Best Practices for Panoramas
Creating panorama photos is a lot of fun. They can really capture the grand vistas in a way that a single capture cannot. Creating a success panorama is also a good exercise in photographic skill. There are certain best practices that will help ensure you can create a a great panorama. First here are a couple golden rules to follow:
- Use a tripod
- Keep each shot consistent
- Overlap each shot 50%
- Add lens correction
Setting Up for the Shot
Now let’s dig a little deeper into each of these. First, setting up for the shot. I always recommend that you use a tripod. This will keep your camera stable. Pay close attention to leveling your tripod and the camera on its head. Most tripods have bubble levels on their shoulder and on the tripod head. Many cameras today also have levels built in. Take care when leveling to swing your camera through entire arc of the pano. The camera may appear level in one position but won’t be at the other side if the tripod itself is not level. A good way to test this is to take a shot at the far left, then again at the far right and toggle between them quickly. If the horizontal appears to move up or down, you’re not level yet. Most of the time when we take panorama photos it is to capture a horizontal vista. If that is the case, consider putting your camera in the vertical orientation. This will give you more pixels and down. There are brackets for your camera that hold the camera vertically while maintaining the center of the lens over the center of the tripod. If you get serious about panos, these are the way to go.
Taking the Shots
Next comes metering for the panorama. It’s really important that each frame in your panorama is consistent. That means you will likely need to shoot in manual exposure mode, so that the exposure doesn’t change across the shots. Take your meter reading on one of the brightest frames. Remember it is easier to lighten shadows later in software than to try to bring back overexposed highlights. White balance also needs to be consistent. Don’t shoot in auto white-balance. Pick the white balance that is appropriate for your scene. Often you will be shooting outside, so use the daylight option. I also set the focus to manual so that the camera doesn’t accidentally change focus. Also, don’t photograph with the lens at its largest, or wide-open aperture. Stop the lens down to the middle of the range or better, something like ƒ11 or ƒ16. This will help to reduce distortion and peripheral fall-off.
Finally, we are ready to take the sequence of photos for the panorama. Swing the camera to the far left, first photo position. Double-check everything. Watch the clouds, make sure the light isn’t going to suddenly change. Check the scene for anything that may change during the sequence like cars, people, etc. When everything is ready take a picture of your hand. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. Take a photo of your hand in front of the lens. Changes are during setting up you took a few test shots. This picture of your hand will signify that this is the beginning of the real sequence. Then take the first photo of the sequence. Next swing the camera right half a frame distance. What was on the far-right edge of the first photo should now be in the middle of the frame. Take the next shot. Repeat this until you have capture the entire sequence.
When you get back to your computer and you download everything, look for the picture of your hand. Use this as a marker to know where your sequence started. Select all the shots in the sequence and put them into a sub-folder. This is easy in ON1 Photo RAW, just select the photos, then right-click and select Create Subfolder. When the dialog comes up, give the sequence a name and make sure the Move selected items into subfolder option is selected. It’s not a bad idea to add some additional metadata to the photos to make it easy to search for panoramas in the future. This could be a keyword or color label.
Creating the Panorama
Now you are ready to start editing. The panorama feature uses all the settings you apply to your photos in advance. That means you can use the tools in Develop to adjust your photos first. However, it is really important that you make the same changes to all the photos in the sequence. All you should do is make any Tone and Color adjustments you need as well as turn on Lens Correction. You can make these adjustments on one photo, then sync them to the rest using the sync command.
Now we are ready to build the new panorama file. Select all the photos in the sequence, then click on the Panorama button. This will open the Create Panorama dialog and preview the results. There are a couple options to choose from. First is what to do with the edges. No matter how well you set-up a panorama, there will be some areas at the edges that are warped compared to other frames and need to be corrected. Most of the time the simple crop option is the way to go. You can also use the Warp to Fill option as well. This will stretch the photo to fill in the warped areas. There is also an option to add panoramic metadata, which will make your photo interactive when posted to Facebook or other panorama aware sites and apps.
When you press the Save button, a new file will be created, either a TIF or PSD, based on your settings in the preferences. This new file will be stored with the rest of the photos in the sequence. This new photo can now be send to Develop or Effects for additional non-destructive edits or to Resize and Layers for printing or other work. It’s just like any other photo in your collection.
ON1 Panorama is still in beta. That means we are still improving it. It works great for most panoramas, especially ones created methodically with the best practices above described. We are working to make it better in cases where the camera was not level or the exposure and color varies between photos. There are other cases where we may not detect the overlap between frames. Here are some troubleshooting steps you can use to improve your results.
- Photos Are Not Similar Enough — If you get this error, we are not able to detect enough similar overlap between the frames. You can try to add a little sharpening to all the frames and try again. If that doesn’t work, try selecting only two or three adjacent frames at a time. You can piece together several adjacent pieces, then select those results and compose them together.
- Not All of My Photos Are Used — Occasionally a photo in the series, at one of the ends, may not be used. This occurs when not enough overlap is detected. Try to break the panorama down into smaller pieces and then merge the resulting pieces together as above.
- My Vertical Pano Comes Out Stretched Horizontal — Try rotating the photos first, then create the panorama, then rotate the resulting panorama back.
- There are lines in my sky where the photo merged together — This is caused by changes in the exposure or color between photos, or by falloff in the lens used. We try to compensate for changes in exposure. We are currently working on new technology to reduce the changes in color or falloff. Using the best practices above will reduce or eliminate these issues.
- My Panorama never completes or I get an -215 error — This can be caused by running out of memory. Keep in mind if you are stitching together a large sequence, especially with large RAW photos, each photo needs to be opened. This can take a large amount of memory. Try to break down the panorama and put it together in smaller sections as described above.