Have you ever found yourself so close to an animal you simply cannot fit its entire body into the frame? Or find yourself with a fantastic scene before you and all you have is your long telephoto lens, having left your wide-angle at home? Or further more you have your wide-angle lens with you but the subject would just be too small in the frame and the image would need some major cropping causing a great loss of valuable pixels to create the panorama you have in mind?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then shooting composites could be the solution for you. In this article I will talk you through some easy steps on how to shoot composites on your own. You will be shocked to see how easy this is. You don’t need any special skills, talents or any expensive photography equipment. All you need is the persistence to learn and perfect a technique.
When you have a scene in front of you that you think may work well as a composite. First activate your camera grid in the viewfinder. By activating your camera grid, you will be able to see grids of lines running horizontally and vertically across your camera’s viewfinder. You can use the camera grid to align against a specific landmark in the scene (e.g. the horizon) You will use these lines as a guide to help you to judge the level of the scene so that the alignment remains consistent across the series of pictures you will be taking for your composite.
Tip: Some DSLR cameras have a built in virtual horizon option that can be activated from your camera’s menu and will display in the same manner as a spirit level either in your view finder or on your LCD
One of the most important elements to keep in mind when capturing a composite is to maintain a realistic depth of field. There are two different methods I use to do this and which one I choose depends on the type of composite I am shooting, the two most popular situations you may find yourself in when shooting wildlife composites would be:
1. Shooting a series of images of an animal close by in order to fit the entire animal into the frame as the end result.
2. Shooting a series of images of an animal/group of animals and including some background. Creating an animal in its environment as the final image.
Each one of these situations would require a slightly different approach and focusing technique.
1. How to shoot a series of close up images of an animal in order to fit the whole subject into the frame?
The most important factor is gauging at what angle the animal is lying in relation to you, for example 90 degrees to you so directly horizontal or at a slight angle like 45 degrees. The easier of these two is if the animal is at 90 degrees, in which case you can focus and shoot as normal for every image ensuring you focus on the animals body and you allow enough of an overlap, in these cases I will often overlap as much as 50%.
If the animal is at a slight angle to you things get a little trickier. If you were to focus along the body for every image you would probably find that you have areas of soft focus in various spots in the image and a depth of field that is a bit unrealistic. So the technique I use is to focus on and shoot the areas of most importance, in most forms of wildlife photography this would be the face, eye or head of the animal. So in order to ensure that I have the key areas sharp I would shoot my first shot with focus on the eye, as always, then move across for the next image with at least a 50% ,sometimes even more, overlap and shoot a second image with focus just behind the head, this would result in the eyes, face, head, and neck being in focus. After the second shot I would then lock my focus and keep it locked while I shoot the rest of the images, as required. In the finished image this would result in a more realistic depth of field.
2. Shooting a series of images of an animal/group of animals and including some background. Shooting an animal in its natural environment as the final image.
The second situation is the easiest of all. Because your subject will be a little distance from you, you should only need one image to include your subject and that image should capture it completely in focus with a good depth of field, once you have captured this image lock your focus on the subject, keep it locked and then continuing to capture the rest of the scene.
• Your movement and transition from one image to another is also very important. Once you have taken the first picture, pivot your upper body slightly to the left or right, remember to use the virtual horizon or gridlines to ensure you are on the same level. While pivoting, keep your arm firmly against your body and your hand should try to hold your camera as still as possible. Take the second picture, making sure that it overlaps the first picture by a minimum of 25%. Continue taking pictures in this way until you reach the other end of the scene you wish to take.
• Preview your pictures that you have taken. Check that the pictures are aligned properly as you go over them. You can use the horizon as guidance. You do not have to be perfect. A slight misalignment between the pictures is okay as it will not be noticeable in the finished image.
• Download your pictures to an editing software. (I use Adobe Lightroom)
There you have it! Being able to take panoramic pictures is not as difficult as it may seem to be. Give it a try, and you will be amazed at how easy this is.