Extending Format – You Can Use It For More Than Panoramas
Panoramic stitches combine both
Think Outside The Frame
No one needs to learn to “think outside the box” more than photographers. The frame, literally a box, is often our greatest ally. Learning to see photographically is in part learning to see within the limits of this box and use them creatively. But there are times when this limits our vision unnecessarily. Once we’ve learned to see within the box, we then need to learn to also see outside the box – and start extending the frame with multiple exposures to perfect select compositions. Extending format techniques aren’t just for panoramic image formats. They can be used to give you the extra inch that can make all the difference in the world for your compositions.
Hand-held Exposure Techniques
While the best way to make exposures for panoramic merges is to use a dedicated panoramic head on a tripod, this may not be practical – or necessary. (There are three significant benefits to using panoramic tripod heads; one, they keep the camera level and without rotation throughout an exposure sequence, two they calculate the number of and overlap between exposures, and three they pivot the camera around a lens’ nodal point minimizing parallax.) Today’s software packages work miracles making what was once impossible possible. Several practices can help you make better hand-held exposures for panoramic merges.
Keep the horizon level in all the exposures; varying rotation can cause improper alignment and/or excessive cropping and/or retouching.
Shoot a little loose. Perspective correction in these types of photo merges often resulting in irregular borders that beg cropping – or retouching, if this is appropriate. The extra wiggle room you gain from shooting loose will allow you to crop the final results more precisely.
Don’t shoot the separate exposures edge to edge. Instead, overlap your exposures by a third for medium lenses, a half for wide-angle lenses, and two-thirds for fisheye lenses.
Make exposures with the opposite orientation as the final image orientation; if you’re making a horizontal composition shoot with a vertical camera orientation and if you’re making a vertical composition shoot with a horizontal camera orientation. This does two things. One, it increases the number of frames, and thus vanishing points, reducing the tendency for the required perspective correction to produce distortion artifacts. Two, it increases resolution – a tendency that becomes compounded with each added pass in multi-column or multi-row exposure sequences.
Once focus is set, turn off auto-focus during the bracketing sequence. Unwanted shifts in focus may ruin an exposure sequence. For this same reason, consider shooting all exposures in a single sequence at the same aperture setting, as significant variances in depth of field between frames may be challenging to merge convincingly.
Consider using manual exposure. While software can convincingly blend exposures with significantly varying exposures, if brightness across a scene remains fairly constant keeping the same exposure settings between different shots can aid the blending process. (The same is true for white balance, which can be set either during exposure or during Raw processing.) On the other hand, if brightness varies dramatically, bear in mind that simultaneous HDR exposure bracketing is not out of the question; it just increases the number of exposures needed.
Lightroom’s Panorama Merge Preview
Auto Crop checked
Boundary Warp slid to 100
Adobe Camera Raw’s Panorama Merge Preview
Auto Crop checked
Boundary Warp slid to 100
Stitching / Merging
Merge to Panorama in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw
You can perform panoramic merges in either Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw. Their interfaces may look different but they’re the same.
There are three advantages to making panoramic merges with these Raw converters. First, it creates a new combined file in DNG format and allows future access to the Raw data in the files. Second, they offer simple but powerful post-merge distortion (Boundary Warp) and Auto Crop options that Photoshop’s Photomerge doesn’t. (This means you’d only choose Photoshop when you wanted to use its additional merge projection options Collage and Reposition.) Third, the DNG file takes up less space than the PSD or TIFF file Photoshop generates.
How do you do this?