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Shooting and stitching panoramas

When shooting cityscapes, and especially skylines, I like using wide image aspect ratios to showcase the width of the city. While sometimes it just means cropping 2:1, I often shoot panoramas to achieve wider images with ratio of 3:1 or 4:1.

Shooting a panorama isn’t very complicated, and if you follow a few key steps, you will be able to achieve outstanding results quickly. The first step is to shoot from a tripod to get all your images nicely aligned from the same point of view. If you have a panoramic head, it’s great, but a simple ball head that can rotate will work just fine.

Set up your tripod so the head is perfectly leveled. If you have a bubble level, it will make the process easier. This way, when you rotate your camera, it will stay leveled.

My preference is shooting in portrait mode, as you get more resolution in a single row of frames. This way, no need to shoot several rows, which makes everything more complicated. Try not to shoot at wide focal lengths, as the distortion will make it harder to stitch. Anything above 24mm should be fine.

I recommend shooting in manual mode and manual focus. It will prevent the exposure and the focus from shifting from one frame to another. If you’re not comfortable with manual mode or manual focus, just set the exposure and focus in your normal mode, and then switch to manual afterwards. Do the same with the white balance.

While shooting, you need to overlap the different frames to make the stitching process easier. A 30% overlap has worked well for me. If you have the rule-of-thirds grid in your viewfinder, overlap until the first vertical line.

If you are shooting at sunset or sunrise, beware of the fast-changing luminosity. I recommend against long exposures, as the light will change too much between frames. Try to shoot all frames in a short amount of time.

Once I am back from a shoot, I load the RAW files in Lightroom. What’s amazing, is that you now can stitch panoramas right in Lightroom, and the result is a DNG file (still a RAW file). The only thing I do before stitching is applying the Lens Profile in the Lens Correction Panel, to avoid stitching issues.

Then, I select the images I want to stitch and go to Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama. It opens a window where you have a few options for your panorama. You can choose the projection, which offers different ways to stitch your images. I have a preference for the perspective projection, but choose the one that feels right to you.

You can also use the boundary warp slider to help fill the white spaces. The Auto Crop checkbox will simply crop so there are no white spaces left.

Once you click on Merge, it will add the panorama to your folder. You can now work on your image and make your usual adjustments, as it is still a RAW file. That’s what’s so amazing about doing panoramas in Lightroom (rather than in Photoshop).

Join me at the Summer Conference!

I will be teaching two mini workshops about post-processing at the Summer Conference. We will go over my entire process, from importing the RAW files in Lightroom to the advanced adjustments in Photoshop. I will also show in details how to stitch a panorama. Then you will get to try these techniques for yourself. Learn more and register >

Come photograph Toronto!

We will be shooting panoramas during my workshop in Toronto with Angie McMonigal. Join us for a weekend shooting awesome architecture and cityscapes on May 26-28. Use the code OOCTO to get $100 off at checkout! More information and sign up here.

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