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Shooting Panoramas

If you have ever visited the Grand Canyon, you know just how large and wide open it truly is—so much so that it would be difficult to capture its splendor in just one frame. The same can be said for a mountain range or a cityscape or any extremely wide vista. There are two methods you can use to capture the feeling of this type of scene.

Sweep Panorama mode

Sony a7-series cameras include a panorama mode, and even through it takes a bit of control away from you during shooting, it serves as a great way to preview what your multiple-image panorama might look like. Depending on how well the camera stitches the shots together, the resulting panorama might just be the one you like most. In a context with enough light, the sweep panorama also allows you to forgo the tripod because it provides you a visual guide on the LCD to follow while you are shooting. Simply turn the Mode dial to Sweep Panorama (the icon that looks like a concave rectangle), turn the Control dial to indicate which direction you want to pan, and while holding the shutter button down, pan the camera using the guide. The camera will then stitch all of the individual images together into one final image. This is not the method I prefer to use to shoot panoramas, but it is useful for previewing panoramas and for those in need of a quick shot.

The multiple-image panorama

To shoot a true panorama, you need to use either a special panorama camera that shoots a very wide frame, or the following method, which requires the combining of multiple frames.

The multiple-image panorama has gained in popularity in the past few years; this is principally because of advances in image-processing software. Many software options are available now that will take multiple images, align them, and then “stitch” them into a single panoramic image. The real key to shooting a multiple-image pano is to overlap your shots by about 30 percent from one frame to the next (Figures 8.21 and 8.22).

Figure 8.21

Figure 8.21 Here you see the makings of a panorama, with ten shots overlapping by about 30 percent from frame to frame.

ISO 100 • 1/100 sec. • f/11 • 24–70mm lens at 50mm

Figure 8.22

Figure 8.22 I used Adobe Photoshop to combine all of the exposures into one large panorama that spans from coast to coast across Fiji’s Waya Island.

It is possible to handhold the camera while capturing your images, but the best method for capturing great panoramic images is to use a tripod.

Shooting properly for a multiple-image panorama

  1. Mount your camera on your tripod and make sure it is level.
  2. Choose a focal length for your lens that is, ideally, somewhere from 35mm to 50mm. (I used a 50mm in Figure 8.21, which worked well, but a focal length similar to the perspective of the human eye is appropriate in most cases.)
  3. In Aperture Priority (A) mode, use a very small aperture for the greatest depth of field. Take a meter reading of a bright part of the scene, and make note of it.
  4. Now change your camera to Manual (M) mode, and dial in the aperture and shutter speed that you obtained in the previous step.
  5. Set your lens to manual focus, and then focus your lens for the area of interest using the HFD method of finding a point one-third of the way into the scene. (If you use the autofocus, you risk getting different points of focus from image to image, which will make the image-stitching more difficult for the software.)
  6. While carefully panning your camera, shoot your images to cover the entire area of the scene from one end to the other, leaving a 30 percent overlap from one frame to the next.

Now that you have your series of overlapping images, you can import them into your image-processing software to stitch them together and create a single panoramic image.

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