Panorama Perfect

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We’ve all been there and seen it…… So you’re on holiday or just happen to be taking a drive out into the local mountain range (if you happen to be lucky enough to live in a place like that) and there it is, the most amazing view! You have your camera on you, however the wide-angle lens is just not wide enough not to mention that it happens to be dusk so a hand-held exposure will not give you a sharp enough image.

So you ask, what equipment do I need to get? As for the camera, any digital SLR will do, however I strongly suggest to purchase a Manfrotto 303 QTVR (Quick Time Virtual Reality) Pan Head which will run you around $450. Attached to a sturdy tripod, this pan head will allow you to achieve greater accuracy in digitally stitching together your final image by enabling you to accurately position the camera over the panoramic axis of rotation and thus adding greater accuracy to nodal point positioning. For a detail explanation of finding your nodal point for a specific lens and setting up your Manfrotto 303 QTVR Pan Head on your tripod, check out the following link http://experience.manfrotto.com/how-to-build-panoramas-and-vr-objects/2
OK, so now that you’ve done your bit of shopping, you’re ready to get started. Once you’ve selected your location, check with your local weatherman for a clear, low humidity day. Light and clarity are the key factors when shooting panoramas. Aim for that early morning or late evening (dusk) shoot to capture that warm light.

Finally you have the perfect evening and you’re on location. No time to waste as that you’ll loose the light in 20 minutes and one must allow for a good 10 minutes to shoot all the required HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. To start, set up your camera to shoot between 5 and 7-bracketed images set 1 F-stop apart. Most pro or semi-pro digital cameras will do this automatically. Don’t forget a little foreground to give depth and composition to your art. Find your nodal point and set your camera on a 2 second shutter release delay (allowing camera vibrations to steady) in continuous shooting mode and depending on the focal length of your lens (I generally recommend picking a 24 to 50 mm lens) set your QTVR pan head between 15 and 30 degree increments so that each image overlaps adjacent images by a minimum of 25%. Now, gently press the shutter release and allow your camera to complete the entire sequence of exposures before rotating your QTVR pan head to the next position. As long as the nodal point of the camera/lens is correctly set in line with the center of rotation, you will avoid parallax effects during image stitching. Repeat this procedure until you have captured all the required images to complete your panorama. If you plan on shooting more than one sequence of images, save each sequence within a different folder on your CF card.Untitled-2

7 Images taken one Fstop apart (-1-2-3 0 +1+2+3)

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Back  in front of your computer download your raw images using your favorite software (my preference being Adobe Lightroom 2). Each 5 to 7 images (depending on how many bracketed images you chose to shoot) will need to be processed within Photomatix Pro (which has a plugin within Lightroom) or HDR in Photoshop. I prefer Photomatix Pro since it has a function called “fuse exposures” which results in a more photo-realistic result. Now depending on the width of your panorama and the degree increments used, you have around 5 to 7 HDR images showing detail in all highlights and shadows in the image. If using Photomatix Pro plugin within Lightroom, these images can be directly exported from Lightroom into Merge To Panorama in Photoshop. You can then select “auto” under layout and Photoshop will then automatically stitch together your HDR images. Depending on the file size and computer RAM, this can take from 5 to 30 minutes. Once the stitching is done, crop your image to desired format. And voila… you have your perfect panorama!

Resulting 7 HDR angles (using “fuse exposure” command in Photomatix) ready to be stitched into a panorama

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Final photoshop stitched and colour balanced panorama from 7 HDR shots above

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2 Responses to “Panorama Perfect”

  1. Hello, maybe this is a bit off topic but anyway, I have been browsing around your web site and it looks truly great. It is easy to see I am creating a new blog and hard-pressed to have it appear good, and supply good quality content. I have learned a much on your site and I look forward to more updates and will be returning.

  2. Tu Giulian says:

    This article is just great! Especially for beginners.

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