Greetings fellow photographers! In my previous blog-post I was writing about the very basics of Panorama Photography. In this article I will talk about how to take Panorama Photos presuming you have a panorama head for your trusty tripod. As always, please feel free to add comments, questions and valuable information.
Gear to use for fireworks photography
First of all you need at least a semi-decent DSLR camera that lets you dial in ISO level and Aperture level manually. Preferably it should have “bulb”mode (this basically lets you to manually open the shutter for as long as you want to). You definitely need a reliable tripod as you won’t be able to take good fireworks photos hand-held. I also recommend a cable release or remote control so you wont even need to touch your camera while taking pictures. This will reduce camera shake. The lens you use is depending on what you have and how far away you are going to set up your post from the fireworks. I’ve used a Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 lens that worked quite well.
Where do I find a good Panorama Head?
The Internet is a good place to start your search. You need to consider how much you willing to spend and how often will you use it etc.
It is unlikely that you will find a usable panorama head under $100 (at least at the time of writing this article). Don’t be fooled by tripod heads that are marketed as panorama heads but really are just a swivel head with marks. In my books, what you need is a sturdy tripod attachment that accommodates your camera to be placed on vertically (as in portrait orientation) and be able to slide it back to your lens’s no parallax point therefore have the axis of rotation exactly in line with it. You can read more about the no parallax point (often referred to as “nodal point”) here
If you are after an entry level panorama head and don’t want to break the bank I can recommend the one called Panosaurus. I have one of these and am pretty happy with it. It comes in small pieces so a bit like an IKEA furniture but there are comprehensive full instructions and it’s well built.
How to set up panorama head
Let’s say you have your panorama head ready, set up for the particular lens you are going to use and you are out on the field. The next step I recommend is to make sure you level the head once you set up your rig. Most panorama images are shot horizontally by taking a series of shots panning from one direction to the other. I usually start from left and proceed to right. Point your camera to the far left (where you intent to start your image) and make sure that it is in level. Now swivel it to the right, check the level in midway and then at the far right (where you intend to have the image to end). Make adjustments as necessary. Handy tip – check your exposure meter at all the positions (e.g. far left, middle and right) and figure out the average. For instance if you point to the left and your optimal exposure indicates a shutter speed of 160 (Needless to say you are in manual mode and the ISO and aperture is fixed) by the time you point to the far right, the optimal exposure is likely to be different (depending on the amount of light that hits your sensor). So what I suggest is select a shutter speed in between the 2 values you read and leave it. Select your focus and lock it. I highly recommend to shoot in raw mode. If all these settings are in place, you can attach a cable release, set your camera to MUP (mirror up) mode for minimising vibration. Here I note that if your lens has a vibration reduction mode, then turn it off since you are using a tripod. Once you are happy, return to the far left (bear in mind that it is better to go even further left than your intentional left edge of the image as when you stitch the images there might be some cropping necessary). Now you can take your first shot on the left, then rotate your camera to the next position. Ideally it would have at least a 30% overlap with your first shot. Your panorama head has marks around the rotational axis so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the degree of rotation. Proceed all the way through to the left. Hint – wait a few seconds after you rotated your camera to minimise vibration. Once you completed a series I recommend to take a shot of your hand – later on it will help you to determine where the sets start and finish.
Post processing panorama images
So once you get home and ready to post process your images here are my tips. Firstly, separate the images to sets and place them into folders, this is where the shots of your hand will help so you can easily separate one sequence from the other. Then, you may want to re-touch the images one by one. Whether you have raw files or jpeg, the main thing is to apply the exact same adjustment settings on each image within the same set. Remember, the whole point of this exercise is to create one large image from a series of small images so essentially they need to seamlessly connect to one another. If even one image in the sequence is lighter, noisier etc. than the rest the resulting panorama image will not be too good.
There are a number of good softwares out there at your disposal to do the stitching so you might want to look around what suits you. Normally, stitching together large files takes up a lot of processing power so be prepared that you might have to wait or invest in a powerful computer with a lot of RAM (Random-Access Memory).
Panorama photography summary and check-list
- make sure that your camera is properly levelled all the way
- make sure that your panorama head is properly set up for your camera and lens so your lens’s no parallax point is on the rotational axis
- flick your camera to manual mode
- again, use fully manual mode meaning that even your ISO is fixed (not auto)
- set your focus then set your lens itself to manual mode (this will eliminate autofocus)
- turn off vibration reduction on your lens if you have it
- 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
- wait a few seconds after you have rotated your camera before you take a shot
- use a hot shoe level cube so you can quickly check if your camera is in level. Alternatively, you can use your camera’s in-built digital level indicator if you have one (this might be called virtual horizon – check your user manual). Read more about level horizons here
- 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
- use an aperture that is not too wide (e.g. from f8 upwards) depending on how big of a depth of field you want
- meter the darkest and brightest spots and set the optimal exposure somewhere in the middle
- don’t use filters that create vignetting (a clear UV filter is fine)
- shoot raw