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Shooting scenics can be fun and one of the most rewarding experiences you can have using your camera. Capturing that stunning sunset or expansive vista can be a challenge, yet quite achievable when you know what your doing.

Often times, the view in front of your camera is too broad, too expansive to fit into one single photo frame. With a little bit of know-how and some moderately priced software, you can capture the scene to later print and hang on your wall.

This lesson will show you how to shoot multiple shots of a horizon from one point, then "stitch" them together into one panorama shot using Photoshop® Elements.



(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Choosing a Lens
  • Setting up and Levelling the Tripod
  • Setting up the Pano Head
  • Programming Camera Settings
  • Shooting the Frames
  • Downloading Images to the Computer
  • Assembling Images Using Photoshop® Elements

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

     

    The concept of this lesson is to shoot multiple images of a scene from right to left, or from left to right, then, like pieces of a puzzle, to piece the series together into one panoramic image. The concept is simple and the execution should not be difficult if the plan of action is well thought out and followed.

     

     

    Choosing a Lens

    As you look over the scene you wish to capture with your camera, one of the first decisions to make is how near you want the elements within the shot to appear. There may be trees or buildings that you want to show close. Maybe you like the look of an open expanse with objects farther off in the distance.

    How near or how far the scene will look in your photo is dependent on the focal length of your lens. A small focal length is referred to as wide angle; this makes objects appear further away. A "normal" focal length lens makes objects appear pretty much as they would normally. A long focal length is referred to as telephoto; this makes objects appear closer than normal.

    Figures 1 , 2 , and 3 show three separate focal length settings and the resulting shot from each one. Each shot was taken from the same spot. Notice the difference in the apparent distance of objects that each focal length produces.

     



    Figure 1



    Figure 2



    Figure 3

     

    As you can see from these examples, there is a great difference in the look of the images because of the different focal lengths that were used. With the wide angle, more of the scene is included, yet some points of interest seem far away. With the telephoto, the same points of interest seem very close, yet much of the foreground area is not included.

     

     

    Setting Up the Tripod

    When shooting the images, a tripod will be needed.

    The tripod will serve double duty in this situation. It will hold the camera steady for sharper images. It will also hold the panoramic tripod head that will help us maintain a consistent overlap and horizon from image to image. This is very important when shooting panoramas.

     



    Figure 4

    We used a Manfrotto 756B tripod for this lesson. The 756B has a ball-type mounting plate assembly that allows for easy levelling of the camera, even when the tripod is not plumb. This design is great for using with a pano head (figure 4).

     

    Setting up the Pano Head

    We used a Pano (panoramic) head on the tripod to shoot our panorama scene. Specifically, we used a Bogen 303 Pano Head.

    The role of the pano head is to maintain a consistent horizon from shot to shot. The Bogen 303 also allows the user to set the degree of camera rotation set in relation to the focal length of the lens being used. This takes away the guess work when rotating the camera between shots.

     



    Figure 5

    To attach the pano head to the tripod, position the base of the head over the mounting plate and mounting screw on top of the tripod (figure 5).

    Line up the mounting screw with the pano head's threaded receiving slot, then secure in position by rotating the pano head onto the mounting screw (figures 6 and 7).



    Figure 8

    The tripod mounting plate has three pressure-set screws that set at a 45º angle to the pano head. Hand-tighten these three screws (figure 8).

     

    Levelling adjustments can be made to the 303 Pano Head by adjusting the mounting plate on the 756B tripod. This particular tripod has a mounting plate that pressure-fits to a red semi-sphere at the top of the center column. When loosened, the mounting plate moves freely, allowing for positional adjustment.

     



    Figure 9

    To loosen the pressure-fit on the mounting plate, turn the bottom of the tripod center column. Rotate the pano head and mounting plate assembly until desired position is found. Use the level bubble on the pano head to find level. Hand tighten bottom of the center column to secure the pano head in place (figure 9).



    Figure 10

    The Bogen 303 Pano Head has a quick release mounting seat to receive a mount hex plate attached to the camera (figure 10).

    There is also a level bubble for gauging the level of the camera.



    Figure 11

    The 303 Pano Head comes with an L-shaped bracket for mounting the camera. This bracket allows for quickly changing from vertical to horizontal and back in seconds without having to make any further adjustments to the tripod or pano head (figure 11).



