Hi guys, I’m Natalia — a UF student and fan of all things Trader Joe’s. I work on the Fracture marketing team, bringing you authentic content on the daily.
If you have a smartphone, chances are you’ve heard of panoramic photography. It seems simple enough, even if it often ends up looking more like a guided tai chi exercise. But if you want to do it well, you’ll need more than steady hands.
Our friends Les Picker and René Charles Ritchie are here to help. Picker has credits in National Geographic and Ritchie has next-level iPhoneography skills. So basically, they have optimal backgrounds to provide easy-to-use tips on how to best capture panos, no matter what equipment you have.
Shooting Panos with iPhones
The average person will pull out their smartphone, swipe to the pano feature, and try to capture the vibrant landscape in front of them. We’re all guilty of this. But to photograph the details in your surroundings, you have to understand the basics.
Let’s be real, not everyone owns a DSLR camera, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take quality images. René Charles Ritchie proves that you can capture stunning panos without the fancy equipment. He uses the pano effect to create his signature #swayingstructures.
“I use the panorama feature on the iPhone as a technique for warping subjects. It’s basically a glitch that I stumbled upon when exploring and pushing the limits with what I can do with the camera. Because of the way the software stitches it together, you can get a seamless photo, even when you don’t pan in a straight line,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie uses several products that seamlessly work with the iPhone camera.
“I have a few lenses from Moment, but my go-to is their 18mm wide angle. I also always bring a mini-tripod and battery pack. When it comes to cool panorama photos, all you need is a steady hand and a good eye,” Ritchie said.
Tip #1: Ritchie shoots vertically, rather than horizontally. Instead of panning from side-to-side, he pans upwards. He suggests tilting your phone to the left/right to create the swaying effect.
Your preference on whether you want to shoot panos with DSLRs or iPhones truly depends on your purpose. It all comes down to what you want to photograph, but the beauty of using an iPhone is the simplicity of it. You can shoot anywhere and everywhere.
To shoot panos on an iPhone, follow Ritchie’s checklist.
Pano Checklist for iPhones
- Open the iPhone camera and set up a mini-tripod (recommended for stable shot).
- Apply lens of your preference.
- Adjust exposure by tapping once on the screen to grab a focal point. Hold down on that point to lock the exposure.
- Apply the grid feature to keep your horizons straight. To find this feature, toggle the native camera app.
- Lock your arms and bend your body rather than moving the phone for smoother edges.
- Position the camera vertically and pan upwards rather than side-to-side for #swayingstructures effect.
- Tilt to the left/right to create #swayingstructures effect.
- Take as many shots as you need before getting one that looks “realistic” or that is stitched together perfectly.
- Experiment and take photos of everything. You never know what you can do if you don’t try.
P.S. For those who don’t own an iPhone, Androids have a panorama feature too.
Shooting Panos with DSLRs
If you want to capture precise details in panos, shooting with a DSLR is a must. Photographer Les Picker makes it no secret that a DSLR camera and stable tripod are his go-to products. When it comes to printing out panos, iPhone quality just doesn’t do the job.
Why? Picker emphasizes that while the purpose of a pano is to capture very wide and/or tall scenes, it all comes down to pixel density.
The more pixels an image has, the larger it can be without pixelation ruining it. In fact, Picker regularly creates panos that occupy entire walls in his studio. To give an estimate, the picture above of the Baltimore skyline was composed of three rows of 12 images and printed at 30-feet wide and 10-feet fall.
To edit together images like the skyline above, Picker recommends purchasing an editing software (Ex: Adobe Lightroom) to stitch them together. He says it’s important to do your research on which software will work best for you but that most can handle single-row panos (three-to-five images).
Tip #2: It’s important to know that there are two pano types: single and multiple rows.
To shoot panos on a DSLR, follow Picker’s checklist.
Pano Checklist for DSLRs
- Level your tripod and camera.
- Remove polarizer or any other filters.
- Set manual white balance, focus, and exposure/shutter speed.
- Switch to vertical orientation (gives you more images and maximum pixels).
- Sweep the scene before shooting with the mounted camera, leaving extra room on each end.
- Note the start and end points on your tripod bezel.
- Take a test shot, check histogram, and adjust.
- Move to second test shot using 1/3 overlap and shoot. Check histogram to be sure.
- Note the bezel position of the second shot and count the number of gradations it moved.
- Return to the start and begin shooting, advancing that exact number of bezel gradations each time until you reach the end.
- If you’re taking a multi-row pano, go back to the beginning bezel mark, tile to the next row, and begin again.
How does the environment affect panos?
Regardless of how much preparation you’ve put into your equipment and software, sometimes mother nature throws a curveball. It’s important to understand the role the environment plays when shooting and how to adjust.
Picker notes that panos involving moving objects (trees, animals, etc.) are extremely tricky and require much more post-processing. He also notes that if water is captured at a fast shutter speed, it’s nearly impossible to stitch together into a pano. In this case, he suggests using a slower shutter speed to smooth out the water.
Tip #3: A narrow pano needs to be printed very wide. For example, a 1:4 pano is not going to have much of an impact (even at 4-feet long) because it’s only 12 inches tall.
Like any skill, the only way to improve is to practice (a lot). I hope you’ve gathered a better understanding and appreciation of shooting panos. Best of luck!
Big thanks go out to René and Les for sharing their wisdom for this post!
|Les Picker is a professional photographer with credits in National Geographic Publications and many other magazines, newspapers, and books.
|René Charles is an artist and photographer currently based out of Portland, Oregon. He loves to create images that help transport people’s imaginations to another world, and finds pleasure in making his friends “do it for the gram.”