Hi everyone, in this article I will explain the very basics of Panorama Photography (at least to the best of my knowledge) and provide some Panorama Photography hints and tips so you can get started taking panorama photos. Without a doubt, there are plenty of good tutorials and information about the subject so if you dig deep on the internet you can find almost everything.
My aim here though is to provide a good summary for beginners (based on my personal experiences) and get you set up if you are on a budget and can’t afford fancy panorama heads. I put this information up in a blog post format so at the end of the article you can ask questions or add valuable comments. Only civilised and relevant comments please.
A bit of Panorama Photography theory
The basic idea is to take a number of pictures (by rotating your camera) and later place the images next to each other and match them up (so they would create one big seamless panoramic image). Matching up images is often referred to as “stitching them together”. This can be done with SLR cameras using the ‘hard copy’ images, however in this article, I will discuss digital cameras. There are plenty of software out there that can do image stitching (even Photoshop) so you need to find the best that suits you and go through some tutorials. There are a number of snapshot cameras and mobile phones that can stitch photos internally hence produce ‘panoramic pictures’ but in this article I will only discuss DSLR cameras and panorama techniques applicable to them.
If you have a DSLR camera and a tripod you are halfway there. You can find a nice landscape scene, set up your camera on the tripod (making sure that it is leveled), frame the left side of the scenery, rotate your camera horizontally (making sure that there is at least 30% overlap with your previous shot) and take the next shot. Keep going until you get to the intended right side of the scenery. Make sure that while taking the shots you use the exact same settings (to achieve this you need to use manual mode so your focus remains the same). A little trick here is to use A (or aperture mode) first to get the camera help you determining the correct settings. Say you set your camera in A mode, press the shutter halfway and you will have the correct shutter speed displayed in relation to your aperture for the correct exposure. Remember these figures, flick your camera to M (or manual) mode and dial in these figures. Don’t forget to lock your lens to manual mode as well. The importance of using the same settings is that you want to get a seamless big picture at the end. Another trick is to take an image of your hand (once you’ve done a set) and you can go on taking the next set (once you get home it is a lot easier to separate the sets based on the hand images that signify the end of each set). This is a very ‘handy’ tip and I can’t take credit for it as I’ve read it somewhere (can’t remember where exactly) but thanks for the idea. At home, you can use your favourite stitching software and make a big panorama image.
The long skinny image
There are a few issues with the above described method but don’t worry, we are going to tackle them one by one.
Firstly, your image is likely to be distorted a bit (e.g. straight lines become curved etc.). This can be a cool effect but you might want straight lines on your images as you’ve seen in real life. Also, as you rotated your camera, the foreground would have been shifted in relation to the background and therefore difficult to stitch. The cause of this effect is simply that most cameras are attached to the tripod with a plate so the rotational axis is somewhere around the sensor of the camera. It is called parallax effect and what you need to do is find your lens’s no parallax point and have the axis of rotation exactly in line with it. There are several articles about this on the web so just Google “how to find nodal point” or “how to find no parallax point”. Also, read up on No-parallax point on
To be able to set your lens’s no parallax point, you basically need to slide your camera backwards placing the rotational angle in line with the no parallax point of your lens. I found that one of the most inexpensive way to do this is buying a macro slide rail. You can get a 2 way macro slide (that slides back and forth) pretty cheap, all you need it for is to offset your camera. Make sure it is long enough though to be able to move your camera back to find your lens’s no parallax point.
Secondly, you will end up with a very long (wide) image that is pretty short vertically, to put simply, a long skinny image. The answer to this is to rotate your camera 90 degrees, in other words use it in portrait orientation as opposed to landscape. Most tripods let you change the orientation from landscape to portrait, however doing so the rotational axis for your panorama shots would be somewhere off the camera, let alone your lens’s no parallax point. So what you need is an L bracket.
These can be quite expensive but if you have a few tools and some skills you can make your own.
See the one I made, it is simply an L shaped metal piece with a hole for the camera mounting hole and another one where I attach it to the tripod. For this one, I super-glued a piece of plastic and embedded a nut with thread. You can make a fancier one if you have the tools using a thicker and sturdier aluminum bracket. If it’s thicker you can even cut the thread in the bracket itself.
The final set-up for taking basic Panorama Photos
To get the most out of the above mentioned solutions we’ve got to combine them. That is – rotate the camera to portrait orientation and with the help of the L bracket, mount it to the macro rail that is subsequently mounted to the tripod. Find the lens’s no parallax point by offsetting the camera (using the macro rail) and take our overlapping shots. That’s it, happy shooting!
What lens to use for Panorama Photography?
This could be a post of it’s own and I’ll leave it open for discussion. I tell you however, that my favourite choice for Panorama Photos is a 50mm prime lens. That is because prime lenses tend to have less distortion than zoom lenses and vignetting is minimal. Remember, we are trying to create a seamless big photo from several smaller photos, so for example the right hand side of image one has to look exactly the same as the overlapping part of the left hand side of image 2. You can use a different prime lens with smaller focal length e.g. 30mm or 15mm that will cover more area and less shots need to be taken. When post processing the images before stitching make sure to “remove vignetting” from the individual images if you have the option.
Panorama shots summary and check-list
- use a tripod if you can and level it
- rotate your camera to portrait orientation by using an L bracket
- find your lens’s no parallax point by offsetting the camera using a macro slide
- flick your camera to manual mode and set for the optimal exposure
- set your lens itself to manual mode (this will eliminate auto-focus)
- take your shots making sure they overlap at least 30%
Additional optional tips
- take a shot of your hand at the end of each set, this will help you separate the sets
- use a hot shoe level cube so you can quickly check if your camera is in level
- use a cable release to minimise vibration when taking the shots
- turn your ISO right down, this will minimise image noise and is a sensible choice since you are using a tripod
- don’t use filters that create vignetting