Create a panorama photo: Instructions and tips

Whether in the mountains, on the beach or in the city – panorama photos capture a broad motive with all details. The right shooting technique and special software ensure impressive results.

A panorama image can be composed of several individual images.

It is worth taking a panorama photo, because detailed photos of landscapes inspire the viewer. A wide-angle lens is usually the first choice for photographers. But such special equipment is not always at hand. When photographing with a small camera or smartphone, these extensions can hardly be used. The solution is quite simple: taking individual pictures of the subject, which are then put together on the computer with software to form a large photo.

This manual explains how to create a panorama with digital camera or smartphone images and what you need to bear in mind when taking pictures.

Picture from PanoramaPoster

Photographing panoramas correctly

One point is very important when taking photos for panoramas: deactivate the autofocus in the camera. Use your hand to focus. This ensures that all images have the same focus. This helps when composing the individual images in the panorama software.

If you have a tripod, you should use it. The camera will stand securely and rotate more precisely. A remote shutter release helps prevent the tripod and camera from shaking during shooting. Additional attachments with angle selection are helpful for correct alignment of panorama shots. They are mounted between the tripod and the camera. They have mechanisms for correct rotation.

When you take a panoramic view, the format of the photo is usually very wide

If there is no tripod on the tour, you have to try to photograph all single shots on the same horizontal plane. If you do not rotate the body, try to move the camera around its own axis. In this way you avoid parallax errors, which later lead to distortions during assembly. Modern software can compensate for such errors to a limited extent during editing, but when shooting with houses, the errors are noticeable due to bent lines. To align these lines in an image processing requires a lot of time and effort.

Owners of a small camera or a smartphone should activate the panorama mode. Many cameras and apps support the attachment of individual images. To do this, they partially fade in the previously taken photo. This prevents vertical panning, and the individual images fit together better later. The panorama mode also ensures that the exposure of the images is uniform.

Tip: Rotate the camera to portrait and take more horizontal shots. This gives you more vertical information on the individual shots. This has a positive effect on the format and the result of the panorama.

If there are moving objects in the picture such as cars or cyclists – shoot against the direction of travel. This prevents the vehicles from being present in all individual shots. This also applies to waves or fast-moving clouds. The objects can then only be seen once in the merged image. This also prevents problems when the software recognizes the individual images.

Combining individual images to form a panorama

You can quickly assemble the individual recordings with free programs such as Microsoft ICE 2.0 (download). Install the appropriate version (32 or 64 bit). Download the images and follow the instructions in ICE. The program will take care of all further steps for assembling and adjusting the images automatically. With the basic settings, the results are already impressive.

But it is important to choose the right projection for the final result, you can see that in many photography museums. Modern software usually has the possibility to try out results interactively. For motifs with landscape format, planar and cylindrical projections are the best choice. The planar mode is also called linear projection. It is particularly suitable for images of buildings. The straight lines for building edges, streets and paths are not distorted. Missing areas in the sky or foreground are a disadvantage with this method.

After cropping, the format of the composite panorama changes. It usually becomes very wide. Taking several rows horizontally on top of each other helps at this point. Cylindrical projection is a good choice for landscapes. Programs like Microsoft ICE try to drag the outer areas to the edges.

Assembling panoramas

The ICE 2.0 autofill feature allows missing areas to be repaired after the photos have been merged.

The distortions are less noticeable in the sky, areas, or forest. Beware of motifs with power lines or rails – projection in cylinder mode distorts the lines. Shooting very tall subjects such as towers or church windows is done in portrait mode. After composing such images, the objects converge very sharply upwards. This is due to the different angles and the increasing distance from camera to subject.

Many panorama solutions have Mercator projection, as you can see at some of the pictures. This ensures better results and the photo motifs appear more natural. Use this mode and don’t try to adjust the images afterwards in image editing. There is a danger that areas will be distorted unnaturally.

Panorama Software: Alternatives to Microsoft ICE

The automatic functions of many panorama programs are sufficient for most cases. Users with higher demands will find in the free program Hugin the possibility to work with spatial alignment of single images and adjustment of control points. Franzis Panorama Project 2 works in a similar way. The purchase program has a powerful automatic function that does a lot of work for the user. The manual adjustment of panoramas is possible and allows the editing of possible problem areas. In this step, the transitions between the individual shots can be changed. The Franzis product is also familiar with video processing.

The tool set at Autopano by Kolor is even more extensive. This includes the recognition of several panoramas from a series of shots and project management. When merging and adjusting the panoramas there are many possibilities in the program. The program offers changes of the image orientation in space, finetuning at the control points and the use of masks. Autopano also reads RAW photos and can process exposure series for HDR panoramas. A 64-bit version takes into account the ever-increasing resolutions and associated data volumes of modern cameras. This ensures that the PC does not get out of step even with large panoramas.

Panorama planar mode and cylinder mode

The projection in planar mode (above) is recommended for buildings – the cylindrical projection (below) shows the edges distorted.

Tips and tricks

Irrespective of the choice of projection, certain areas are usually missing at the edges and corners of the composite images. Some programs have functions that automatically eliminate these errors. In Microsoft ICE there is the Auto Complete switch in the Crop step to remove these problem areas. The results are convincing and help to create perfect images. The Panaroma tools of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Cyberlink Photo Director have similar options.

Small bugs can also be fixed with the content-based Fill tools. They are available in Photoshop since version 12. Paint Shop Pro X7 has with Magic Fill a suitable tool. After assembling landscapes, an odd horizon often appears. Subsequent adjustments are possible with the editing tools such as shifting or deforming in image editing. Help lines help to align the areas in the image with the tools. A subsequent levelling of the horizon and the cropping of the image are then usually necessary. This works in programs like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro.

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