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How to set up and shoot panoramic images

Panoramas are always a big hit with landscape enthusiasts. They’re the perfect way to capture a sprawling vista without using an ultra-wide lens, or cropping your image (and therefore losing lots of data). In this project we’re going to show you just how easy it is to shoot  and create stunning panoramas.

To capture a panorama you first need to shoot a sequence of images, moving or rotating the camera slightly between each shot. You’ll need to use a sturdy tripod, and ensure that it’s perfectly level.

For the best results you should also shoot in portrait orientation, turning the tripod head 
a little for each shot and allowing for some overlap between frames. Then, at home, you can merge your images together in post-production, which is actually a straightforward process.

We trekked up Helvellyn in the UK’s Lake District for our photo (and of course we took all the necessary safety precautions and equipment needed for hiking in the mountains).

However, simply getting up high and capturing an expansive view doesn’t necessarily make for a spectacular panorama – a broad sweep of very similar-looking mountains in the far distance can easily end up looking boring rather than spectacular.

The key is to find a location with interest and detail at different heights, and to ensure that there’s something to look at in the foreground and middle ground, as well as in the distance – keep an eye out for lakes, trees, buildings and anything else that will bring the scene to life.

As with shooting standard landscapes, a dramatic sky – as opposed to a clear blue one – will also help.

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 1

01 Turn heads
To ensure that your images align precisely you’ll need to use a tripod on which the head, and therefore your camera, can rotate freely. Attach your camera to the head, and then slightly loosen the head to allow free horizontal rotation, but no angling or tilting (see Step 03).

 

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 2

02 Stand tall
Position your camera in portrait orientation, as this will enable you to capture more detail, and create a taller panorama than if you shoot in landscape orientation (three or four vertical shots side by side, for example, will be taller than three horizontal shots side by side).

 

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 3

03 Stay level-headed
Check that your tripod is level, as this will ensure that your images align accurately, making them easier to stitch together in Photoshop. If the frames don’t quite line up you’ll have to crop out more of the top and/or bottom when they’re stitched together.

 

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 4

04 Beat the shakes
To ensure your shots are pin-sharp, disable any Vibration Reduction. VR can actually cause blurring if your camera is mounted on a tripod, as it will try to compensate for non-existent motion. Use the two-second timer option, too, or a remote release, to avoid jogging the camera.

 

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 5

05 Hold back the sky
If the sky is much brighter than the landscape, use a graduated ND filter to even things out. An ND grad with a soft transition is best if you’ve got mountain peaks or other objects breaking the horizon. You could bracket, but this will create more work at the editing stage.

 

How to set up and shoot panoramic images: step 6

06 Create an overlap
Now simply take your shots, allowing your frames to overlap by between a quarter and a third. Too much overlap is better than too little, and it’s better to shoot too many frames than too few. Take care not to nudge the tripod when moving the camera, though.

Multi-row panoramas
Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to a standard ‘single row’ panorama. Some software enables you to create panoramas from a grid of images, so you can make two or even three passes to capture a panorama with height as well as width.

Exposure
When it comes to the exposure, it’s best to use manual exposure mode, so the settings stay consistent from shot to shot, and to set your exposure for what will be the brightest frame in your panorama (if you just set it for the first frame, any subsequent frames that are much brighter might blow out).

If you use aperture- or shutter-priority mode, the exposure will change depending on how dark or bright each frame is, and this can result in very harsh transitions between frames in your final panorama.

Highs & lows
The top of a mountain is ideal for capturing a panorama, as you’ll have a commanding view of the surrounding scenery.

However, panoramas can look even more compelling when shot from lower down. Shooting from the ridgeline of Striding Edge, which leads up the east face of Helvellyn, we were able to look up and along the ridge.

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