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  • Writer's pictureAustin Harter

Panorama Photography Experiments

a daylight nature scene with a stream, wooden bridge, and fallen tries over the steam.
bridge line pano - Manassas, VA (2023) | Leica M11 - 35:2 1/8 sec at f/16 ISO 64

Panoramas are not usually part of my bag of tricks when I head out to shoot, but I recently found experimenting with them challenging and fun. I love them, but I never think of shooting one. I suppose lugging around a tripod and setup; I love viewing a well-crafted pano. The size and scope of the image is what usually gets me. Beautiful colors, dramatic scenes, insane field of view - what could be terrible about that? I never thought of myself as a landscape pano guy, though. Well, that might be changing.

I headed out on a small hike the other morning, hoping to try my hands at a panorama in a worthy location. I found a few that seemed passable and one I thought would work fine. Establishing a scene isn't the quickest or most straightforward part of this process. There are lots to think about the angle of view, scope, how many images you think you'll need, setting up a shooting workflow that makes it easy in post to find your sequence and usable photos, wireless or timer shooting to reduce camera shake, lens choice, aperture, and checking focus. I'm sure there's more I haven't even thought about or discovered.

Our cell phones make it super easy to knock out a panorama or even a timelapse without thinking about the details, which is excellent. However, it limits certain creative choices that could add sparkle to any of your images. For example, it seems rather obvious that one would like to have as much sharpness and focus in your pano, but what if you have a subject against an exciting background or scene that you want to pop? Shooting a pano can be applied to a portrait to achieve a super shallow depth of field. Ryan Brenizer uses this panorama technique for portraits with incredible results. Check out his work. He's incredibly talented. The portraits have an excellent dreamy quality to them. They are quite groovy to view. They're like medium or large format images, but look out; the files can get rather large. My only real experience with pano shooting and processing has been via the Brenizer-style portraits - until now.

a screen capture of the raw stitched nature pano scene
RAW stitch - Manassas, VA (2023) | Leica M11 - 35:2 1/8 sec at f/16 ISO 64

I honestly found that I enjoyed putting together this shot. Since I shoot entirely manually, production was slow, which was good. I can't recommend slowing down enough. Sure, you might miss something, but what is the use of capturing something you cannot use (assuming there are flubs due to acting quickly)? Slow and steady wins the day. I'd rather have one or a few usable shots from a shoot than a bunch that ends up in the trash because I'm out spraying and praying. Don't get me wrong, the beauty of shooting digitally allows one to make as many mistakes as possible without fear of increasing costs. So fill up those memory cards, but do it because you're taking a mindful, deliberate approach to your work.

a cropped 100% view of the stream and fallen tree
100% Crop

When thinking about your shot's scope, I discovered that working with a 20 - 40% overlap in the images made for the smoothest stitching in post. 20% made me a bit uneasy, and I aimed for closer to 40%. When I jumped into Capture One for the stitching, I really didn't need to fill in too many holes. As a matter of fact, the only place I needed to that was around the edges to fit the crop. Something else I plan to keep in mind for my next panorama experiment is shooting to increase above and below my primary area of focus. For example, had I done that in this scene, it would reveal more of the leading lines of the stream below and the forest above, improving cropping options.

Like any other kind of photography, panoramas require forethought and deliberate choices to create fantastic images. The process of shooting one reminded me that I need to slow down and think through what I'm doing. In the digital world, we can review our frames before making a final decision. Take advantage of that. I know I plan to do so.

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