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Perfecting the Panorama

You’re standing in front of a mountain range, speechless at the sight of Mother Nature’s immense beauty. You want to encapsulate that exact, heart thumping feeling of standing face-to-face with such splendour, to create a picture you can revisit whenever you want. A panorama is what you need. Panoramas are a great way to add variety to your shots, on top of other videos and landscape compositions. Letting your eyes roam freely across a wide panoramic shot allows you to instantly experience that exact time and place.

Planning a panorama

A panorama is a wide format shot that exceeds 1:2 height to width ratio. In simple terms, this is a long photo that provides a wider field of view. To create a panorama, you must capture multiple shots that can be stitched together in a cohesive manner.

The very first technique you want to practice is the controlled panning movement. Think of yourself as a tripod, with your legs being the poles of the tripod. Keep your elbows close to your body to avoid it being accidentally nudged by those around you and rotate only the upper part of your body. Slowly, move from left to right and snap pictures as you go.

While in the field, it is quite tricky to line up every image just by pure estimation. Remember where your centre point is in your first image, then pan so that that point rests on the edge of your next image. Doing this will allow you to not miss out any of the scene and ensure a seamless final shot. Try shooting both vertically and horizontally to play around with your range of view and see which orientation suits your composition best.

Wide angle shot ≠ Wide angle lens

It is a common misconception that the focal length of a lens doesn’t matter. But in most cases, and for panoramic shots especially, the focal length of a lens does result in different perspectives and angle of view. Most people might think that using a wide-angle lens is best for a panoramic shot, when the opposite is true. Using a wide-angle lens dramatically influences the persepectives of the picture, compressing certain aspects of your composition. Additionally, using a wide-angle lens often has a vignetting effect, which would make it harder to stitch photos together during post-processing. In a normal situation when you’re not taking a panorama, you would want to use a wide angle to fit the whole scene in one photo. But if you need more reach to take in more details, choose a longer focal length. And of course, prime lenses are best for consistency as you won’t have to worry about the lens shifting into a different zoom range with every movement.

Achieving balance and stability

Granted, maintaining a stable and level hand is hard, especially if you’re in the wild, as a gust of wind could hit you at any second pushing you off balance, or you might be distracted by other people around you. These unpredictable elements will make it difficult to stitch everything together in post-processing. For stability, use a tripod on a firm surface. You’ll be able to freely pan the camera from one side to another without changing the angles too drastically. For even more consistency, opt for a panoramic tripod head which allows for circular movement, allowing you to easily achieve the no-parallax point of your camera. Merely eyeing the stability and level of your camera might not be accurate enough, so bring along a spirit level to keep your panning level steady. Most Nikon cameras have built-in virtual level indicators, making it extra convenient to level your images outdoors as you won’t need an additional leveller.

Consistency is key

Up till now, we’ve been talking about the manual technique of capturing panoramic shots that enables you to achieve a sharp final image. There are a multitude of ways that you can make the process much easier for yourself. First of all, stay in manual mode to get a consistent exposure. Taking a series of shots for a panoramic photo on auto will inevitably vary your exposure settings and tone of your images as you move, as you will often find one part of the landscape will be brighter than other parts. You want your final image to look exactly the way you see it in person, so fix your exposure by setting your camera to a middle aperture — f/8 or higher — in order to put all your foreground elements into perfect focus and achieve maximum sharpness. In the same vein, keep your focus on manual and be careful to not bump into the focus ring as you pan.

Whether it’s a natural landscape or a jaw-dropping cityscape, take all these tips into account and you’ll be able to take those views back home with you! Capture every magnificent scene as you see it with the help of a panorama, and feel rest assured you’ll be able to relive that spectacular heart swelling moment again.