    Figure 12

    The camera mounts on the long side of the bracket.

    To secure the camera to the bracket, line up the threaded female slot on the bottom of the camera with the mounting screw of the bracket. Hand-tighten the mounting screw to the camera then turn the gray outer nut to secure the camera to the bracket. Do not over-tighten (figure 12).



    Figure 13

    Place the mounting bracket over the Pano head making sure the quick release is open. Align the hex plate with the receiver on the head and gently press down until the lock clicks into place (figure 13).

     

    The Bogen 303 Pano Head also has horizontal and vertical adjustments that can be used for fine-tuning the position of the camera on the tripod.

    When shooting a panorama series of shots, it is important that the camera is oriented properly in relation to the tripod. The goal is to find the optimum rotation axis to avoid lens barrel distortion in your shots.

     

    The rotation axis runs through the center column of the tripod. If you continue this imaginary line from the top of the tripod, the ideal point of intersection with the camera is through the lens at the mid point between the front of the lens and the focal plane where the digital chip sits (figure 14).



    Figure 14

    Programming the Camera Settings

    We used the Manual Mode for our exposure setting to allow greater control over the aperture and shutter speed settings.

    To set the E1 to the Manual Mode, turn the Mode dial on the top, right of the camera to the M setting (figure 15).



    Figure 15

     

    With the camera on the tripod and the CompactFlash card inserted, we set the Resolution to TIFF for the highest quality image. The White Balance was set to 5500ºK (daylight), the ISO was set to 100, and the Focus was set to continuous Auto Focus. After a couple of test exposures, we set the aperture to f/9.0, and the shutter speed to 1/80 second. Your exposure may vary. Make sure you set a good exposure for your scene.

    It is important that the same exposure level is used for each shot in your series. This will make stitching easier and less noticable.

    Because we are shooting in the TIFF mode for higher resolution images, our image files will be rather large, about 14 megabytes. These means we could record 17 images on a 256 megabyte media card. We decided to use a Lexar 2 gigabyte CompactFlash card, which will let us shoot about 136 images at the set resolution.

     

    Shooting in the TIFF mode will give us images that will be 6.4 inches high by 8.5 inches wide at 300 dpi (standard photo resolution) (Figure 16).



    Figure 16

     

    Insert the CompactFlash card into the camera (figures 17 and 18).

     

     

    Shooting the Wide Angle Scene

    For our wide angle scene, we will set our 11-22mm lens to 11mm. Once the camera, tripod, and pano head have been adjusted and levelled, there is one more adjustment to set with the pano head.

    It is very important when shooting panoramas that each image sufficiently overlaps the previous image. This allows for easier blending of the images when "stitching" together in an image editing software.

    Once the area of overlap is established, the pano head can be set to rotate the camera in even increments so that all frames will have enough overlapping space.

    We framed up the first frame of the series. Since we are shooting from right to left, we chose an area on the left portion of the frame to be overlapped on the following exposure.

     

    Figure 19 shows the area of overlap we chose for our series of shots. In shots with changing elements, in our case the waves, it is even more important to greatly overlap the images. This will help when trying to match images in the editing stage.



    Figure 19

     

    When the area of overlap is established, the pano head can be adjusted to rotate in even increments to give each subsequent frame the same amount of overlap.

     

    To establish the amount of rotation we needed for a given lens, we set the camera to the first frame we wanted to shoot.

    Notice the pan rotation scale at the bottom of the pano head. This scale is marked in degrees (figure 20).



    Figure 20

    The barrel of the pano head has a registration mark directly above the pan rotation scale.

    Note the position of the mark on the barrel to the scale.

    Turn the camera, while looking through the view finder until the second shot is framed.

    Check the number below the registration mark. The difference between this number and the starting number is the degree of rotation (figure 21).



    Figure 21

     

    As we have stated, it’s better to overlap more than less to make the post production of the shot much easier. So if the amount of movement is in between two degree settings on the barrel, choose the lesser of the two.

    We established our degree of rotation to be 30º. We placed the rotation set screw into the 30º threaded hole. From this point, the pano head will click stop into place in 30º increments (figures 22 and 23).

