Washington Monument

Turn Any Lens Into a Wide Angle Using Stitched Panoramas by Todd Henson

You’re walking around town and you’ve only brought a 50 mm lens. You know this can limit what you photograph, and that can be a good thing, forcing you to think more creatively.

Then you stumble across a great scene that is just too expansive to capture with 50 mm. You don’t have a wide angle lens with you. You can’t move back enough to get everything in the frame. What do you do? Move on, accepting your limitation? Maybe. But perhaps better still is to think more creatively and realize you can use your 50 mm lens to create a stitched panorama of the wide angle scene.

If you’re unfamiliar with stitched panoramas, the idea is to create multiple images, each overlapping the next. When you get home you can use software, such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or others, to merge all the images together into a finished photograph that captures more of the scene than a single image at that focal length could.

Handheld Stitched Pano Using 3 Images

3 Image stitched panorama of the Washington Monument.

Washington, DC is full of subjects worth photographing. One of these is the Washington Monument on the National Mall. In this case you may be able to move back enough to capture the wider view, but perhaps doing so would alter the perspective too much. If so, try creating a stitched pano as I’ve done here.

The 3 photos that were combined into the final stitched panorama.

You can see in the sample photos I created 3 vertical images. Look closely and you can see each image overlaps a bit with the next image. This is important to give the software enough information to properly stitch them together.

The 3 images in Adobe Lightroom.

I imported the images into Adobe Lightroom and selected all 3. I right-clicked to bring up the menu and chose Photo Merge. From within this I selected Panorama.

Panorama Merge Preview window in Adobe Lightroom.

This brought up the Panorama Merge Preview window, where Lightroom shows a preview of the stitched photo. The first thing you’ll want to do is choose which Projection to use: Spherical, Cylindrical, or Perspective. I won’t get into technical details here because it’s easy to just click on each one and see what effect they have on your photo. I most often use the default Projection Lightroom chooses, but sometimes I find a different one works better.

After you’ve chosen a Projection, notice how there is some white space around the edges of the photo. This is because I was handholding the camera and didn’t perfectly line everything up. This can also happen when using a tripod, but it will happen more often when you handhold. It’s not a problem, though.

Lightroom’s Boundary Warp control set to the full amount.

Notice the Boundary Warp control. It starts off with a value of 0, meaning no boundary warp. If you slide the control towards the right you will see the image begin to warp, removing the white space. Effectively, Lightroom is stretching parts of the photo to make it fit into the image space without the white space. This can distort parts of the photograph, but that’s not a problem with some photographs, those without a lot of straight lines or objects where you’d notice the change.

Lightroom’s Auto Crop option.

If you don’t want to use Boundary Warp because of how it distorts your image, you will need to crop the image to remove the excess white space. Lightroom has a checkbox called Auto Crop that will perform the crop for you. Just check the box and it automatically crops the image. Of course, you can always leave this box unchecked and manually crop the image yourself later.

When you’re finished click the Merge button, then sit back and wait for Lightroom to merge all the photographs into a single image. Once this is done you can make adjustments to the image as you usually do, adjusting exposure, color balance, contrast, and what not. Lightroom makes this entire process very easy.

Handheld Stitched Pano Using 4 Images

4 Image stitched panorama of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In this example I created a 4 image panorama using the same steps mentioned above. However, this scene included moving cars. I present it here to show what you may see from Lightroom when there is something moving in your scene. Note, there are more advanced techniques to take care of these things, but I want to present just the basics, to show how quickly and easily you can create your own panos

The 4 photos that were combined into the final stitched panorama. Notice the locations of the cars, some of which move from frame to frame.

In this scene there were a couple vehicles close to me that were moving, which appeared in multiple frames. There was also a red taxi in the background that moved from frame to frame. I used default settings in Lightroom and it produced the final image you saw above. Notice how it chose only one version of the foreground cars, but it actually shows 2 versions of the red taxi. We see the same car twice in the final image.

So be aware of moving objects. They can complicate creating a stitched pano, unless you’re ok with how the software chooses what to show, or you use more advanced techniques/software to manually decide what to show.

Handheld Multi-level Stitched Pano Using 6 Images

6 Image multi-level stitched panorama of the Smithsonian Castle.

In the 2 examples above I held the camera vertically to create a longer horizontal image. In this example I want to show that you can also create multi-level panos. In this case I chose to hold the camera horizontally, but you could also hold it vertically.

The 6 photos that were combined into the final stitched panorama. Lightroom is capable of handling multiple levels when creating a larger panorama. Notice some are even titled, as I was hand holding.

I started by taking a photograph of the upper left of the Smithsonian Castle. Then I panned to the right to photograph the upper middle of the building, and finally the upper right, each time overlapping some with the previous image. Then I moved the camera back to where I started on the left, but photographed the lower left of the building being sure to overlap some with the portion I’d photographed above. Then I panned to the right to photograph the lower middle, and finally the lower right. This created 6 images.

Please note, this isn’t a great photograph. It wasn’t the right time of day to photograph this scene, as the sun was above and behind this scene, which washed out the sky. But I wanted to capture the scene, and I wasn’t going to be there at a good time, so I did the best I could with the gear and skills I had at the time.

Once again, I imported everything into Lightroom, selected the 6 photos, worked through the options on the Panorama Merge Preview window, then made my usual adjustments after Lightroom had created the stitched pano. As you can see in the final image, the sky is still washed out, but I’m pleased I was able to capture the entirety of the building, something I just couldn’t do with my 56 mm lens.

