panorama

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.


First Attempts at Photographing Action Sequence Panoramas by Todd Henson

A 4 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of an 11 megapixel image.

After watching and photographing world class kayakers paddling Great Falls on the Potomac River I wondered if I could assemble any of the images I’d created into a single action sequence image, showing the athlete at various positions all in the same photograph. I hadn’t exactly shot with this end goal in mind, so I wasn’t sure if it would work.

If I had planned for it I might have used a wider angle lens and locked the camera down on the tripod. I would have used a small enough aperture to capture the entire course in focus. Then I would have simply clicked the shutter every so often as the athlete maneuvered downriver. I could have merged these into a single image in Photoshop with minimal difficulty because each image would be of the same part of the scene and the only change from image to image would be the moving subject.

But I didn’t plan ahead this time. I didn’t use a wide angle lens. And I didn’t lock my camera down on the tripod. I used a long telephoto with a large aperture and panned with the kayak. This meant I wasn’t going to create the standard sort of action sequence, but instead an action sequence panorama, where the camera moves between images.

The images below were used to create the stitched action sequence panorama above:

George Lepp wrote a great article about this in 2011 at Outdoor Photographer magazine. It might have been nice if I’d read this article first, but that’s why I’m sharing it with you, in case you want to give this a try. Keep in mind this is an older article so the current version of Photoshop may include features that make this process easier that the method mentioned in the article.

As you can see in Lepp’s article the panoramas he creates show his subjects moving parallel to him. That means the depth of field stays consistent so he can use a large aperture and still easily merge the photos in Photoshop.

A 5 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of a 19 megapixel image.

Unfortunately, in my case the subject was moving towards me. This caused problems with depth of field when stitching the photos together. The shallow depth of field shifted towards me as I followed the kayaker. I think there are likely ways to make this work in Photoshop.

An 8 scene action sequence panorama. This is the equivalent of a 37 megapixel image.

Another issue I ran into due to my lack of planning was not knowing if I had enough of the course captured in the images to create a larger multi-frame panorama of the scene. And as it turned out, in at least one of these sequences I hadn’t captured enough. So I tried using Photoshop’s Content Aware features to manufacture the missing pieces. It did a reasonable job in some cases and a not-so-reasonable job in others. But I present them all here for you to see. It gives an idea of some of the capabilities and limitations of that tool. I do believe a more skilled user could make better use of these features, so I keep practicing and learning. I encourage you to do the same.

One feature, or side effect, of creating stitched panorama images, wether they be standard stitched panos or these action sequence panos, is a potential increase in the size of the image. Stitching many photos together can increase the total number of pixels in the image, even when overlapping images to assist the software during the stitching process. These were all shot with an 11 megapixel camera, and you can see in the descriptions the end results varied from 11 to 37 megapixels. More megapixels can be good if you want to create a large print, or it can be bad if you’re limited in hard drive space and computer processing power. But it’s important to realize doing this can result in some very large image files.

A 10 scene action sequence panorama. I didn’t capture enough of the scene to correctly create the final image.

Because I was missing parts of the scene I attempted to use Photoshop to “create” the missing parts. This shows both good and bad examples of Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill feature. This is equivalent to a 26 megapixel image.

Have you ever attempted action sequence panoramas? If not, give them a try, and let me know about your experiences.


George Washington Birthplace National Monument by Todd Henson

Memorial Obelisk at the entrance to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

Earlier this year I went on a short day trip with my folks. One of the locations we visited was the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As its name implies, this location is a memorial to the birthplace of George Washington, who was born here on February 22, 1732. Very little remains from that time period, as the original house burned in 1779. The Memorial House was built in 1931 and is thought to be representative of houses of that time period.

This National Monument has a lot to offer visitors, so I’d highly recommend visiting at least once if you’ve never been. You can study a little history while here, and they have recreated architecture of that time period. There’s plenty of nature and wildlife, such as osprey and bald eagles. The local scenery is fantastic, and there are enough trails to get in a little exercise while touring the grounds.

History

Naturally, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is full of history. It is an attempt to recreate a small piece of history as a living monument.

Panorama of the Memorial House. This side faces Popes Creek.

The site contains the Memorial House, a Colonial Kitchen, Colonial Garden, and Colonial Farm. There is also the Family Burial Ground, and a Memorial Obelisk that was erected by the War Department in 1896 where the Memorial House currently stands. Later, in 1930, it was moved to its current location at the entrance to the park.

View of the Memorial Obelisk facing the exit of the park.

There is also a small visitor center with a number of historical artifacts from the site. And if you spend some time driving or hiking around the entire park you will discover other small historical treasures.

Architecture

The outline of the original house, with the Memorial House and Colonial Kitchen in the background.

The architecture, though not original, is representative of that time. These are not ruins, but recreations of buildings from that period of history. In 1936 archeologists unearthed the foundation of the original house. They later reburied it to preserve it, but also outlined the location with oyster shells. So you can see the size and location of the original house in relation to the Memorial House.

Side view of the Memorial House. The Colonial Garden was along the trail further to the right.

Nature & Wildlife

The Memorial is located in the Northern Neck of Virginia and is a great location to view nature and wildlife of various sorts. While we were there we watched many bald eagles flying overhead, as well as more osprey than I’ve ever seen in one location. There were almost 2 dozen osprey all flying over the large open waters of Popes Creek looking for fish.

Male Ruddy Duck swimming in an inlet off Popes Creek.

From one of the boardwalks stretching over a small inlet of water we watched as a curious little male Ruddy Duck waddled its way over to us, under the boardwalk, around the little inlet, then back out to Popes Creek. They are fun ducks to watch, with their tails sticking almost straight up as they paddle through the water.

Northern Watersnake in the brush between the trail an Popes creek.

We also found a Northern Watersnake along the brush at the side of a trail. Unfortunately, I think it might have been dead. It didn’t move for the short time we watched it, and zooming in on the photo it appears the head may have been crushed. I’m hopeful this wasn’t the case, but I didn’t try to poke at the snake to verify. I just created a few photos and moved on.

I don't know exactly what this interesting object is, but found it at the end of a tree branch. 

Scenery

This is a great location for admiring beautiful scenery. The back of the visitor’s center has a porch with a couple chairs that over look Pope’s Creek. While we sat there an osprey perched in a tree directly overhead. You could watch other osprey fly above the water, sometimes diving underwater for a fish.

A view of Popes Creek from the back porch of the visitor's center.

If you follow the trails you can see other views of the Creek and where it enters the Potomac River. Some of the trails weave through the woods, and one leads to a sandy beach.

Exercise

And, of course, with all the trails there is the benefit of exercise. Most of the trails are fairly level, so they aren’t overly taxing. Some of the trails are made from crushed oyster shells, which is easy to walk on. And the scenery makes the trails a joy to hike, especially on a day with comfortable weather.

View of the Memorial House through the trees.

This was my first trip to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument. I would like to travel back to this park during different times of the year. I’d love to see the Colonial Garden in bloom. And I’d love to bring my larger lens to photograph the osprey and eagles from the shore. I suspect it would also be a great place to visit if you just need a break and would like a peaceful place to relax.

Check out the George Washington Birthplace National Monument if you’re ever in the area. There’s plenty here to enjoy. And if you do visit let me know what you thought.



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