The Roving Photographer

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Snowfall Panoramas

Catching up after a busy weekend, spent almost all of it behind the camera, which was just awesome. But before I jump into the new stuff, I wanted to share a few more shots from out first snowfall, since they were so much fun to make and came so well.

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Panoramas are something that I really enjoy shooting, since they provide a unique perspective on a scene. All too often a single frame just isn’t enough to capture a landscape. It ends up too wide, or too busy, or too ill-defined. It’s easy to lose the wow factor. Stitch a series of shots together, however, and the wow factor can return in spades and, best of all, your detail, subject, and overall sense of place are maintained.

I’ve mentioned a little about my pano technique before, but the short version is, it’s rather short on technique. If I feel that I have the time/space/inclination – or most often, a lack of light – I’ll setup the tripod and level out the camera relative to the scene prior to shooting. Otherwise, I’m often working it hand-held. But either way, I use either the focus points or the 7D’s built-in electronic level to help me keep the horizon level, and slowly rotate, taking shots that overlap by about 30% each.

{Click to view larger}

Yeah, it’s really as simple as that. I generally pick a point in each frame (a tree, a rock, etc) and base my framing around it, to make sure that the overlap is maintained between shots. I also tend to shoot with the camera in a vertical orientation, to maximize the overall image size when stitched together, although in a pinch I’ll shoot a horizontal series. 

Considering the panoramic tripod mounts and focal-point calculators, etc, that exist to make panoramic capture a measured art, my technique is hardly worthy of the name. Nor is it perfect; for example, I get distortion in some of my final images. Which I’m okay with. For me, it’s about the art of making the photo, not necessarily the science of capturing the scene exactly as it was. The good news is this: it’s fairly fast and easy. In fact, the hardest part about shooting panoramas is stitching them together in the computer.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a resource-intensive process that will tax your system, especially as the number of component shots rises. No fooling, a big panorama may mean that you have to get the process running in Photoshop and then go make a cup of coffee. And eat a cookie. Or two.

{Click to view larger}

I’ve used both Canon Utilities PhotoStitch (which comes free with most Canon cameras) and Photoshop’s built-in photomerge feature to assemble panoramas and (no surprise) Photoshop is the better option. But because it’s layer-based, the resulting files are massive. Before you try any editing on them, your best bet is to flatten the image, which will reduce the file size significantly.

Here’s my last secret, and this is how you’ll really know that I’m not a “serious photographer” when it comes to these: if they aren’t assembled quite right when I check the finished Photoshop file, I toss them. I can always reshoot them, but it’s not worth the intensive computer time to go in and try to manually assemble and fix the layers, at least not to me.

Brent Pennington

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