In The Field

Ok, so hopefully I’ve convinced you stitched panos can be another great tool in your bag. If so it’s time to get out there and try creating some of your own. But before you do, here are some tips to make your life, and Lightroom’s, a little easier.

  • Take all of your camera’s exposure settings out of auto. Manually choose the white balance, aperture and shutter speed. The reason is you don’t want these settings changing from frame to frame, something that would make it more difficult to merge them into a single photo.

  • Set the camera to manual focus mode and focus on whatever is most important to you. The key is you don’t want the camera autofocusing on each frame as it can result in different things being in focus in different frames, which can make stitching more difficult.

  • If it’s a very wide scene you may have to compromise on your exposure settings. One side of the scene may be much darker than another side. In that case expose for the part of the scene that is most important to you, generally something in the middle range, and let the rest fall where it may.

  • Use a tripod if you have it. This will make it easier to line things up and keep the camera steady, reducing the amount you have to crop out later.

  • Use a bubble level if you have it, or a digital level in the camera if yours has one. This will help you keep things level and lined up.

  • If you don’t have a tripod, don’t worry. You can still hand hold your camera. All the photos in this post were handheld. Try to hold your camera as steady as you can. Face the middle of the scene, then pivot your body towards the left. Steady yourself. Line it up as well as you can. Create your first image. Then slowly pivot your body towards the right, making sure the next image overlaps the previous image by a decent amount. Stop moving, steady yourself, take the next image. Keep repeating this, pivoting towards the right between each image. Always be sure to steady yourself before clicking the shutter button. You don’t want your movement to create a blurry image.

That’s the basics of what you need to know. You can use almost any kind of camera to do this. In fact, many cell phones have apps that will automatically create a longer pano image as you pan the phone across the scene.

So head out there and give it a try. Let me know how it goes, and pass on any tips you have.


Cherry Blossom Crowds 2019 - Washington, DC by Todd Henson

Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Crowds along the Tidal Basin

Early each spring large crowds of people travel into Washington, DC hoping to see the cherry blossoms framing the Tidal Basin and scattered in many other areas around the capital. Some years and certain days of the week or times of day are more crowded than others, but if it’s cherry blossom season it’s a good bet there will be crowds of some size anytime you visit.

This year (2019) my brother and I visited DC on Saturday, March 30th, with peak bloom predicted to be April 1st. We took the first Metro into town, which arrived sometime around 8 am. This isn’t early from many a photographer’s perspective, but it is early as far as most folks are concerned. You will still find crowds at that time, but they will be smaller than those around noontime.

Washington Monument Cherry Blossom Crowds

The photos in this post give an example of how the crowds might look at different locations around the Tidal Basin. It was a clear day with no rain forecast, so there was nothing to keep people away, except perhaps for the Kite Festival on the Mall. I heard the crowds on the following weekend (April 6-7) were larger than those we saw.

This year there were several sections of grass that were fenced in, keeping people to the paved path around the Tidal Basin. I assume this was to let the grass regrow in these areas, as it can get rather trampled with all the foot traffic. Other areas were open, letting people wander under the trees.

Some of the monuments, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, have large open areas where people can gather. The FDR Memorial doesn’t have as many large open spaces but has lots of small to medium spaces.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Cherry Blossom Crowds

Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge Cherry Blossom Crowds

It was nearing noon when we made it to the Jefferson Memorial, a favorite of the crowds. Its large extended steps are perfect places to sit and rest for a bit, watching the paddle boats out on the Tidal Basin. But the inside also draws large crowds. I’m not one for crowds, but these places are well worth visiting if you never have.

Cherry Blossom Crowds on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial

Cherry Blossom Crowds inside the Jefferson Memorial

Looking out at the Cherry Blossom crowds from the Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial Cherry Blossom Crowds

When leaving town just after noon it takes far more time to walk from the Tidal Basin back to a Metro stop than it does to walk from the stop to the Tidal Basin earlier in the morning. You’re stuck walking the speed of the general crowds, which always bunch up around crosswalks. I really feel for those crossing guards, having to manage so many people and vehicles all vying for the same space.

Cherry Blossom crowds while leaving Washington, DC

I hope this post has given you a realistic look at the crowds you might expect if heading into Washington, DC on a cherry blossom weekend. It may be more or less crowded when you arrive, but you should certainly expect some crowds. So give yourself time, bring along some water and a snack, and have patience. You’ll run into people of all sorts, but overall I’ve always found the majority of the crowds to be pleasant and polite. They’re typically there for the same reasons you are. So head into DC and enjoy your stay.


Autumn Cherry Trees, Washington, D.C. by Todd Henson

Cherry trees along the Tidal Basin during autumn, with the Washington Monument in the background. Washington, D.C.

This is an image I created a number of years ago during early November, when the leaves on the cherry trees in Washington, D.C. change color. These trees are most visited during spring when they are full of beautiful cherry blossoms, but as you can see they are also beautiful in autumn.

The Washington Monument is visible in the center of the image, and the water is known as the Tidal Basin, around which are several other monuments. I was fortunate to photograph a jogger under the trees to the left.

Looking at the image now, years after creating it, I can see things I would do differently. If I could go back I would try to frame the image a little more to the left, showing more of the closest tree handing over the water, which would also move the Washington Monument out of the center and more to the right. I think that might make for a stronger composition.

It’s good to learn from your older photos. Study them. Decide whether or not they work. If they do work do you know why? Can you use this to create more images that work? If they don’t work, why not? How could you improve them? What would you do differently?

Keep these lessons in mind next time you go out shooting and look for ways to apply them. Learn from your past work and keep growing as a photographer. And never forget to keep having fun!

Autumn Cherry Trees is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.



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