Panoramic photos are everywhere now. The technology has improved so much that not only is it easier to take, but the results look much better in the end. Gone are the ugly dark lines in the sky from stitching shots together it’s all done in one seamless motion. Sony pioneered this technology several years ago, trademarking the term "Sweep Panorama" for their service. Since then, all the other manufacturers have come up with similar functions, panorama mode even comes standard with the iOS from Apple for newer iPhone models. You just push a button, pan the scene, and voila!
I recently traveled to Australia and New Zealand where I had the opportunity to use this function on my iPhone 4s MANY times. In fact, I was in love with it. I took so many panoramas that I quickly filled up all the space on my phone!
With all this practice, I learned a few tricks about how to take a great panorama, so here are a few tips…
1. Watch for moving subjects. On a busy street scene, people are bound to walk through your photo. This can have strange effect like adding or subtracting limbs, creating ghosts and more. The further they are from you the better it will turn out. Try to keep the movement in the distance or shoot in a moment where you are panning ahead of the crowd or in a lull. You can also have fun with this have a friend stand towards the left of you right where you start the shot. As soon as you move away from them, they can run around behind your back to stand in a spot on the right where you will finish the shot. "Hey, do you have an identical twin??"
In this shot from Bondi Beach in Sydney, people were constantly walking up and down the sand and running to the water. When I started the shot, I made sure no one was in my immediate vicinity, and the people closest to me were momentarily standing still chatting.
Federation Square in Melbourne is always packed with people on a weekend, and it can be a nightmare for getting the perfect panorama! Fortunately a street performer had the attention of most visitors so most of them were sitting still. On very close inspection, some of the people walking on the left side have a few too many hands and legs but they aren’t in a position of attention so as to distract from the image.
2. Speed is critical. The iPhone is constantly telling me to "Slow Down" so you have to take it nice and easy. This also helps for balancing the phone and keeping it level which will avoid jagged edges or missed spots on the top and bottom. However, many digital cameras with this function will stop shooting the pano if you aren’t moving fast enough. Be sure to practice a few times with your device to get a feel for it. Better to do it in the privacy of your own home before you stop at the photo-op with your entire tour group rushing you along.
Here is a Maori woodcarving workshop in New Zealand. By taking this shot slowly I was able to keep the scene mostly level with no jagged edges to interfere with the architecture. Since the lighting was not as bright indoors the slow speed also helped keep the exposure even and picture crisp and sharp.
3. Crop selectively. You can create an extremely long and narrow panorama, but you can also choose to cut it short. Just because the arrow keeps going doesn’t mean you have to. Rather than mess with cropping later, frame your shot in camera. Don’t start with the nose of the person standing next to you, and push the stop button when you get to the end of the scene not the end of your reach or your camera.
Big sweeping landscapes like this view of the Pacific Ocean from the North Island of New Zealand can be enticing and make you want to shoot the longest panorama. In this case, I used the hills on either side of me to frame the shot and shorten the length focusing on the two sides of the ocean visible.
The Tablelands in Queensland, Australia also make beautiful long panoramas. In this case, I chose to shorten the scene by using the edge of the fence stop it and have that shape mimic the arch of the tree covered hill on the left. The shadow from the tree and the branches above provide a nice frame for the height of the image, drawing your eye into the expansive landscape in the center without making an overall narrow shot.
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