February 20, 2020

Have you ever been to a location where the scenery was so overwhelmingly powerful that you simply couldn’t capture the magnitude of the place with just one shot? Or perhaps you’ve seen a captivating photo that defies all logic and somehow captures more than could feasibly fit into one frame? 

Enter the magic of panoramic photos!

In this article, we are going to look at some easy steps to get you started capturing some glorious panoramic images. With a camera and access to a bit of software anyone can shoot a panorama, yet, despite how easy it is now, it can still be a little daunting to tackle this technique for the first time. 

Here are our top tips for creating your first winter panorama photo!

Get the gear:

A panoramic photo is a photo composed of multiple shots merged together in post-processing. While you need far less gear than you would have 20 years ago with a film camera, you’ll still need to make sure you’ve got a few basics covered to take your panorama.

Choose a lens: while you might be tempted to grab the wide-angle lens to capture even more in the frame, wide-angle lenses tend to add distortion to the photo and if you stitch multiple photos together, the distortion will become increasingly obvious.

Beginners: When starting out with shooting panoramas, select a lens that is something in between a tele-zoom and a wide-angle. Any lens between 35mm and 50mm should do the trick just fine. 

Advanced: For winter photography and in the mountains in general, our favourite panorama technique is to grab a tele-zoom. Shooting at around 200mm will mean you need to take a lot more images as well as taking several layers to catch the full scene, but you get high definition and pull the mountains in the distance closer and larger in your frame.

Panorama layers

Winter Panorama image

Tripod: While you can shoot a panoramic image without a tripod, the additional stability of a tripod will make your final image a lot easier to merge, if your tripod has a pan function it is even better. When adjusting your tripod, try to keep the tripod and camera as level as possible so that when you rotate the camera on the tripod, the axis of rotation is completely level to the horizon in the shot. This will help decrease the amount of distortion you may see in your final image. For example, if you point your camera too far down, your horizon line will become distorted when you merge the images together later. You can make sure your camera is level by using a tripod with an integrated bubble level. If your tripod does not have a bubble level, you can buy one and mount it to your camera or tripod. 

Camera: If you can shoot a single image with your camera then you can shoot a panorama! So, yes any camera body will work. If you haven’t been shooting in RAW before, you should switch over now. You’ll be merging the images in post-processing and a RAW image will retain much more detail than a JPEG. 

All about your settings:

Nail that Exposure: It is important to have a consistent exposure throughout the whole Panorama.

You’ll want to be sure to shoot on manual mode (and set your ISO to manual too) so that you have full control over your settings. If you shoot in auto or aperture priority, your camera may change settings from one photo to the next, making your final panoramic image inconsistent.

Check both your exposure when shooting towards the brightest area of the scene, as well as the darkest area before you start your panorama.
If you get your exposure correct for the darkest part first, then you might find you are well overexposed as you turn your camera towards the light and vise versa.

This is especially important with winter photography as the light can vary dramatically throughout one scene.

Fix your Focus: For exactly the same reasons as above, you don't want any inconsistencies between each frame as you take your panorama. So, set your focus where you want it then switch your lens or camera to manual focus so it can't change as you shoot. 

Set your White Balance: This is almost the only time I don't have an auto white balance, so set your white balance to daylight.
White balance is very easy to change in lightroom but rather hard to match up exactly between shots. I promise, this one will annoy you when you stitch your final image together and you realize there is a magenta tone running through the middle of your final image.

Final Field Tips:

Overlap: When shooting the images, overlap each frame about 1/3 into the next. This requires keeping an eye on the elements at the edges of your frames. Overlapping will help reduce flaring which occurs when the post-processing software is forced to use the whole frame, including corners which may show distortion. Giving yourself a buffer of 30% overlap will help create a smoother blend between images. 

Panorama image in the mountains

Panorama image of mountains in black and white

Do multiple passes: When you think of panorama, you may imagine one pass from left to right, resulting in a super long, horizontal image. With modern stitching technology, photographers can easily make more than one pass going left to right and top to bottom to capture more of the scene. Doing this will allow you to capture more of the foreground helping the overall composition of your photo. 

Shoot vertical: Try shooting vertical panoramas instead of the classic horizontal panoramas. Taking vertical panoramas is great for capturing tall objects like waterfalls or mountains. 

Vertical Panorama of a waterfall in winterVertical Panorama in the Field

Vertical panorama final image of a waterfall in winter
Vertical Panorama after merging in post. 

Change the Orientation: Shoot in portrait orientation when taking a horizontal panorama and in landscape orientation when taking vertical panorama. This will create a better dimension for your final image. 

Be aware of movement: Ideally, you want to compose your panoramic image in a way that will eliminate all moving elements. For example, taking a panoramic image of a popular area with a lot of foot traffic will lead to motion blur and inconsistent stitching when you put the final image together in post-processing. While you may be able to remove some motion blur issues in post-processing, it’s best to avoid it altogether when capturing the image in the field.

How to Merge in Post Processing: 

So you’ve got your images and you’re ready to create your final panorama in post-processing but you’re not sure how. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds! You can merge your images using several different software. Below are our quick tips for merging panorama photos in Lightroom CC and Photoshop. 

Lightroom CC: Select the photos you want to merge and using the toolbar at the top, select “photo” —> “photo merge” —> “Panorama”. Lightroom will give you a preview of the merge. You can select your projection or let Lightroom automatically select the panorama projection for you. You can select “auto crop” and Lightroom will trim off any uneven edges around the panorama or you can crop later in develop mode. Once you start the panorama stitching, the merging will be generated the background so you can continue to work on other images. Once the full-size panorama is complete, the image will be added to Lightroom catalogue where you can begin to develop it. From there, you can make the exposure adjustments 

Photoshop: From the top toolbar go to “File”, “automate”, “photo merge.” Choose your perspective (we use auto most of the time) and then select your photos by clicking on “browse” and select your photos on your computer.  Check “blend images together” then select ok.

Alternatively arrange all your images as layers in one document, select all your layers, then from the top toolbar click,  edit > Auto-Align > Panorama.

Once your photo has been merged, you’ll be able to see the multiple layers that make up the photo. Select all of the layers and click CTRL + E or Command + E. This will give you one layer that will be your entire panorama. To get rid of some of the distortion, click on “filter” in the toolbar and select “lens correction”. You can make the changes necessary by adjusting the sliders under the “custom” tab. After you’ve adjusted the lens distortion, you can crop the photo as desired. 

You can see the step by step instructions in the photos below.

Merging panorama photo in photoshop

Merging panorama photos in photoshop

Merging panorama photos in photoshop

Merging panorama photos in photoshop

Merging panorama photos in photoshop

Have you taken a winter panorama photo? Leave your best tips for us in the comments below! 

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