    Note:You will also see a "n" number above the degree number on the barrel of the Pano head, these numbers relate to the number of exposures you would need to make a full 360 degree turn at that setting.

     

     

    Frame up the first shot again. Take an exposure and look at the result. If the exposure is good, rotate the pano head to the next click-stop. Take your next shot. Rotate the pano head again. Keep going until all of your exposures are made.

    The following four shots were shot with our wide angle 11-22mm tele lens set at 11 mm (figures 24 - 27). The first shot will be the right side of our panorama scene and the fourth shot will be the left side.

     

     

    Shooting the "Normal" Scene

    For our normal shot, we will use the same 11-22mm lens set to 22mm. The degree of rotation will need to be reset for shooting this series.

    We reframed the first shot and decided how much to overlap the next frame. A starting point was chosen on the pano head rotation scale, then the pano head was rotated until the second shot was framed. The amount of rotation was 20º, so the set screw was placed into the 20º hole on the pano head (figures 28 and 29).

     

    We reset the first frame and started making our exposures. We took the following nine shots, each one overlapping the previous shot (figures 30 - 38).

    This is the series of shots we will use to show how to stitch the panorama scene together on the computer.



    Figure 30

     

    Shooting the Telephoto Scene

    For the telephoto shot, we changed the 11-22mm wide angle zoom for a 14-54 telephoto zoom lens set to 54mm. Again, the pano head needs to be reset to accomodate the change in focal length.

     

    Following the same procedure shown before, we established the pano head rotation to be 10º. We set the pano rotation to 10º, reframed the first shot, and exposed our next series of shots (figure 38).



    Figure 39

    This individual shots of the telephoto series is shown here. There are seven images to stitch together (figures 40 - 46).



    Figure 40

     

    Downloading Images to the Computer

    Okay! You've shot all of your pictures and are ready to get them on your computer. The first thing to do is to remove the memory card from the camera.

    The images are imported from the memory card and into the computer by using a media card reader. We used a Lexar USB 2.0 Multi-Card Reader that can read various types of media, including the CompactFlash card we used for this lesson.

    To connect the card reader to the computer, use the supplied USB cable. The end of the cable with the smaller connector fits into the card reader (figures 47 and 48).

     

     

    The other end of the USB cable fits into the USB port on your computer or USB hub (figures 49 and 50).

     

     

    Before removing the memory card from the camera, turn the camera off.

    Remove the CompactFlash card from the camera.

    Insert the Compact Flash card into the card reader (figures 51 and 52).

     

     

    Copy the images from the media card into a folder on your computer.

     

     

    Stitching Photos with Photoshop® Elements

    The piecing together of the images is referred to as stitching. A photographic manipulation software is used to electronically "stitch" the images together.

    Adobe Photoshop is the premier photo and image manipulation software in the world. It's power and imaging capabilities come at a somewhat powerful price, however, - more than $600 (US).

    There is a much more affordable solution for the novice or occasional user. Photoshop Elements is a scaled-back version of Photoshop designed for the non-professional photo enthusiast. Elements is available for under $100 and has many of the features of the full version of Photoshop. The current available version is Elements 3.0. For this lesson, we are using Elements 2.0. The full version of Photoshop can also be used.

    We will stitch the 9 images taken with the 22mm lens setting to create our panoramic image.

     



    Figure 53

    We opened our 9 images in Photoshop Elements. Take a look at Figure 53. The desktop has the Main Menu at the top of the screen, the Toolbar to the left, the active image file in the center, and the layers palette to the right. The Options Bar for the currently selected Tool from the Toolbox is just below the Main Menu. You can set the palettes anywhere you like on the screen by click-dragging from the top bar of each palette.

    Notice in the Layers palette that there is currently one layer named Background.



    Figure 54

    Figure 54 shows the Elements Toolbox with the name of each tool. For this lesson, we will use the Zoom, Eraser, Move, and Crop tools.



    Figure 55

    Elements uses layers to construct the whole image. Content of lower layers will be obstructed by upper layers. The original layer in each file is named Background. These layers can be moved and manipulated independently of the other layers (figure 55).

     

    With our first image open (Image 1 is the far right of our panorama series), we need to increase our canvas size to make room for the additional photos.

