Making Cloud Panoramas

cloud panorama

Cloudscapes show the beauty of clouds in the sky. Sometimes clouds can take unusual shapes or colors and sometimes they are just beautiful against the blue sky. A panoramic format can be  a good tool to show the sky because to our eyes it will look more natural. When looking at a cloudscape our eyes tend to scan the sky from left to right and back and that makes a panoramic format a perfect representation of what we saw that day.
cloud panorama
The Move

There are some technical issues to solve if we want to make a cloud panorama. The biggest problem is the movement of the clouds across the sky. To minimize the problems the recommendation is to shoot in the same direction as the clouds are moving. If the clouds move left to right start at the left and take the shots moving the camera to the right. Try to use a high shutter speed to freeze movement,specially if the clouds are moving fast. Shoot the camera in vertical position and take 5 to 7 images as fast as possible with an overall of about 40% to 50% between photos. This is “the move”
cloud panorama
The Trick

Even with a lot of care it will be difficult to assemble the panorama using stitching software. This happens for several reasons. One problem is that clouds shape-shift a lot and the software will have a big problem recognizing similar features between two photos. A second problem is that clouds tend to be soft and lack sharp borders or contrast features that can be used as control points to stitch the panorama. The solution is what I call “the trick”. Include a thin strip of ground at the bottom of your shots and use ground features to assemble the panorama. Ground features have the right contrast and don’t move so you will be able to stitch the panorama almost automatically.
cloud panorama
To stitch the shots load them into Hugin (free), PtGUI pro or your preferred stitching software, proceed in automatic mode and then examine control points and remove all the control points from the sky leaving only ground features. In Hugin there’s a button to do that known as “Celestia”. After removing the bad points you may need to add a few of them if there are no points between two images. With the 40% or 50% overlap this process should be fairly easy.
cloud panorama
Once you have the stitched photo just crop the ground features and you have your cloud panorama. Magic! The result will look good because even if the stitching in the sky is far fro perfect it will be difficult or impossible to notice errors. The clouds are soft and they shape-shift so the result will be completely natural.
cloud panorama
If you are lucky to get a nice display in your sky but the view is too wide for a single shot you can just create a panorama. It’s easy and the results look really good in print. You just need to find a nice place to hang them.

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Ellen Fisch

Lovely photographs! Great tips for cloud panoramas!

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