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Case Study: infrastellar on panoramas

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    Posted: 22 October 2008 at 09:05
Panoramas

When wide is not wide enough




Why does anybody start to make panoramas? Sometimes it is not suficient to take a single picture. Sometimes the single shot cannot cover the beauty I see. Sometimes I wish I could take a photo of everything that surrounds me. The wide angle lens doesn't do do job, and the photo doesn't show what I want.

Let me explain my experiences with such situations. When I stand on the top of the mountain, or I am pushed into a room with limited space, or I just want to grab everything around. This is the time for panoramic picture. For me, panorama doesnt mean wide, or cropped into panoramic shape. Panorama means to bring another perspective, and space. It's a view that a single wide angle shot cannot provide: the view of the human eye.

Making panoramas can be divided into two basic stages. Shooting the panorama, and stitching it.



Shooting the panorama


I consider this part to be more important than stitching. If you shoot the panorama badly, you will not finish or cover your mistakes in the computer. The very first thing is to know what kind of panorama is desired. The answer is within these questions, that are related one to another.

Composition? This is the very first thing you have to know. After this, you can take next decisions. Composition says, which part of the world you will be concentrated on. Look at the subjects that you see. Think about it for the future. And count on some space around for cropping after you stitch your final panorama.

What kind of light do we have? This helps to determine if we can shoot the panorama handheld, or with the tripod. We have to use a tripod for long exposure shots, and those that we cannot hold.

How far is the nearest subject within the composition? We need to know if we are going to shoot with the panoramic head or not. As you know, with close subjects included in the panorama, parallax errors become present. It becomes very difficult to stitch the pictures if this is the case and many times it's impossible. So if we have something quite close to us in the frame, its better to use a special panoramic head for your tripod. Just your own experience helps to determine if you need to use this panoramic head or not.

How fast is the light changing? /sunrises, sunsets/ Many times it happens that the light conditions change very fast -- very fast according to what we need to do. We have to set an exposure, maybe we shoot from the tripod with 2s shutter delay due to 200mm focal length used. This is a lot of time if shooting a sunrise, for example. The sun is really fast. Before we set up everything to be ready, we make decision. Which focal length to use? Consider, too, if you need to shoot two rows with 200mm or one row with 50mm. This is the question of composition and the future use of this panorama. If we plan to print a big photo, we are going for the resolution. This means several shots at longer focal length and the time is against us. And here we are again with your own experience, when you have to make your own decision.

Are there some moving objects within our composition? This will be your own war. If you want to shoot a street panorama, or the road is included in your frame, count on doubled-up people, cars, or even birds. And count on a big portion of patience, if you really don't desire any person on the panorama of the main square in your city.


Now I want to explain step by step, how do I shoot panoramas. We avoid speaking about waking up in the morning to catch some interesting light, and the walk to get somewhere :) As an example, we are going to shoot a sunrise from the top of the hill.



a friend of mine took this picutre... you can see... I am really there :)


Of course we come here before the sunrise, to check the composition, and look around well. Then the tripod is set up, including the panoramic head. Of course set to the spirit level. As we don't want the hills to fall from one side to another -- the panoramic head helps me to maintain the row of shots at the same level. I always shoot several panoramas with different focal lengths and amount of pictures. Let's describe one of them, that includes the sun in the frame. I have chosen a 70mm focal length to place the mountains far in the backround and also to leave the mountain range in the bottom. There was a valley between of them filled with clouds.

Now to set the camera.

1.   White balance we can leave it in auto mode, but don't forget to use the same WB setting for every single frame when processing the RAWs.

2.   Exposure mode everybody will tell you to set to full manual mode /M/. I have done many panoramas with the aperture priority. But in this case we make use of M to avoid exposure problems and the resulting compensations. So we have the camera set to M.

3.   We use remote control for the shots, or 2s shutter delay: or whatever prevents the shots from being blurred because of camera or mirror movement. It depends on how much light do we have and thus what is the shutter speed.

4.   Manual focus Set to manual focus and use the MF/AF switch to let the camera focus for you. Make a shot and check if its good. If not, focus yourself.


Now we have a camera set on the tripod and panoramic head. We have our focal length desired according to the composition and final resolution desired. We are going to take several vertical shots. As we have the sun in the planned frame, its very important to set the correct exposure values. For this purpose we use the shot with the sun in it. It will always be overexposed, but don't let it to be too much. Now we have to act quite fast. The sun rises, and every second we have more and more light. It really doesnt matter from which side do we start. But I recommend to start from the side with more light. From the left this time. The neighbouring pictures should overlap 30% with each other. When we come to the place where sun is situated, some flare may appear. If you don't like this, there is very easy help. Take one picture with the flare and sun, and the same picture again with the finger covering the sun from above. This way, the flare disappears. We will process these two pictures in Photoshop later with the layers. From the picture with the flare we can use the upper part with the sun. From the picture without the flare we use the bottom part without the flare. It's quite simple, and basic experience with layers is needed. For our 'sample' composition, we end up with 11 shots, +2 more with removed flares.