    From the Main Menu, click on Image>Resize> Canvas Size...

     



    Figure 56

    The Canvas Size dialog box opens showing the current file size and canvas dimensions. The Anchor box allows you to anchor your image when increasing the canvas size (figure 56).



    Figure 57

    Enter 16 for the width and click on the right, center box of the Anchor box. Click OK (figure 57).



    Figure 58

    Click on the Zoom tool to select, then ALT/click (PC) or OPT/click (Mac) within the image to zoom out. See how we now have a larger canvas area to build our image (figure 58).

    Notice how the image was anchored to the right as directed in the Canvas Size dialog box.



    Figure 59

    Find the next image in the series (should already be open) and make active in Elements. The layers palette now shows the Background layer of the active file (figure 59).



    Figure 60

    Drag the Background layer from the second image into the window of the first image. This will copy the layer into the original file. Holding the Shift key when performing this action will constrain the copied layer to the center of the image (figure 60).

    Notice that the imported layer is above the Background layer in the original image.



    Figure 61

    We can make this layer semi-transparent by changing its opacity using the opacity slider in the Layers palette.

    With the higher layer selected (Layer 1), locate the Opacity slider by clicking on the arrow on the right of the Opacity field. We set our slider to 58% (figure 61).

    The semi-transparent layer will be easier to match with the original image when moving into position.



    Figure 62

    Figure 62 shows the semi-transparent Layer 1 over the Background layer.



    Figure 63

    Select the Move tool in the Toolbox.

    Click and drag with the image until the images match where they overlap. Holding the Shift key while moving will constrain the movement to the nearest angle of 45 degrees (in this case, will constrain horizontally) (figure 63).



    Figure 64

    You can use the Zoom tool to more closely inspect the overlap areas of the photo (figure 64).

     

    When the two layers are matched in position, use the Layer palette Opacity slider to set the second layer's (Layer 1) opacity back to 100%.

    We will increase the canvas size to fit all nine images. Use the Canvas Size dialog box again to do this.

     



    Figure 65

    Set the width for the image to 75 inches, anchor the image to the right by clicking the right, center box of the Anchor field, then press OK (figure 65).



    Figure 66

    The image is now set to 75 inches long. Notice how the thumbnails representing the layers in the Layers palette are now long and thin (figure 66).



    Figure 67

    Select the third image as the active image. As before, click and drag that layer into the original image file window. Remember that holding the Shift key when doing this will set the new layer to the center.

    Lower the opacity of the new layer (Layer 2). Select the Move tool and click and drag this layer until it matches the image where it overlaps with Layer 1 (figure 67).



    Figure 68

    Set the Opacity back to 100% (figure 68).

     

    Before adding the rest of the images to our panorama, let's check the images already loaded for any problems. Zoom in using the Zoom tool to get a close look.

    Notice that the sky of Layer 2 is a bit darker at the edge than Layer 1. Scrolling lower, we can see uneven matching in the beach portion of these layers (figures 69 and 70).

    We can "fix" this by partially erasing some of Layer 2 so that it blends in with Layer 1.

    Select the Eraser tool in the Toolbox.

     



    Figure 71

    The Eraser tool uses brushes of various sizes and softnesses to erase pixel information from the active layer. The user defines the brush size, softness, and strength (opacity) of the brush.

    We selected a large (413 pixels wide), soft brush for this procedure. It is important to use a soft brush here, as we want to feather Layer 2 over Layer 1 (figure 71).

    Using a lower opacity (30-40%) for the Eraser brush allows the user to erase over several passes. This can help to increase the feathering effect of the brush.



    Figure 72

    Figure 72 shows the effect of erasing away a portion at the top of the layer. Notice how some of Layer 2 was erased revealing the part of Layer 1 below.

    This also demonstrates the importance of sufficiently overlapping the edges of your photos when shooting the originals.



    Figure 73

    Figure 73 shows the effect of further erasing away the right edge of Layer 2. The sky now looks much more even.



    Figure 74

    Here is a comparison showing an enlarged portion of the image before and after using the Eraser tool (figure 74).



    Figure 75

    Let's add some more photos to our panorama (figure 75).

     

    Using the layer dragging method to copy one image into another, we added the fourth, fifth and sixth images into our panorama shot. We used the Eraser tool to blend the seams together.

