Panorama

Sometimes a scene is too expansive to be captured within the confines of a film’s (or sensor’s) aspect ratio in a manner that does full justice to it and its interpretation in the photographer’s eye. In such situations, photographers resort to panoramic images that include the details presented in a wider field of view than what film (or a sensor) can capture in one frame. More often than not, this amounts to taking a series of overlapping images which are then stitched together so that the end product fully encompasses the wider field of view.

Kalalau_Pano1web

A panoramic view of the ocean, forest and hills surrounding the Kalalau Trail along the Napali coastline. Kaua’i

A few years ago a photographer friend taught me to stitch these images together manually because at that time Photoshop’s Photomerge function still had issues. This was a painstaking process that often took hours. Now, with a few clicks on my keyboard I have my images stitched together for me in a seamless capture of the entire area that grabs my eye.

Ooty_Panorama1web

A little hamlet along a winding road, bounded by forest, hills and terraced fields. Ooty

A panorama is described in the Oxford American dictionary as ‘an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer’. In photographic terms it refers to an image depicting a field of view greater than that of the human eye. More specifically, a picture that has an aspect ratio of 2 : 1 or greater – i.e. the image should be at least twice as wide as it is high.  So why bother shooting overlapping images to then stitch together? Why not just capture the entire scene horizontally with a wide-angle lens and then crop some bits off the top and bottom to create the dimensions of a panorama? Well, firstly, the location and terrain might not allow one to back up far enough to be able to fit the entire scene into a 35mm horizontal capture, even with a wide angle lens. And secondly, even if the location did allow for this, stepping that far away will contribute to a significant loss of detail and points of interest within the image, resulting in a fairly flat final picture. Turning the camera onto its vertical axis and turning upon a point to shoot a series of overlapping images (with a 16 to 24mm lens) allows me to be closer to my foreground subject for greater detail, allows a wide vertical capture of earth and sky and results in an image with greater depth to it.

Volcano_Pano4web

A lone road cuts through vast lava fields at Volcanoes National Park. Hawai’i

In every instance, the flow of the image and the points of interest in the foreground either make or break the image. In the image above I specifically included the road as a compositional element. It automatically draws the eye down it, provides a sense of scale to the openness of the landscape and also hints at a sliver of man-made familiarity in the vast, barren lava field. The image below also has a road in it as a significant compositional element. Here, however, the entire feel of the image is less stark and the road leads the viewer’s eyes gently through the various details within the frame, with the woman providing an additional point of interest.

Ooty_Panorama2webt

A winding country road. Ooty

RajaAmpat_Panoweb

Surreal seascape of karst cliffs, tiny islets and azure water. Raja Ampat

These two images below were created in Bangalore city and submitted as part of the Better Photography Photographer Of The Year finals for 2008. For the 2nd image, I decided to attempt a vertical panorama from the 3rd story stairwell of a house. The opportunities to create vertical panos present themselves less frequently. One needs to find an elevated vantage point to shoot from, with enough detail of interest both below and above the horizon line. For this image I held the camera normally on its horizontal axis and shot a series of images from ground to sky, ensuring that there was enough of an overlap in each for Photoshop to recognize them as consecutive images. When the first set of images was taken I turned the camera slightly and shot a second series of images in the same manner. The first and second series of images were then stitched separately to create two thin vertical strips of the scene. These two strips were then stitched together for the final image.

13thfloor_Panoweb

A view of the city mirrored in the glass wall of the 13th Floor Lounge balcony. Bangalore

Millenia_Panoweb

Two contrasting facets of city life – the residences of Murphy Town in the foreground with The Millenia building behind. Bangalore

This technique for shooting panoramas is easy enough to create with any DSLR and can be executed with or without a tripod. Many point-and-shoot cameras and smart phones now come with in-camera stitching software that automatically piece together a series of images almost instantly, on the device itself. Some of these can achieve surprisingly good results. With a little bit of trial and error one comes to see the potential in a scene before it is stitched together on Photoshop. And with an application of a little bit of slightly more expensive technology than I can currently afford (including a drowned 400mm telephoto lens and a robotic camera mount) and some serious image stitching software, one can create astoundingly detailed panoramas like this 360 degree pano shot from the Tokyo Tower. Zoom in on the image and check out the clarity of the letters & numbers on the tiny license plates!!

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