposure setting wisely, take care that it can handle over-exposed and shadow areas in the same panorama. With some digital cameras, the stitch or panorama mode will fix the exposure setting of the first photo for the rest of the series, so choose the first shot of your panorama carefully.
  7. Having said that maintaining a constant exposure setting is important, it is also amazing to discover that some stitching softwares are able to handle variable exposure photos quite well. However, there is still a limit as to how far apart the exposure difference can be tolerated.
  8. Most panoramic software works well with photos taken with the same focal length, so do not touch the zoom lever if your digital camera has zoom lens. It is a good idea to leave it at the maximum wide angle setting.

Some examples

Poor Man's Wide Angle

Just bought your expensive digital camera, and don't have enough spare for a wide angle lens ? Don't fret. The rectangle pano comes to the rescue. This is a series of 4 photos taken in "stitch-assist" mode, hand-held F4.0 1/100

Twin Towers

The minimum no. of photos required for panorama is two. This one is stacked vertically, hand-held, F5.0 1/640

Swan Lake

The beautiful swan lake made up of 6 photo shots, fixed exposure, hand-held F4.0 1/100

 

Macro Panoramic Photography

The amazing panoramic techniques can also be applied to macro photography. In this example, the camera was hand-held, with the lens barely 1 cm above the object, moving in a parallel, scanning like motion, taking a total of 5 photos. Using "Manual" mode, exposure was fixed at F6.3 1/125 The 3rd photo in the middle is redundant, the same panorama could be built using 4 photos, but it is taken as an insurance.

panoramic photo tutorial

360 Degrees Panorama

Making a complete 360 degree revolution from one center spot will require anything from 8 to 16 photos, depending on camera model, type of lens, focal length used etc. In any case, be prepared to have at least 12 shots to make the full circle. The example below shows a 360 dynamic panorama using 13 photos. As half the scenery is in the shades and the other half exposed to strong sunlight, the lion statute was chosen as the suitable starting photo. It has both highlights and shadows, giving a good average exposure using evaluative metering. The fixed exposure value is then entered in the "Manual" mode F4.5 1/250

The shady half of the scenery dips below the horizon by about 10 percent, compared to the sunny scenery. This is because when taking the long side walk, the rather featureless roof protrudes into the picture frame and there is a natural tendency for the camera man to dip the camera downwards a little to capture more details of the benches and tables. This can be corrected in the software but it results in the panorama being shorter than the ideal height. A slight blemish also occurs at the point where the lion stares out into the sea. A couple more shots of the lion were taken, but these could not be used in the panorama as the camera had by then moved more than one foot away from the center of the circle.

The final 4.3 MB panorama measures 16896 by 1108 pixels. It was compressed down to 415 KB for easy web viewing. In the interest of downloading speed, more than 91% of the image quality was lost, and jpeg lossy mosaic pattern can be detected in certain parts of the panorama. To see the dynamic animated panorama, click on the headline below.

Dynamic Panorama: The Greater Orbit

Another creative way to make 360 panoramas is to have the object as the center of attention and move the camera around the circumference of the circle. This is similar to 3D object photography. The example below shows a candid 360 panorama where the camera man moves around the dinning table and the guests do not have to pose for the camera. It is called the Lesser Orbit. Taken without tripod obviously, this example also show that a good stitiching software is able to blend the entire image even when variable exposure shots are taken. Hand-held, Variable exposure, "Program AE" Mode.

Click on the link below to see the animated panorama (400KB)

Dynamic Panorama: The Lesser Orbit

A comparison of panorama software can be found here panoguide.com

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Copyright by lasm ©2002

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