How to line up shots for stitched panoramic images

Anthony-Lakes-chair-lift

I like to carry a simple point-and-shoot Canon S900 pocket camera. It is convenient for capturing of-the-moment photos, but it produces a frustrating lack of detail when I am faced with large panoramic nature scenes.

Adobe Photoshop CC and other programs now have very advanced image stitching and photo merging capabilities. Here I will show you how to frame up your shots for the best possible stitched results. Of course, you can make much better quality images with good camera and a tripod, but this method is to make the most of hand-held pocket cameras.


Four techniques:

Panorama-Instructions-01Standing at the side of the highway, with my camera zoomed all of the way out, this is what I see through the lens. The aspect ratio is 4:3, and the resolution is 4000×3000 px.

While this is very nice looking, I would like to create an image of much greater detail, that shows the grand, looming presence of the mountains that I experienced with my naked eye.

All four examples are taken from one spot on the side of the road.


Example 1:
Zoomed-in landscape pan

PROS: My favorite. High resolution and low distortion. CONS: May need to zoom out for better composition and context.

Panorama-Instructions-02 1A. Holding your camera in landscape mode, zoom in to your subject, and choose a frame that includes all of the foreground and sky that you need for your final composition.

Panorama-Instructions-03 1B. Start panning across horizontally. Move your frame about one-third each time. You will need the overlap to make up for lens distortion and vignetting.

Panorama-Instructions-04 1C. Continue panning across until you have all the shots you need for your composition. Be careful to keep a point of reference, like the horizon, to make sure you shoot straight.

Panorama-Instructions-05 1D. Here are the actual photos. It took ten images to pan across the mountain range. Note the natural, in-lens vignetting. This should be removed in the stitching process. You are now ready to stitch photos in your graphics program.

Elkhorns-Pano-123114 1E. RESULTS: 10 images, zoomed-in, landscape orientation 15274×2996

Download the ZIP of ten images below to stitch your own panorama together.

zip-file-icon-49x64 01-Nelsdrums-Zoomed-In-Landscape-10.zip (31 mb)


Example 2:
Zoomed-in portrait pan

PROS: Highest resolution, least distortion. CONS: Difficult to line up shots. Can be time consuming when stitching.

Panorama-Instructions-06 2A. Holding your camera in portrait mode, zoom in to your subject, and choose a frame that includes all of the foreground and sky that you need for a final composition.

Panorama-Instructions-07 2B. Start panning across horizontally. Move your frame about one-third each time. You will need the overlap to make up for lens distortion and vignetting.

Panorama-Instructions-08 2C. Continue panning across until you have all the shots you need for your composition. Be careful to keep a point of reference, like the horizon, to make sure you shoot straight.

Panorama-Instructions-09 2D. Here are the actual photos. It took fifteen images to pan across the mountain range. Note the natural, in-lens vignetting. This should be removed in the stitching process. You are now ready to stitch photos in your graphics program.

Elkhorn-Mountains-Pano-Tight-123114 2E. RESULTS: 15 images, zoomed-in, portrait orientation (B) 24128×4686

Download the ZIP of fifteen images below to stitch your own panorama together.
zip-file-icon-49x64 02-Nelsdrums-Zoomed-In-Portrait-15.zip (55 mb)


Example 3:
Zoomed-out pan

PROS: Uses the least shots, very fast to shoot, shows more context. CONS: Most radically distorted pixels, hardest to stitch together in proper perspective, lowest resolution.

Panorama-Instructions-10 3A. Here I have zoomed all of the way out, and will shoot overlapping images from left to right.

Panorama-Instructions-11 3B. Move your camera about one-half of the frame at a time. Note how the perspective changes drastically with the addition of near-field foreground elements.

Panorama-Instructions-12 3C. The more images you shoot zoomed-out, the more distorted your final stitched image will be. Try not to go over 120 degrees. You are now ready to stitch photos in your graphics program.

Elkhorns-3-Images-Stitched-Perspective-1231 3D. RESULTS: 3 images, zoomed-out, landscape orientation 9588×3050

Download the ZIP of three images below to stitch your own panorama together.

zip-file-icon-49x64 03-Nelsdrums-Zoomed-Out-Landscape-3.zip (9 mb)


Example 4:
Multi-row zoomed-in pan

PROS: Possibility of making massive, detailed images. CONS: Most difficult to shoot properly, more chances for stitching errors.

If your graphics program supports it, you can actually stitch a whole grid of images together. To do this, you will need a good eye and points of reference in the viewfinder to line up the shots properly.

Panorama-Instructions-13 4A. Here we have the 3 stitched images. They are fairly low resolution. To recreate this in high resolution, you need to shoot additional rows of images.

Panorama-Instructions-14 4B. Find a good reference point, zoom-in and shoot across horizontally like I have described above. Give yourself plenty of overlap.

Panorama-Instructions-15 4C. Continue across until you have all you need for the composition, then move down for the second row.

Panorama-Instructions-16 4D. Create a second row from your previous reference point. Continue until you have an equal amount of second row images. Add additional rows as needed. You are now ready to stitch photos in your graphics program.

Elkhorns-3-Images-Stitched-Perspective-1231 4E. RESULTS: 12 images, zoomed-in, landscape orientation 38352×12200

Using the methods described here, I was able to make all of the panoramic images on this site using only a small, handheld point-and-shoot camera. Let me know how it works out for you.

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1 Comment

  1. After these instructions, I feel confident in planning my next panoramas. Many Thanks!

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