Vancouver is a very beautiful city, and I was thrilled to be able to photograph it.  With mesmerizing clouds, sparkling waters, and a shining skyline, I simply couldn’t get enough.  And when this beauty extends beyond a 4×6, I’m compelled to bust out the big guns.

I’ve had some questions on how I produce photos like these, so I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes techniques for when I’m out and about.

The basic panorama rules:

  1. Use a tripod.  Many modern cameras these days (including cameraphones) have a panorama setting that does a lot of the work for you.  They’ve gotten quite good, but they might not capture precisely what you want, and they can introduce some unusual image artifacts.  If you want to step up your game, stitching together multiple high-quality images is the way to go.  And you get a consistent set of base photos by using a tripod.
  2. Shoot vertically.  (Shoot horizontally for vertoramas.)  Though you could stitch together horizontal images, panoramas are generally shot by pivoting on a fixed point.  This naturally curves the scene when you later attempt to stretch it onto a two-dimensional surface.  Inevitably, this causes missing segments at the corners, and when the image is cropped, it will end up shorter than shot.  After seeing what happens when a panorama is shot horizontally (hint: it’s long and thin), I learned to always shoot vertically.  This gives you a bit more to work with.
  3. Use manual mode.  If you shoot in an automatic or semi-automatic mode, the exposure settings will change with each shot.  This will cause variations as you pivot, ultimately showing as striations in your final image.  Set your aperture and shutter speed once, and don’t change them for the duration of the panorama.  Use a central or representative segment of your intended image to set these, and take a few test shots to make sure the entire span is reasonably exposed (under- or overexposed areas can be corrected somewhat in post, especially if you shoot in RAW).
  4. Overlap your images by at least 50%.  Once you’re all set up, start at one end and take your shots as quickly as you can (to account for any movement of clouds, etc.).  Pivot the camera on your tripod, and move it about the same between each shot (it doesn’t need to be exact).  I then always make sure the new image includes at least half of what was in the previous.  This might be a tad overkill, but it does make the stitching smoother, and it doesn’t hurt to have the extra data.

Once I have my raw images, it’s time to process them.

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First, I import all the images into Lightroom (I use Lightroom 5).  I can then use the sync feature to edit all of my images at once (again, keeping the exposure consistent).  I also apply profile corrections to all images; this corrects for lens curving, vignetting, and aberrations.

After this initial pass, it’s time for some Photoshop magic (I’m on Elements 10).  From Lightroom, I can send edited tifs directly to Photoshop.  It’s then a simple matter of creating a new Photomerge Panorama with all the open images.  While the script churns, I take a small kitty break.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

When the script completes, I have my rough panorama.  Unfortunately, the corners are missing.  Photoshop offers to fill these in, but in my experience, the areas are typically too large for this option to work.  Instead, I have to crop the image first, cutting out as much of the missing corners as I can.  Then I can use the healing brush, set to “content-aware” to fill in the missing pixels.  This takes a bit of finesse and a few passes with varying-sized brushes, as it’s mostly using the surrounding areas to copy pixels, and you don’t want any unnatural patterns.

Once satisfied, I flatten the image and save it as a tif (higher quality than a jpg), then import it back into Lightroom for some final touches.  I know, I know.. I could touch it up in Photoshop… but the rest of my workflow is in Lightroom and I’m more comfortable there (and I like how Lightroom handles some things better than Photoshop – but that’s another discussion entirely).

For this particular image, I needed some gradient lighting adjustments on the edges and for the sun spot in the center, a touch of vibrance to bring out the blues, and I was done.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Do you ever shoot panoramas?  What do you do differently?  I’d be curious to hear other techniques!  I’m also happy to answer any questions if anyone wants more details.  Let me know in the comments!


What do you think?