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Taking Photographs

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Read the Manual: Most DSLR's have so many settings that can be customized that most photographers don't understand them all. That is OK for the casual photographer, but if your goal is to produce outstanding panoramas, you really owe it to yourself to try to understand photography more than the casual photographer. Take the time to actually read the owners manual. Many manuals discuss how and when certain settings should (and should not) be used.

Here are my recommendations for taking high quality pictures that will ultimately be stitched into a panorama:

How Many Pictures?: You should plan on having anywhere from 30% to 40% overlap between pictures. How wide angle your lens is will determine how many pictures to take to achieve that overlap. But you also want a number of pictures that divides nicely into 360°. Like 18 pictures at 20°, 12 pictures at 30°, 9 pictures at 40°, 8 pictures at 45°, 6 pictures at 60°, etc.

Spirit Level
Tripod Setup: Set up your tripod, using the built-in spirit level to get a level tripod. Attach pano equipment and camera. Slightly loosen and tighten pano equipment lock-screws to ensure a solid and square fit between camera and pano equipment (due to the camera weight). Some people actually hang a heavy bag from their tripod to weight it down to increase stability.

Viewfinder Grid Lines
Verify a Level Camera: Many high end digital cameras allow for 'grid lines' to be turned on in the viewfinder. If there is something in your panorama that you know is level or plumb (surface of a lake, edge of a building, etc) compare to the grid lines in your viewfinder to verify that your camera is level.

Camera Orientation: Turn your camera 90° on its side when taking pictures (from landscape to portrait). Doing so produces a 360° panorama where the vertical field of view is maximized. It gives you the flexibility to keep the wider field of view, or crop later.

Image Quality and Size: Most, if not all, digital cameras allow you to select not only the image quality (basic, normal, high), but also the image size (small, medium, large). Since these settings affect how many pictures will fit onto the memory card in the camera, most manufacturers default the camera to a 'middle' setting to maximize claims of how many pictures will fit onto a memory card. However, select the largest image size and highest image quality available for your camera. With today's memory cards and hard drive capacities, you should not have to compromise on size and quality. JPEG jaggies/artifacts

Sensitivity (ISO Equivalency): Use the lowest ISO setting appropriate to the scene that you are imaging. In general, the lower the ISO setting, the 'cleaner' the final photo will be in terms of fewer 'noise' pixels. The higher the ISO, the more 'grainy' the photo will be. Since your camera is on a tripod, you don't have to worry about blurring and an ISO of around 100 or 200 will typically work great and produce quality photos.

Manual White Balance - Better Colors
Manual: Better
Automatic White Balance - Pinkish?
Auto: Pinkish?
White Balance: The 'automatic' setting works 99% of the time. But be aware that your camera likely allows you to customize the white balance setting. Namely, incandescent, fluorescent, sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, or a measured reading from an 18% gray board. In some cases, a measured custom setting from an gray card will produce a better, more natural looking photo, especially in mixed lighting environments.

Focal Length: In general, taking pictures with the smallest focal length (widest angle) works best because that implies fewer pictures will have to be taking to stitch together a 360°. However, be aware that at wide angles, some lenses may suffer from Barrel Distortion

Focus and Aperture: In order to properly stitch multiple images into a single panorama, you need the focus distance to remain constant. That means you must turn off auto focus (AF) and manually select a focus distance. Also, for panorama photography, you rarely want 'out of focus' elements. Rather, you want everything to be in focus. To select an appropriate focus distance and aperture for panorama photography, you should use Hyperfocal Distance. You now have a fixed aperture and fixed focus distance to use.

Exposure Metering: Your camera is capable of automatically determining proper exposure, which allows you to simply 'point and shoot', and most of the time, take a really good picture. But, your camera likely has many different ways to measure exposure. For example, your camera can determine exposure based upon the entire scene, a small area in the center of the scene, and a tiny spot anywhere within the scene. Or measure exposure from an 18 percent gray card. Place the card in the same light as your subject and take a reading off the card.

I once had a person write to me explaining that a particular camera mode that I had recommended was 'taboo' for panoramic photography and provided examples to illustrate his point. Sadly, the only thing which he clearly demonstrated is that he had not adjusted, nor understood, exposure at all. Simply switching from 'whole frame' exposure metering to 'spot' metering solved his problem.

Please understand that your camera is simply a very sophisticated automatic tool but that YOU are ultimately responsible for proper exposure, not the camera.
VR off

Vibration Reduction OFF: If you lens supports vibration reduction, read the manual. For Nikon VR, when the camera is mounted on a tripod, Nikon recommends turning VR OFF, and this is very true. As a test, I kept VR on when using a tripod, and some of the pictures turned out blurred.

Eliminating Remaining Blur: If tripod shake is causing blurring of photos, most DSLR's have an 'Exposure delay mode', where pressing the shutter will cause the mirror to rise immediately, but the photo will be taken one second later, hopefully after any shake is gone.

Lens Hood
Lens Hood: When taking pictures outdoors in direct sunlight, always try to use a lens hood, or some other method of blocking the sunlight because you want to prevent glare and lens flare.

Flash: In general, I find that photos taken with a flash look 'harsh' when compared to photos taken using natural light. However, in certain very low light situations, using 'slow sync' flash mode can produce photos that look better than no flash. In 'slow sync' the flash goes off, but the exposure is still a long term exposure. Namely, meter a shoot assuming no flash and set your camera to those 'no flash' settings -- but then turn the flash on. In a dark room with poor lighting, this technique can produce good results.

Copyright © 2024 Jerry Jongerius