Taking Panos

by | Jul 6, 2011 | Tips & Tricks | 5 comments

Over the past month, while traveling through the Appalachian mountains, I have begun experimenting with taking true panoramic images. Not one image cropped to a 3:1 ratio, but a series of images side by side that, when stitched together, create a true high-res panoramic. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when both shooting and stitching panos:

  • Shoot your series of images vertically, not horizontally. This greatly decreases perspective distortion and allows you to include more in your pano.
  • Shoot on Manual mode after making a metering estimate. This way, you will not have slightly lighter or darker images in your series where in-camera metering may have changed the exposure from picture to picture.
  • Keep the horizon level and in the same place on every image.
  • I didn’t do this very well in the sample images below, but it’s always nice to show depth by including foreground objects.
  • Leave plenty of overlap between each picture in a series. I usually overlap by thirds.
  • Rotate the camera on the nodal point. The nodal point is basically the very front of your lens. So, instead of rotating where you are standing, mentally draw a line from end of the lens to the ground, and then rotate the camera on that. There are special tripods that do this perfectly, but complete accuracy is not necessary with programs like Photoshop. 
  • I have found Photoshop’s Photomerge to be incredibly accurate and saves a ton of time. I usually use the Reposition option and check Blend Images Together. Cropping and touching up are still necessary, but that’s nothing in comparison the time spent in manually merging.

Hope that’s helpful for anyone who hasn’t tried creating panoramas yet.

6333_Canon EOS 40D, 70 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

An overlook near Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, NC. That’s I40 down in the righthand corner.

_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 11, ISO 200

View from Clingmans Dome, highest point in Tennessee. This 360 overlook is right in the middle of Smokey Mountain National Park.


This panorama, from a South Korean mountaintop in April, is an example of self-stitching. Because of how difficult it was to keep the horizon straight, I took a few pictures in the sequence crooked, and Photoshop was unable to stich it together.


  1. Allen P.

    Good tips, James! If I ever get a chance, I will try that making a panorama.

    Here is an interesting idea if you feel like spending a lot of time making a very impressive panorama:

    Take multiple sets of the same panorama, each exposed for a different part of the scene (see point 2 above). Then you can manually merge the different sections together after making each panorama.

    For example, a foreground object (tip 4) may be in a different lighting than the background. Shoot a complete panorama exposed for the foreground object, then again for the background – the landscape. You may even perhaps want to shoot a third exposed for the sky. Make all three separate panoramas, then using masking overlay them so that each part of the scene comes out well exposed. This way you won’t have a panorama of a gorgeous mountain range with a washed-out sky and an under-exposed cabin in the foreground.

  2. James Staddon

    You know, I was thinking about that, with it’s complexities and all. It would be a challenge, but it sure would be helpful for sunrise/sunset images or high contrast scenes. I wonder how folks do HDR panos. Next time I’m on a mountain top at sunrise, I’ll have to give it a try!

  3. Benjamin Cahill

    Good tips. I never thought about doing panos vertically, but it makes so much sense!

    One more – don’t forget to shoot fast if in changing light/subject conditions (e.g. moving clouds outside).

    In reply to the previous comments, I took several bracketed panos (3 of each view, I think) at the Grand Canyon, but haven’t done anything with them. Yet another item for the todo list. 😉

    @James: Just a little note, HDR simply means high dynamic range, and an HDR image cannot be fully displayed on a normal monitor. The final images (jpgs) we see are ‘tone-mapped’ to compress the dynamic range, to show more on a LDR (low dynamic range) monitor…so I believe the correct term here would be ‘tone-mapped panos’. 😛

  4. Daniel Hancock

    Interesting article. I haven’t tried vertical. I’ve done several HDR Panoramas. I took them with a tripod. I took 5 pictures of each view, and then turned by tripod and repeated. When editing it on the computer, I normally convert to HDR first. You have to make sure you tone-map them all with the same setting. Then, I combine them into a panorama. None of mine have been of great subjects so none of them have turned out to be much though.

  5. James

    You’re right, Benjamin. Thanks for the correction!


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