How To Shoot Panoramic Landscapes

You don’t need special equipment, and virtually any camera will work.

Shooting panoramic landscapes keeps getting easier. You don't need special equipment, and virtually any camera will work. I like to shoot a sequence of verticals using a telephoto lens, then stitch them together in software. The long focal length delivers much more detail than a single wide-angle capture, and you're still rewarded with a sweeping view. Here's how, step by step.

1. Gather the gear.

You'll need a tripod and, because it's essential that the camera rotate across a level plane, I recommend adding a leveling base such as the Acratech Leveling Base ($150, street) between the tripod and tripod head. A spirit level is an adequate substitute, though-you level the rig by adjusting the legs individually.

2. Find your landscape.

Best are broad-with lines, patterns, textures, or shapes that draw the eye, plus points of interest throughout the scene. They should be evenly lit, without broad areas of dense shadow or bright highlights. Time of day is important. Panoramas captured around sunrise or sunset, when the quality and quantity of light changes rapidly and exposures times are long, often have different color balances and brightness levels from image to image-not good for beginners.

3. Set up.

Capture images in RAW format for maximum exposure latitude. Avoid auto white balance, because each image can show a different color cast. And, of course, make sure the camera pivots over a horizontally level base.

4. Shoot it.

Shoot slowly and methodically, making sure the shutter has closed before you rotate the camera. Overlap your shots between 10 and 50 percent of the image area to make them easier to stitch together. Key camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, white balance, and focus should be identical. To achieve this, I avoid all auto modes, shooting in the manual exposure and focus modes. To determine exposure settings, I first pan the scene, taking meter readings continually along the way. These show me an exposure range from which I can determine a median setting.

5. Stitch it together.

I stitch the panoramas manually in Adobe Photoshop by dragging and aligning all the images in a single canvas sized to the approximate pixel dimensions of the final version, which equals roughly the dimension of a single frame times the number of component frames. I then use Layer Masks to blend the overlapping areas into a seamless whole. The Photomerge tool also does a really nice job.

Ready to try? Practice making a few before you shoot a panorama that you care about. Lots can go wrong, and it's better to learn how to do it using throw-away scenes than landscapes that really speak to you.

Greg Miller teaches workshops on panoramic photography in and around his Hudson Valley, NY, home. For more of his work, visit www.gregmillerphotography.com.

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