Creating Panoramas

1. Preparing to Shoot Panoramas

Family Travel provides the following travel photography tutorial for photography and family traveler enthusiasts.


Set your camera's lens, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance

You need to make some settings on your camera before you can shoot the pictures that will make up your panorama.

The first thing we have to do is choose our lens. Your best choice is to pick a lens that covers the 40 - 60mm zoom range. You don’t want to use a wide-angle lens because they distort the image. Straight lines tend to bend in wide-angle shots. The image will distort a bit to the sides of the image. This distortion makes it impossible to shoot multiple photos and stitch them together – the lines won’t match up from shot to shot.

Distortion is less a problem with a zoom lens, but if you’re having to use a long zoom I’m not sure why you’d be shooting a panorama. I suppose there may be situations where you’d want to do that, but the goal is to end up with a panoramic (or wide) shot, so the zoom lens would be counter-productive to that.

A lens set at 50mm is effectively showing you a 1:1 ratio, or put another way, capturing your scene without wide angle or zoom. Choosing a lens that shoots at 50mm or thereabouts should give you the best chance at getting a series of pictures that capture the whole scene without distortions to interfere with stitching them together.

Once you have selected the lens, you need to set up the camera so it is ready to shoot a panorama. To accomplish this we need to take the camera out of program mode and shoot entirely in manual. Why? Because if you shoot a series of 10 pictures in program mode the camera will set the exposure 10 different times. The exposure settings for your first picture will almost certainly be different than pictures #5, #8 or #10. You may be turning toward or away from the sun. The scene may include a portion that is brighter or darker than the rest.

In program mode, each shot you take will be metered by what is visible to the viewfinder – and as you take pictures across the entire scene, that will change. Each picture will look fine, but when you try to merge them together the lighting won't match up and blend properly.

We need to shoot every picture in panorama with the same aperture and shutter speed so the photos will blend smoothly and consistently.

So, with your camera in program mode, point it at the scene and half-depress your shutter release. You should see the metering information in your viewfinder. Let's say the metering is f/16 at 1/500th of a second. Now you know what setting to use for all the pictures in the panorama. Switch your camera from Program to Manual Mode and set the f-stop and aperture to what you metered.

One note about metering. If you're photographing a large area, chances are that part of it will be brighter than the other part. If the sun is to the left of your scene, things will get a little darker as you move to the right. When you point your camera to do your metering, point at an area that is in the middle in terms of brightness. That way you're getting a good average of the entire scene.

Now, we've got our metering set. We have two more settings to take care of.

First is white balance. Take your camera out of Auto White Balance and set it for the conditions. (Sunny for a sunny day, cloudy for overcast conditions, etc.) We want to make sure the white balance is the same for all your shots, just as we want the metering to be consistent throughout.

Next, we're going to shut off the auto-focus. We do not want the camera to refocus as you shoot the series of pictures. So, point the camera at the scene, press your shutter release half way and let it focus. Then, turn off the auto focus button on your lens. Do not touch the focus ring on your lens again until you get done shooting your panorama pictures.

The camera should now be set. You’re in manual mode with your aperture and shutter speed set. You’ve killed the auto white balance and the focus. Your lens is set to approximately 50mm. Time to shoot.

Next step: Shoot the pictures

Here are steps to creating panoramas: