Creative vacatons

Creative vacatons

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Panorama - one hack at the time

In frustration over not having a wide enough lens to capture the Aurora, I started doing panorama photography. 

The 14mm lens was not wide enough and, the fish-eye lens was too distorted. So in an attempt to solve this problem, I started doing panorama stitching. The newest version of Adobe Lightroom had made it possible to do panorama stitching and, still be working on RAW images. (There will be more on stitching in Lightroom later in this post)
How to do it in Lightroom is explained here:

Panoramas are photos that are wide. The hight/width ratio is often 1/3. There are no rules. They just have to have a hight/width ratio that is wider than a standard photo frame. The angle of view is often wider than most images. 120 to 140 or, even 180 degrees or more are common. 

Although I was very much intrigued by the panorama format when I was a young photographer I haven’t done very much panorama work. I did a project where I collaborated with dancers and made a sort of panorama. (This was done when we used film in the camera and, printed in the darkroom. I haven’t digitalized these images.) I used to dream about owning a Linhof or a Fuji 6X17 roll film camera, or even a Horizon 35mm camera. However my budget never allowed me to get them so I just forgot about it. Until last year. 

The panorama is a very nice format. It resembles the way we humans see with our eyes. It is also a great problem solver. A photo-technical hack. 

There are two situations where I use the panorama as a hack: 

1) When a normal photograph has a top and a bottom that is uninteresting. I crop the image to make it more interesting. 

When a 14mm wide angle lens is not wide enough and I don’t want to use a fish-eye lens. I stitch together multiple images to make one that is wide enough. 

After a couple of attempts I realized that I should do it the proper way. Get the horizon in level and avoid parallax. So I got a panning base and a nodal slide from really right stuff. (The Pano Elements Package with Lever-Release.) 

I did my testing and found the nodal point for different lenses and was good to go. This is till a very simple setup you should do the panoramas straight in all angles. The camera should be completely in level and the horizon should be in the middle. For some images it works great. And these types of panoramas causes seldom any problems for Lightroom to stitch the images together. The main problem was that with the horizon in the middle I was missing out on the Aurora and had too much foreground. I realized that I should have gotten the Pano-Gimbal Head as well.  

Sometimes the horizon (almost) in the middle works fine. But, those are the exceptions.

At this point I also realized that there were too much stuff in my camera bag and, it took too long to set up. On the Aurora tours I’m not alone out there with my camera in the nature. I’m out there with a bunch of photo amateurs and tourists. My main occupation is that they get the photos that they want and, that everyone is having a good time. So I needed a system that was faster to set up and to use. That’s when I came up with another hack: Video head.

No, not the whole thing. A professional video head is really two heads: Top and bottom. The bottom part is a leveling base, and then the video head on top. Lucky for me Feisol makes them in two parts. So I just put on a video leveling base and then the ball head (a head for still photography). This combo is now on the tripod permanently. So now there is no extra time spent setting things up or extra things to carry in my camera bag. By chance and good fortune, parallax is not a problem with the lens that I use. It is very important that the base is in level so that the horizon stays in level. And, that the camera is in level vertically (or horizontally) when you set up for the shoot. It is also very important that the photos overlap. I try to make them overlap at least 50%, and never less than 25%. 

Current setup


Today stitching several images together to make a panorama is pretty easy. 
When the photos are imported to Lightroom you select the photos you want to stitch and you go to Develop mode. First you make sure that Auto Sync is on, then you check the two boxes called Enable Profile Correction and Remove Chromatic Aberration. 

Make sure the right lens is selected.

Back in the Library mode right click, go to Photo Merge - Panorama

A new window comes up. You can choose between Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective. For the types of images that I make it is Spherical that works. There is a box that you can check called Auto Crop. I always leave it unchecked. That way I do the cropping myself. 

What makes using Lightroom so brilliant for panoramas is that the new stitched image is still a RAW or DNG image. That way it is possible to do all the adjustments that normally is done to a RAW image, exporting them in different formats and sizes and, setting key words, geographical position (map), printing and, all the rest. 

What makes Lightroom not so brilliant for panorama is that sometimes the photos gets warped. Lightroom doesn’t understand where the horizon is. There are other programs that may be better for creating panoramas. But so far I’ve only been using Lightroom. 

Of course there is a hack to solve this problem. It doesn’t always work but, very often. It actually work so good that I’m unable to reproduce the warped images. The beginning is the same: all the images has to be corrected for lens profile and chromatic aberration. Then you only select two images: the two in the middle, right click, go to Photo Merge - Panorama, wait for the preview and click Cancel. Then you select those two, plus the two photos to the left and right of this two. Right click, go to Photo Merge - Panorama, wait for the preview and click Cancel. Repeat this until all of the images are selected, then you don’t click Cancel, you click Merge.

I don’t know why but, it works. 

The newest version of Lightroom has something called Boundry Warp. I haven't tested it yet. But, it will probably solve some of my problems. I can also use Bridge and Photoshop. Then I will have to make tifs or jpegs before I stitch the images. I'll let you know how it goes.


No comments: