Let’s take a look at what to buy, what to do and how to go about your new wide angled adventure.
Firstly, what is panoramic photography?
“A panorama (formed from Greek πᾶν “all” + ὅραμα “sight”) is any wide-angle view or representation of a physical space, whether in painting, drawing, photography, film/video, or a three-dimensional model.”:- “Wikipedia- panoramic photography”
Ok Ok enough with the Greek stuff, what is it really?
Panoramic photography is a special technique that basically stitches multiple images together to make a bigger (wider) single image. The image will usually have a larger field of view than most ordinary lenses.
To state the obvious, you need a camera, luckily these days you can do a panorama with basically any camera, from an iPhone to a medium format Hasselblad. With intricate software and digital cameras it is relatively easy to stitch images together, creating an almost perfect panorama with a very high resolution. Firstly ask yourself, do you want to create a panorama just for fun or are you going to step out of the circle of confusion and into a Giga pixel panorama world.
Panoramic photography can become a very expensive hobby especially if you want to focus on architectural photography: To ensure the lines are as straight as it can be, reducing distortion and correctly stitching objects that is very close to you, calibrate your panoramic tripod head to precision. But if you are shooting landscapes and the objects that are far away you can get away with more.
As with most photographic endeavors there is the right way to do panoramas and a wrong way that may work “sometimes” if you only want to create a simple surrounding Pano. Photosynth is a great app, download it on your iPhone for the curious enthusiast.
Types of panoramas
Panoramic photography is extremely popular among architectural photographers and also landscape and cityscape photographers.
An 8mm Fisheye lens on a full frame camera is the most common lens to create a 360deg. Panorama. It is fast and very easy to stitch together. This is also the smallest image that you will get, it is only 4 shots. The more images you take the higher the resolution will be, as simple as that.
A very easy way to create a Pano is to take 2 or 3 horizontal shots and stitch those together.
The preferred way, and if you have the right equipment is to take a few vertical shots depending on your lens field of view and by the amount of overlapping that you do on each image. There is an amazing app that works out all the “Panocalculations”, amount of images, degrees that you need to turn and how many rows. This app is available for only $2.99, really a must have. The amount of overlapping is highly important with the stitching afterwards, the more you overlap the more alignment points or control points is needed for the stitching algorithm. Personally I use 35% to 45% even 50% depending on the shot.
I use a Canon 5d ii (because of the high resolution). You can use a15mm fisheyes to 85mm prime. I mostly shoot at 24mm, you get great resolution without taking a million shots (only 30 shots for a full 360′)
- Nodal ninja 4
- Benro A357Ex
- Cable release
- Lens coat Hot shoe spirit level
- Light meter (if needed)
What do you need to start off:
Camera: any camera can work if you can shoot on full manual, locking your aperture shutter and ISO. It is also good to have a camera that can shoot raw.
Lens: the wider the lens, the faster and less shots is needed. If you start off a 18-55mm can work, but I would recommend a fisheye or a 24-70mm F2.8 on a full frame camera. (later in the article we will talk about the bigger lenses for the Giga Panos.)
Tripod: any good tripod that would hold your camera as still as possible. I would recommend a Benro A2570f, Manfrotto 055 or Higher.
Cable release: highly recommended for lower shutter speeds.
Panoramic Head: There is a few options
- Nodal ninja 3 – For a small camera setup. Good for beginners.
- Nodal ninja 4 – More professional, can use up to a +- a 180mm lens depending on lens
The nodal ninja range is very small and great to travel with, they are light and have placers, so the setup time will be less than a minute. You can also use Manfrotto’s head but it is very bulky and takes some time to setup.
Another option is to use an L-Bracket you can use it with a normal ball head like the Benro or Kirk ball heads with a longer plate to get the nodal point of the lens. These L-Brackets is camera specific.
Filters is a big no-no, especially polarizer’s, because you take different shots of the sky’s, the colour and exposure changes the whole time, making it extremely hard to work with in post. ND’s can be used but some also creates vignetting to the images.
I would recommend the lens coat, Hot shoe spirit leveler
How to go about photograph panoramas:
You need a panorama head or a ball head with a longer plate for the nodal point.
Firstly the Camera setting
- Shoot in “Manual”: This is the most important thing you can do to get consistency in your images. Images must have the same exposure to look natural and to stitch correctly.
- ISO: set your ISO also to a constant to avoid different exposures. I would recommend keeping your ISO low 100 or 200 ISO to reduce noise.
- Aperture: it should be closed down to at least F8 or F11 to get most of your subject in focus don’t push it too much, like F22 then you will start to lose quality due to diffraction.(another apple download tip, you can get an app called simple DOF $0.99 to work out your depth of field hand hyper focal distance)
- Shutter speed: Set the shutter speed according to the light meter reading. Try to keep it higher to reduce camera shake
- Lens: always on Manual Focus
- Metering: I take a few photos to each side to find the middle exposure value for the whole panorama. You don’t want objects to blow out but you also don’t want them too dark.
