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Advanced Techniques to Explore with Your Canon EOS 7D Mark II: Panoramas and HDR Images

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Panoramas and high dynamic range (HDR) images require you to use image-processing software to complete the photograph. They are, however, important enough that you should know how to correctly shoot for success, should you choose to explore these two popular techniques, as Jeff Revell explains in this excerpt from Canon EOS 7D Mark II: From Snapshots to Great Shots.
This chapter is from the book

This section comes with a warning attached. All of the techniques and topics up to this point have been centered on your camera. The following two sections, covering panoramas and high dynamic range (HDR) images, require you to use image-processing software to complete the photograph. They are, however, important enough that you should know how to correctly shoot for success, should you choose to explore these two popular techniques.

Shooting panoramas

If you have 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 that you can use to capture the feeling of this type of scene.

The “fake” panorama

The first method is to shoot as wide as you can, and then crop out the top and bottom portions of the frame (Figure 10.1 and Figure 10.2). Panoramic images are generally two or three times wider than a normal image.

Figure 10.1

Figure 10.1 The clouds and the choppy water detract from the windmills and are somewhat distracting.

ISO 400 • 1/500 sec. • f/8 • 40mm lens

Figure 10.2

Figure 10.2 Cropping adds more impact and makes for a more appealing image.

Creating a fake panorama

  1. To create the look of the panorama, find your widest lens focal length. If you’re using the kit lens that came with the 7D Mark II, it would be the 18mm setting on the 18–55mm kit lens.
  2. Compose and focus your scene and select the smallest aperture possible.
  3. Shoot your image. That’s all there is to it from a photography standpoint.
  4. Then, open the image in your favorite image-processing software and crop the extraneous foreground and sky from the image, leaving you with a wide panorama of the scene.

As you can see, the image was shot with a lot of headroom, which includes a large portion of the clouds. It looked like a good crop at the time, but after opening the image in my post-processing software, I had second thoughts about it. I used the crop tool to take off the top two-thirds of the frame and a little bit of the water and came up with a panorama that is much more dynamic and visually interesting.

The multiple-image panorama

The previous method is sometimes referred to as a “fake” panorama because it is made with a standard-size frame, and then cropped down to a narrow perspective. 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 pano has gained in popularity in the past few years; this is principally due to 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 key to shooting a multiple-image pano is to overlap your shots by about 30 percent from one frame to the next (Figure 10.3 and Figure 10.4).

Figure 10.3

Figure 10.3 Here you see the makings of a panorama, with four shots overlapping by about 30 percent from frame to frame.

ISO 400 • 1/125 sec. • f/14 • 24mm lens

Figure 10.4

Figure 10.4 I used Adobe Photoshop to combine all of the exposures into one large panoramic image.

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.

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.

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 between 35mm and 50mm. (I used an 18mm here, which worked well, but a wide-angle lens can distort the edges, making it harder to stitch together.)
  3. In Av 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. Change your camera to Manual mode (M), 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.) If you want to use the autofocus to set your initial point of focus, just remember to set the lens to Manual Focus (MF) before shooting your images.
  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.

Shooting high dynamic range (HDR) images

One of the more recent trends in photography is the use of high dynamic range (HDR) to capture the full range of tonal values in your final image. Typically, when you photograph a scene that has a wide range of tones from dark shadows to bright highlights, you have to decide which tonal values you are going to emphasize, and then adjust your exposure accordingly. This is because your camera has a limited dynamic range, at least as compared to the human eye. HDR photography allows you to capture multiple exposures for the highlights, shadows, and midtones, and then combine them into a single image (Figures 10.5 through 10.8). Not long ago you would have needed a software application to combine all of the images together and map the different tones into an acceptable range, but not with the 7D Mark II. This is the first camera produced by Canon that actually does all the work for you, along with providing some artistic choices for the final image.

Figure 10.5

Figure 10.5 Underexposing two stops will render more detail in the highlight areas of the clouds and sky.

ISO 100 • 1/4000 sec. • f/5.6 • 18mm lens

Figure 10.6

Figure 10.6 This is the normal exposure as dictated by the camera meter.

ISO 100 • 1/1000 sec. • f/5.6 • 18mm lens

Figure 10.7

Figure 10.7 Overexposing by two stops ensures that the darker areas are exposed to get detail in the shadows.

ISO 100 • 1/250 sec. • f/5.6 • 18mm lens

Figure 10.8

Figure 10.8 This is the final HDR image that was rendered from the three other exposures you see here.

Setting up for shooting an HDR image

  1. Set your ISO to 100, if possible, to ensure clean, noise-free images.
  2. Set your program mode to Av. During the shooting process, you will be taking three shots of the same scene, creating an overexposed image, an underexposed image, and a normal exposure. The camera is going to be adjusting the exposure by using the shutter speed, not the aperture, so that your depth of field is consistent. (Even if the camera is set to Tv mode, the camera will still make shutter speed adjustments when using the HDR option.)
  3. Set your camera file format to JPEG or RAW+JPEG. The camera will produce a JPEG file as the completed HDR image, but you can choose to save the source files, so having the RAW files could come in handy.
  4. Press the Creative Photo button on the back of the camera, and then use the Quick Control dial to navigate to the HDR option, and press Set (A).

    a.jpg
  5. Go to the Adjust Dyn Range option, and press Set (B).

    b.jpg
  6. Select the amount of dynamic range you want to cover, from Auto to + and – 3 stops. I prefer to use the 2EV option, which provides 2 stops of over, 2 stops of under, as well as a normal exposure (C).

    c.jpg
  7. The next step is to select how much effect you want applied to your image. The default effect is Natural, but if you would like something a bit more artistic, highlight this option, and then press Set (D).

    d.jpg
  8. There are five different effects that you can apply to your final image, and I suggest that you give them all a try to see which one is best for your subject. My preference is the Art Vivid setting, which adds vibrancy and sharpness to the final image (E).

    e.jpg

There are also options for Continuous HDR that let you choose between doing one HDR image or continuously shooting HDR images until you turn off the feature; an Auto Image Align feature that you can turn off if you have your camera on a tripod; and a Save Source Imgs option that lets you keep all the source images along with the final HDR or just the HDR image alone. These options can all be changed later as you decide how you would like your HDR workflow to operate.

Once you are happy with your choices, you can lightly press the shutter release button to return to shooting mode. You should see an HDR indication in the rear and top LCD screens. Now simply compose your shot and press the shutter release button. The camera will take three successive photographs, and then create the final HDR image based on your settings. It might take a little time before you see the final image on the rear screen.

To get the best HDR results, be sure that you are using an aperture that will let you handhold the camera steady for all three exposures. For the best results, you might want to consider using a tripod or putting your camera on a steady surface to get the best alignment for your images. If your final image is too light or dark, try using some Exposure Compensation.

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