Tips for Taking Great Panorama Photographs

A panorama photograph is one where you take multiple photos and stitch them together, either in the camera or using software. Sometimes, taking just one photograph of a scene does not capture the full impact and beauty of it. So that is where taking the panoramic photo is useful.

Auckland City Panorama

The scenery around New Zealand is truly breath taking, and while the South Island has more classic grandiose beauty, the Auckland area and the North Island is not without its own charm. Some of the best-selling Professional Photos Landscape images are panoramas taken in the North Island and in particular, the Coromandel Region.

a selection of small panorama photos of coromandel

Lining Things Up

As already mentioned in my article on how to take good sunset photographs, your horizon line in your photographs, should always be as straight as possible. This means that you should hold your camera on the same level for each photograph. I find that standing in one place, holding the camera out and lining up the image, and then turning your whole body while holding the camera steady, is the way to achieve the best results. I would recommend not using a tripod for this because as you turn a tripod, it tends to not remain level. This is probably not what you would expect but try it out for yourself and you will see that the further around you turn, the more your horizon line will tilt if you do not manually correct it.
So why should you keep your horizon straight? Because when we look at an image with a tilted horizon, it looks unbalanced. If it is a photo of a lake or ocean, your mind wants to see the water tip out, and that does not make for a very relaxing composition.

a panorama of a sunset with a man fishing off a wharf

Speed

Often when photographing your panorama, taking the series of images quickly is important. This is certainly the case when photographing things that have motion. Surf at a beach, fast clouds racing by and people or animals moving are all hazards. This is because they will move between the images in your panorama and this may result in a fast moving person or object appearing twice or three times in your panorama. Also if taking a series with surf or waves in it, your software will have a nightmare in stitching the images together as the waves move between frames.

panorama of a beach with fog and a cow

Using the Built in Features of your Camera or Phone

Some devices have built in panorama modes that can give some great, professional results. If you have such a device, I would suggest getting outside and find a spot where you can figure out how to get the best results. Often a device will let you pan only one way when taking the photos, or it may have some little quirks that can take you by surprise. It is a bit like finding maple syrup in your Eggs Benedict breakfast. This is the kind of thing which you don’t expect, but may not be a bad thing depending on your taste. If you have taken your camera out and had a little practice, before taking that one off panorama that will define your vacation, you will know how to get the best out of your device. There is no harm in taking time and being prepared.

a panorama of a river with reflections

Taking Your Panorama Manually

If you have read some of my other articles, you will know that I am a big advocate for manual control. These days, cameras and devices can achieve amazing results even on automatic. If you know how to control your device in manual mode, you will really get the best results.

First when you take your series of photographs, you need to think about how much the images will overlap. You need a reasonable overlap on each image of at least 15-20%. The larger the overlap, the more correct the image will look, as the software you use to combine the images will have more points of reference to combine the image seamlessly. Having more overlap in your images may mean that you have to take slightly more photos to get the panorama but the results are worth it.

panorama of a river with a town and a bridge

Controlling your exposure and your focus is very important if you want to get smooth and seamless results. The biggest problem with taking good panoramas is getting your sky to look even. If your camera is set on auto, it will change the exposure, white balance, aperture and focus for each image. This means that one image may be dark, the other light, one is focussing on the foreground and one on the horizon.

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A panorama of a light house

Arrows point to where the brightness in each original photos differs. This creates problems with your panorama so to avoid this, shoot your photos in manual mode with the same settings for each photo.

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I focus my camera, and then take it off auto focus, so that when I snap the rest of the images in the landscape series, they are all the same focus. Also this ensures that your camera does not hunt for focus points when you start to turn your body as you take the panorama.

panorama of a pohutukawa tree on a hill

I also take an exposure reading of the scene. I look at the brightest areas and also the darkest areas and then select a shutter speed that will work for the whole picture. This may mean that some areas are a little over or under exposed but the image as a whole will be balanced. I photograph most of my landscapes at an aperture of f8 to f11.

panorama of a field of grass and clouds with a barn

Should I use a Polarising (CPL) Filter?

When taking a panorama series, I would not use a CPL filter because it tends to create an uneven dynamic in the sky. This will result in a very strange, unnatural looking sky in a panorama photograph. While a polarizing filter is great for an individual photo, I would not use it unless you absolutely needed to enhance colour depth, and reduce reflections on a body of water such as a lake or the ocean.

panorama of a tree on a hill

Summary

As with most points in photography, practice makes perfect. Get to know your gear or your device and take a little time out to see what it can do. Why not pull out your phone or camera next time you are at the beach with the kids, your friends, your pet rhino or your Soviet Era T55 tank. Line them up and take the photographs. A good panorama photograph will set you apart from your friends. It will define your existence, and you will be a living legend among your friends. Well maybe not, but it will be fun to try and interesting to see the results.

Have a look through the Professional Photos Landscape Gallery, as many of the images there are available as beautiful panoramas that look great on any wall. Good luck with your photography and have a great week.



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