10 Keys for Shooting Handheld Panoramas

Panoramas are a good way to show a scene that you can’t fit in your widest lens and they are also a good resource to create high resolution images that can be printed in big sizes. You don’t need special equipment to shoot a panorama, even a P&S camera can create a nice super-resolution image. Here are some tips to make sure your pano will be a success.

The Museum

The Museum

1. Level, Level, Level

The most critical part is to make sure you are shooting level, try to use the horizon or something in the scene and put that at exactly the same position in each frame. Shoot in portrait orientation to maximize the vertical height of the pano.

2. Avoid near/far objects

Avoid objects that are very close to the camera as they can create parallax errors in the final pano. Focal lengths of 50mm or more and a distant scene usually means a very successful handheld panorama.

3. Setup the camera for the pano

Shoot RAW, make sure the White balance is the same for all shots (don’t use Auto!), use constant aperture and shutter speed and make sure you don’t have a polarizer attached to your lens (to avoid uneven polarization in the sky)

4. Overlap frames

Make sure there is a 25% to 30% overlap between frames, that will make the job of the stitching program easier, you have to shoot more frames but that’s not a problem.

5. Shoot Fast

Shoot as fast as you can and if there is movement in the scene shoot in the direction of the movement (clouds, people, cars are objects to consider)

6. Consider problematic subjects

If there are important subjects in the pano such as people, trees or other objects try to make sure you have them complete in one of the frames. Then if something goes wrong when stitching you can always use that frame in the post-processing stage to make sure the subject looks good. If it’s good in one frame it’s good in the pano!

7. Shoot Twice

Shoot the pano twice, for example left to right and right to left. If something moves or goes very wrong in one pano you have the frames from the 2nd pass to correct the problems. Waves at the beach and other bodies of water are a typical example. Take a dark frame covering the lens with your hand to mark the beginning and end of a pano so you can recognize the frames when you download the pano to your computer.

8. Develop your frames

Convert the RAW files to Tiff files (16 bits is better) using your favorite RAW processor making sure you use exactly the same parameters for each frame.

9. Stitch your work

Stitch your frames with programs such as PtGUI Pro, Hugin or PtAssembler. With a good overlap and a little luck they should be able to automatically create the panorama.

10. Processing the pano

After stitching make sure there are no forgotten parts at the borders, crop as needed, adjust sharpness and contrast.

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