Here we can see, how do we work with the pictures affected by the flares




Stitching the panorama


There are several very good software programs for stitching panoramas. Whichever you choose, I recommend to use the external smartblend plugin. This helps a lot while blending the pictures, and covering different color tones. Mainly visible on the skies. You will have to find out the preferencies settings of your software, and give it the path to the executable plugin file stored on your hardrive.

Once the pictures are loaded into your software, you might check the default settings offered. Mine offers this, and works.



Then we can click the align button, so that the software finds control points for stitching. Sometimes I have to check manual settings, as the automatic doesn't reflect what I need, or just doesn't read the exif correctly and shows another focal length. After this process, you can see the preview of your panorama. Don't worry about visible connections, this will be solved by correct blending. Now you can adjust the panorama to the sides, crop it, but this time we leave it. You can see, that despite using M mode for shooting, there are exposure diferencies. I really don't have any rational explanation for this.





This time, we didn't have to add more control points to help the program, so we can continue creating the panorama. For the study purpose, I made only a 1000px one, but maybe you want to make the biggest possible, so put the maximum option. Don't forget to choose the smartblend plugin option, this is a big part of nice looking panorama without visible vertical connections. This runs external window with the blending software, don't worry.





Depending on your hardware setup, file sizes, you can see your panorama soon. You can see, the blending plugin did its job. This way you can easily hide even the effect of the polarizing filters on your skies.




This is the time for cropping the panorama. I personally don't like very tight long panoramas, so often end up cropping them. Depends on the composition, and the main subject of the panorama. Now its a bit difficult, but at the end I have chosen cropping like this.



Remember that many kinds of panoramas exist. This is only one. There are much more things to solve, much more difficulties you can meet. But I have tried to explain the easiest way, what I do. Hope this helps, and if not, feel free to ask whatever you would like to. I will update this study with my answers and explanations. And the last advice. Be sure, to have a clean sensor for taking the panorama. Otherwise you can end up cloning out the many spots that the single pictures in your panorama contain.

I hope you all find the easiest way to your own panoramic pictures. You will hve to give it many tries, but at the end... this is fun, and a good result brings pleasure not only for you, but also to those who haven't been there shooting with you.

Edited by Pyl - 23 October 2008 at 10:13
Infrastellar travel photo

Slovakia, Czech republic, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines, Indonesia, England
 



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brettania View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote brettania Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 08:06
On behalf of the admin group I would like to thank Marek for this valuable contribution.

Others members are welcome to comment, and ask questions.

NOTE: A viewing suggestion is to turn off the lefthand side column by using the button to the right of the RSS feed sign. This makes it easier (on most screens) to see the text and illustrations at full size without scrolling.

Edited by brettania - 23 October 2008 at 08:15
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Post Options Post Options   Quote YourFunnyUncle Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 09:33
Thanks for this Marek. You've made the technique quite clear. Now I just need to get up at 3am and climb a mountain...
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Ausgezeichnet Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 09:46
THank you Marek, for this great guideline- I didn't know much work goes into those shots. Very impressive.
regards,
Bernd


Edited by Ausgezeichnet - 23 October 2008 at 13:32
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Post Options Post Options   Quote dd001 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 10:42
Thanks Marek for this great guideline. Lots of useful tips and advices.
I will try to make good use of them next time I try to shoot a panorama.

Thanks again.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote dogears Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 10:55
I now have a tried and tested reference for panorama from the panorama 'expert'. Thanks so much for this invaluable info Marek!
 



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Post Options Post Options   Quote wolfy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 11:25
Thanks Marek, I was about to say "I wish you posted this article a couple months ago when I started playing with stitching software and panoramas" but then in reading I learnt a few more tricks. A very useful case study.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote RosieA100 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 13:04
Thanks for the info, bloody FANTASTIC - love the tip on how to get rid of flare, needed it waaaay back in April but hey... I've learnt it now and there should be no excuse from here on in (except I now need to learn how to use layers )

I hope the system will be able to cope with the influx of panoramas about to hit
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Reflekt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 13:08
This is the tutorial I was waiting for. Thanks very much for your clear and easy explanation, Marek.

Some questions I have:
- I suppose I cant get decent shots with just using my 'normal' ballhead. Do do you have a suggestion for what kind/brand of 'panoramic head' u need?
- Do you use the smallest aperture (like an f11-22 or so) to get the whole thing sharp, or does it also depend on what you are shooting?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Frankman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 14:05
Thank you for this excellent case study Marek. It is both inspirational and educational. I also found the "tip" about removing lens flare useful, not jut in terms of panoramas, but with single shots as well.

Frank
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Post Options Post Options   Quote ianmarsh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 15:32
I cannot wait to try this. I am sure a lot of us have looked at your shots with envy and now we have a (small) hope that we can emulate you. Thanks very much.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote startowa13 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 15:52
Marek this is a gem! Thanks for posting this!
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Post Options Post Options   Quote DavidB Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 16:10
This is very informative... thanks so much for sharing your expertise.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote maewpa Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2008 at 17:41
Great tutorial.

Same question about using a normal tripod head... I'd like to hear your thoughts about how much of a difference a dedicated head makes.

And also any tips for hand-held panoramas? For example, when you talk about having enough speed, do you mean just the speed you would normally handhold at, or is there anything else that we should take into account?

Hope they're not dumb questions... but you did invite them.
Paul aka maewpa
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