     



    Figure 76

    The addition of the sixth image (Layer 5) presents a problem that you may come across when trying to shoot panorama shots.

    Anytime your panoramic view has anything that changes or moves over time, you may need to take some extra care when shooting and when stitching the images together on the computer.

    In this case, the ever-changing waves are part of our shot. Moving clouds or passing traffic are other cases where stitching together seamlessly will be difficult or, sometimes, nearly impossible (figure 76).

     

    If you find yourself shooting in a situation as this, the best thing to do is to greatly overlap your exposures. Making multiple exposures will also increase your chances of matching the photos.

     



    Figure 77

    Select the Eraser tool. Make sure the layer you wish to edit is selected in the Layers Palette (figure 77).



    Figure 78

    Here we zoomed in on our image to get a better look at any changes we make (figure 78).



    Figure 79

    After erasing some of the surf from the top layer (Layer 5), we have a better match for the water (figure 79).

    Figure 80 shows a comparison of before and after this "fix".



    Figure 80

     

    We added the three remaining images to our panorama, matching the images and using the Eraser tool to blend seamlessly.

     



    Figure 81

    Once all the images have been added and stitched together, we can zoom out to see the whole panoramic image.

    Select the Zoom tool, then ALT/click (PC) or OPT/click (Mac) to zoom out until entire panorama shot is visible in the image window.

    Notice the extra white space at the left of image. This needs to be cropped out (figure 81).



    Figure 82

    Select the Crop tool in the toolbox.

    Cropping is accomplished by putting the cursor over one corner of your intended crop, then click-dragging to the opposite corner of the intended crop (figure 82).



    Figure 83

    A cropping marquee will surround your crop. Adjustments can be made by click-dragging any of the eight "squares" on the cropping marquee (figure 83).

    Press the Enter key on your keyboard to finalize the crop.



    Figure 84

    Figure 84 shows our cropped image in the Photoshop Elements image window.

    Notice how the Layers palette still has all of the images that were copied into the file on separate layers.

    Make sure you save your file at this point. It is a good practice to save your layered image files in an archive folder. This allows you to more easily edit or manipulate the image in the future.



    Figure 85

    After saving the layered image file, you can flatten the image. Flattening is the merging of all layers into one layer. A flattened file will greatly reduce the file size of your image. Our layered panoramic image file was reduced from 153 megabytes to 104 megabytes when flattened.

    To access the Flatten Image command, click on the More button at the top, right of the Layers palette (figure 85).



    Figure 86

    Select the Flatten Image command from the menu window (figure 86).



    Figure 87

    All the layers will merge into one single layer called Background (figure 87).
    Save this image in another folder or as a different name from the layered version. Saving as a TIFF image is best for making large prints.

    The image can be saved as a JPEG file, greatly reducing the file size even further. Saving as a JPEG will result in some lost image data, which may effect the quality of the image.



    Figure 88

    Figure 88 shows the flattened image appearing in the Elements image window. Notice that now there is only one layer called Background in the Layers palette.

     

    Our finished panorama is shown below (figure 89).

    Keep in mind this image is reduced, the 300 dpi original version is an impressive 5 ft. or so wide and 10 in. tall.

     



    Figure 89

     

    Figure 90 shows the areas where each of our 9 images overlapped to create our panorama scene.

     



    Figure 90

     

    The shots for our panorama photo were taken with a wide angle zoom lens (11-22mm) set at 22mm. This actually is close to a normal size lens for a traditional film 35mm camera.

    Figure 91 below shows another version of our stitched panorama scene shot from the same point with the lens set to 11mm for an extreme wide angle. This image was stitched together using three images.

     



    Figure 91

     

    Figure 92 shows another panoramic image shot from the same location with a 14-54 zoom telephoto lens. The lens was set to 54mm.

     



    Figure 92

     

    Figure 93 shows the final results of all panoramas; one shot with a 11mm lens, one shot a 22mm lens, and one shot with a 54mm lens.

     



    Figure 93

     

    After reading this lesson, you are ready to go out and shoot a panorama scene of your own. You may want to practice a few times, but before you know it, you'll be shooting these scenes like a pro.

     


    Equipment Used:
    You can click on the blue links below for more info.

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