Some landscapes are so wide and beautiful that a wide-angle lens is just not enough. In this edition of “Tech of the month”, I want to learn how to make better panorama images.
The image above is a combination of several photos I took during sunrise at the Annapurna Base Camp. I used the free image stitching software Hugin to make this panorama, and I posted it for the first time when I wrote my summary about the trek.
To make an image like this is not difficult at all. All I did was to take a series of overlapping photos and then I just let the program do all the work. And the program is easy enough to use. But that stitching program performs an amazing set of tricks to build a panorama. Knowing about them will help me to take better photos next time, so that the program needs to apply less of its magic. Plus, there are some mistakes that the program cannot correct for and I strive to avoid them.
When I took the pictures for the panorama above, I made a very common mistake: I handheld the camera and thus I did not take all pictures from the same point of view. The center image also included a moraine in the foreground and the outer images showed a larger section of the sky. To avoid this mistake, I should have used a tripod or some other type of support like a rock or a wall. If the landscape had been flat, I could have used the grid display of my camera to keep the horizon at a fixed position. In the absence of support and flat horizons, I would probably have achieved better results if I had used an electronic view finder (which the camera I used at that time does not have) – because as long as I do not move, my eyes are at a constant height.
Image stitching programs cannot correct the focus and the depth of field of the images – the information in the blurred regions is lost to them. Autofocus and large aperture combined can be destroy potential panorama images. When I want to capture panoramas now, I try to remember using aperture priority to make sure that I get the same, preferably large, depth of field in all images and I also try to use manual focus adjusted for the center image.
One difficulty in stitching images together is lens distortion, the bending of lines that is more pronounced towards the edges of the image. On the left is an image I took with a fish eye lens in the lovely old town of Fulda in Germany. A similar but weaker effect is also present in wide-angle lenses. A good image stitching program knows the magic to correct for this effect! But I can still help a little by taking more pictures with a larger focal length instead of few with a very wide angle. Including large overlap regions also helps since the program can then use primarily the central part of each image. The slide show below shows the same image, taken with my Olympus OMD E-M10 and Panasonic Lumix G 20mm/F1.7 prime lens on Campo Imperatore in Italy, before and after correction for lens distortion. Do you see that the line that separates snow and sky bends differently in one image than in the other?
Use a tripod or other support
Use manual focus and focus on the most important point in the central image
Set camera to use aperture priority and choose a small aperture
Lock the white balance
More is more: make overlap regions large and take many photos
Break these rules if creativity dictates to do so.
Image stitching programs also correct for vignetting (the darkening of the image towards the edges – don’t channel your images through instagram before you add them together) and for exposure differences between the images. Finally, they also have to make sure that a uniform white balance is used in all pictures. I experimented with using the same white balance in the images I used for the panorama below.
Finally, the last image that I want to share with you is a panorama that I built myself, without using an image stitching program like Hugin. The image below is composed of three images, all taken with the same camera and lens as the snowy tree pictures above, an aperture of F5 and with white balance set to “sunny”. I shot these images in RAW format and went through the whole process of exposure correction, lens distortion removal and stitching in order to appreciate the power of image stitching programs – and hell, yes, they are useful!
Do you have any advice how to create better panorama images? Head to the comments section to share them with us! And if you want to participate in the February edition of “Tech of the month”, all you need to do is to publish your own panorama image(s) and create a pingback to this post. If you are a phoneographer or owner of a compact camera, you can start with an evenly lit landscape without many objects in the foreground to get the best results without manual settings.
Make sure to also check out the contributios made to this challenge:
And if you like, there is more of perelincolors out there:
This article was published on perelincolors.com.