- White balance: I would recommend auto white balance if you are going to shoot RAW then you can quickly run a batch in the Light room when you convert your images into tiff’s.
Now we can start with the best part. Set up the shoot:
- Set your lens so that the nodal point of the lens in the center of your turning point of the tripods head.
By doing this it will reduce parallax errors that you will get when stitching close objects.
It is very easy to set up the nodal point, you need two vertical points for example the doorway, a light pole, or another vertical object. There must be a closer vertical object between you and the second vertical object, align them through your viewfinder so that they look like one object or parallel with each other. When you move your camera from left to right they should stay behind each other. If they move further away from each other you know your nodal point is not in the center of your rotation point.
Now align your camera body in the center of the rotation point. The easiest way to do this is to point your panorama head with the camera down towards the tripod, set your focusing point in the middle of the frame and move camera left and right to find the middle.
Here is an awesome website that will explain the whole process. http://archive.bigben.id.au/tutorials/360/photo/nodal.html.
I will try to quickly explain the process.
If you move the camera from left to right and the father object move also move from left to right move the camera a bit forward.
If you move the camera from left to right and the father object move the opposite direction move the camera a bit backwards
If you move from left to right and the objects stays equal distance from each other the nodal point is in the middle
If your setup is done, write down the measurements, so that you don’t have to go through the process every time or if you are lucky enough to have a nodal ninja just insert the place holders.
Make sure you remember:
- Stay away from moving objects like trees or people.
- Place your tripod very sturdy on the ground so that you can eliminate movement, use the spirit leveler to level the camera with the horizon, moving in 45deg turns to ensure the Pano will be straight.
- Set your camera (shown above)
- Check your focus and then turn off auto focus
- Where you start and where to finish your shot.
- Take one or two images just to double check my settings
- Take the first shot and then move the camera clockwise to get a 40deg overlap with the other image. Do the same until your back to the start or at the end point.
Remember the more you shoot the more you will learn and adapt these steps to your own style. This is just a guideline in the right direction.
Gigapan Epic Pro – “The monster”
This is really the ultimate! It’s an awesome robot to play with. Let me start off by saying, if you want to draw a crowd and a million questions this is the gadget to buy. Everybody can’t help staring at this robot that moves around and does its magic.
What is a GigaPan Epic Pro you may ask? It is a robotic panorama head that can take hundreds of shots, creating a gigantic giga pixel photo. You first need to program your lens to what and where you want to shoot. Then you simply press play and watch the magic unfold, this unit will pan tilt and move from left to right to create “THE SHOT”. The GigaPan is designed to take a telephoto lens and zoom in as far as you can to get the most detail out of the shot.
Here is a 100% crop on a 3 Gigapixel photo. To show the amazing resolution.
The GigaPan itself:
It is very bulky and more challenging to travel, despite of that its a masterpiece, you will understand when you see it at work while the final picture is seals the deal.
The GigaPan’s size, it consists of a big laptop battery that turns all the gears. The gears are very accurate moving up and down over 180 deg and left right 360deg. This system also has a LCD screen that will help you to setup the device.
The menu of the GigaPan is easy to use and you would be up and shooting in no-time.
The camera is held in place with two arms that swings the camera up and down. You get a few options to mount the camera; all of them have a quick release plate that fits on your lens.
You definitely need a good tripod, it turns left and right, up and down so it must be sturdy especially if you have a big 300mm lens on top.
The Robot is an amazing piece of equipment. The only thing to consider is that if you are going to shoot sea-side shots or a place with a lot of people, rather use a wider lens to reduce the movement. Do a GigaPan but it helps to have a massive computer. I used a macbook pro 17″ 2.4GHz quad core with 16G Ram and a solid state hard drive, mine crashed a few times because of the large files. There are smaller options like the GigaPan Epic, it is a very small system that works the same but only on compact cameras. Another option is the GigaPan Epic 100 that will work with small DSLR setups for quite a bit less than the Pro version
Recomended Panoramic heads
GigaPan Epic Pro (and others)
In a few weeks I will do an article on my blog on Stitching Software, there I will show the basic steps to stitch a panorama.
The software that I use is PTGui Pro and then Photoshop CS5. PTGui Pro is used to setup control points and then to stitch the whole panorama together, exporting it to Photoshop and then doing some retouching and colour changes.
I’ve used the GigaPan for a few days and only touched the surface of this intricate piece of machinery, there are many more things to learn about the equipment. Would I buy it? Definitely yes, it’s worth carrying around a heavy bag and all the curious questions. For panoramic photography this is an amazing piece of engineering. A true must have!
Be inspired, go out and take beautiful Panoramas!
By Janco Haywood