John Kenealy | Anatomy of a Panorama

Anatomy of a Panorama

November 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Keewaydin LakeKeewaydin LakeThis is a panorama of Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham, Maine. Keewaydin is nestled in the heart of the Oxford Hills in Western Maine. When I was in high school I used to do a lot of hiking with my older brother, Jim, and a number of friends, around the Hudson Highlands. The highlight of each day was an incredible vista of "The River" and surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, standard camera techniques didn't do the scenery justice, and taking panoramic images was not practical. Luckily, with the advent of the DSLR, and image stitching software, it is possible to take amazing panoramas today. In this Blog Post, I'll give an introduction to taking some beautiful panoramas.

Equipment needed:

DSLR camera, sturdy tripod (a pan head is helpful), computer, and image stitching software.


The set up:

It is important to keep a few things in mind when taking panoramas. First, is lens choice. Wide angle lenses can produce distortion, especially in the distance, which causes problems when trying to stitch images together. For this reason, I tend to use a lens of 35-75 mm for panoramas. I like a lot of depth of field, so I tend to use an f-stop of about 16, which keeps close up, and distant subjects in focus. Because light may vary from one end of the pan to the other, you should use pan setting in your camera, if equipped. If not, you should shoot in manual, and adjust the exposure to average through the pan. Another concern is focus. An easy way to do this is to pick the most interesting part of the panorama, and focus on that. Then, I turn off the auto focus. Now, your camera is ready.

I mount the camera on the tripod in the portrait position. Using landscape will produce a very long, and skinny picture. Also, try to make your view as level as possible. A sharp angle up or down will produce distortion, especially with wider angle lenses. 


The shoot:

I always start on the left side of the scene, and swing the camera to the right. I also try to have something interesting on the left side and the right side of my scene. I think it helps frame the final image. When shooting, I look for a 30% overlap between images. Some people use a 15% overlap. My advice is to start with 30%, and see what works best for you, your camera, and your software. I also recommend starting with about ten images per panorama. When starting out, you will find this much more manageable than 25-30 images. Of course, keep final composition in mind when planning on how many shots. I will always do a "dry run" swinging the camera from left to right while looking through the viewfinder to plan how many images I need to capture. When I have that planned out, I begin shooting: shoot, swing, shoot, swing, shoot, swing, shoot....


Post Production:

After you are done shooting, you can load the images onto your computer as you would any other images. Next, open your image stitching software, and load the images into that. Follow the software directions, and stitch your images together. You will now have a panorama. After saving your new image, you can move it into your favorite image editing software to really make it pop!


The image above was taken at Keewaydin Lake in the Oxford Hills of western Maine. I stitched together 11 images using a focal length of 35 mm. As you can see, I framed the image with colorful trees on each side. After saving the image, I ran it through an HDR program, then into another photo editing program to adjust contrast, lighting, saturation, etc. 

Download a photo stitching program and give panoramas a try!



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