Pittsburgh Panorama | The Camera Coach

Panoramas are awesome. Let’s talk about ’em. How do you do them? I thought I’d put up a couple of simple ideas and if anyone wants to they can add anything helpful I leave out.

The great thing about panoramas is that they’re so dramatic and so much closer to the perspective that the human eye sees. When you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and there is a huge expanse of, say, The Grand Canyon, in front of you, your field of vision is about 120° in every direction with no distortion on the edges of your field of vision (assuming you have perfect vision).  Your camera can see whatever focal length your lens is, and the wider the focal length of the lens the more distortion–a sort of curve of the image–at the edges of the picture.

When you want to take a picture of a big scene, you really want to capture the vast, open, dramatic quality of what you’re seeing without your camera.  You can use a very wide focal length lens or you can make a panorama by using Photoshop (or similar panorama program) to stitch together two or more smaller pictures using a shorter focal length lens.

To get started let’s look at a panorama I took from Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh.

You  can also try THIS LINK to see the picture a little better and a little bigger.

Making a panorama might seem hard, but it’s really easy.  Things to think about:

1. Use a prime lens in the 50-135mm range for best results.  Lenses in this range have zero distortion and that’s a big reason you want to use them.

2. Make sure to shoot at the SMALLEST file size for each of the small pictures you’re taking.  If you try to use a big file size it will freeze up your computer! Some cameras can shoot RAW files + whatever jpg size file you want at the same time.  It’s also an option to shoot in RAW or large jpg size and then resize the files later before stitching.

3. Shoot in MANUAL mode.  This is to ensure you have the same exposure for everything in the picture, which will make everything look more natural when you stitch it all together.  Using manual white balance or a particular setting (like Daylight or Tungsten) is a good idea just so you don’t have slight color tone differences in your pictures you’re stitching together.

4. Shoot. A. Ton. It’s much better to have more shots than you need than less.  Probably obviously.

5. Overlap a ton in all of your shots.  Your panorama stitching program will thank you.

Okay so after you’ve gotten your settings where you want them, start shooting.  Shoot lots of little pictures all across and around your scene.  Overlap individual shots with previous shots.  TAKE YOUR TIME.  Make sure things are in focus.  Keep your feet in one place and turn your body as you shoot.  When you’re done, you’ll have a batch of shots of sections of your scene.  Here is a sample of a few individual shots from my panorama above.

You can see how similar the shots are.  I used 24 shots to make the panorama above.  Honestly, there are probably more shots than I needed in there, but better safe than sorry.

Okay so how do you make the panorama when you get everything on your computer?  Here’s how I did this one in Photoshop CS3.  Another list:

1. Put copies of all of the small jpg files in a new folder labeled “My First Pano” or something.  Don’t use the original files, in case something horrific happens.

2. Open Photoshop and go to the FILE menu and click the automate photomerge item: FILE>AUTOMATE>PHOTOMERGE

3. A dialogue box will come up.  Use the AUTO option (default option) to start with.  In the USE drop menu in the middle select FOLDER, then click the BROWSE button to select your folder with your small jpgs in it.  When you select your folder, a list of the files will populate in the window in the dialogue box.

4. Make sure the BLEND IMAGES TOGETHER option is clicked.

5. Click OK

6. Go make a sandwich or something while your computer works.  It’s best to have all other programs and extra things on your computer turned off when you’re stitching because stitching will use a ton of memory.

After Photoshop stitches your pics together, you should get a document that opens up with the panorama in it.  The edges will be crazy looking, so you might want to crop it.  Flatten your image.  Save it as a big jpg. Enjoy.

That’s pretty much it.

Try your first panorama with 10 or fewer pictures to keep it simple and go easy on your computer.  I hope it works out for you.  Let me know if you have any questions or problems or suggestions!

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Leah - May 28, 2010 - 9:12 am

Awesome panorama! I love nighttime city shots. I wanna go on a road trip now.

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