Panorama pictures

This post is about how you take and make panorama pictures or panoramic pictures with just a camera and software! I have been using Canon EOS 550D and Canon PowerShot S95 and Canon Ixus 860IS to illustrate how you go about it with a DSLR and a Point&Shoot but you could be using any camera! What’s more – it is quite easy! 🙂

The short story:  1  Take a number of overlapping pictures   2 Join (stitch) the panorama together using software!

The panorama picture above I took in Chania harbour in Crete, Greece. It took just a few seconds too shoot and resulted in a picture of close to 20 Mpixels. In this I actually used my first Canon Ixus 750 with 7 Mpixel resolution and that had a stitch assist mode. (Read here about what stitch assist mode is.)

If you look at the first row above – where all the separate pictures are shown – you will see that there is an overlap between each neighbouring picture of around 30%. That is: the same part of your motif appears in two neighbouring pictures! (See the illustration on the left – the grayed areas of the motif are the same in both neighbouring pictures!)  The amount of overlap is not critical – but if you have too little overlap the software that you use to stitch the pictures together might have problems finding common points! If you have too much overlap that just forces you take more pictures to get the coverage you want – that is ineffective but will probably not hurt! At the same time you will get more pictures that has to be stitched ==> giving more joins that might be seen! So my advice is try to keep the overlap at 30% (optimal) and not higher than 50%! Use the zoom to decide the how much of the motif you want to have height wise and let the number of pictures decide how much width you want.

To achieve this overlap take the first picture and then rotate the camera (in the Chania example above) to the right – but make sure to keep part of the first picture in the second one as well! Then you just repeat this over and over again till you have covered as much as you want. Maybe you are satisfied with just two pictures – or you might want to go the full 360 °.

In the illustration on the left you can see this! See the overlap of the pictures as three bars in the top of the illustration.  Take the first picture (green 1) then rotate the camera (according to the green arrow) – but only so much that you still have about 30% left of the 1:st picture. Take the next picture (lilac 2) then rotate the camera again – keeping 30% of the previous picture .  Take the next picture (orange 3). Repeat this for as long as you want!

Sweep Panorama
A lot of cameras this season has something called “Sweep Panorama” or something similar – in which you just press the shutter button, slowly sweep the camera sideways, release the button and then it automatically creates the panorama picture. As convenient and quick as this might be – and fun to see on the small 3″ display – as sad you will be at home on your 24″ computer screen – when you realize that what you got it is just a low resolution panorama! I don’t want to kill anyones joy about the “Sweep Panorama” – it certainly has its uses and it is fun! It is just that it is a low resolution panorama – but sometimes that is enough! This post is about creating – with minimal extra effort – beautiful high-resolution panoramas using any camera and separate software!


Also remember that taking panorama pictures does not have to be a wide&low or a high&narrow picture! You can take a matrix, say 2 rows of 3 pictures, to get a better resolution or just to get a wider picture in a cramped space  – where your widest angle lens or widest setting is not enough! I use it indoors quite a lot to fit the whole room in! (See sample above! And in case someone is worried about my reckless driving – taking a panorama picture on the go – I can calm you with that I had actually parked the car! 😉 )

Now the preamble is over – let’s  go on to the two easy steps to panorama pictures! YES! 🙂

For all three alternatives below – if you have an evenly lit motif – you can of course skip the steps concerning locking exposure to the most typically lit part of your motif and just start the sequence of at the first picture!

1. On location you do this

Five steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
Point&shoot camera with stitch support:

  1. Select your panorama mode – on the Canon S95 it is called Stitch Assist and can be found as one of the scene modes.
  2. Look at your motif and decide which part of it is most typical – lighting wise.
  3. Halfpress the shutter button to lock exposure and white balance on that typical part of the motif.
  4. Reposition the camera to the most left or right part of your motif – and take picture no 1.
  5. Take the following pictures – making sure to line up the pictures according to the Stitch Assist.
  6. You are ready – on location!

Three steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
Point&shoot camera without stitch support
 

  1. Assuming the motif is relatively evenly lit!
  2. Take picture no 1.
  3. Take the following pictures – making sure to overlap 30-40% with the previous picture.
    Also try to align the pictures vertically as best as you can.
  4. You are ready – on location!

If your camera has the ability to lock the exposure and the white balance you should do that to the most typical part of your motif. Actually you could follow the four step description below!

Four steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
DSLR camera:
 

  1. Look at your motif and decide which part of it is most typical – lighting wise.
  2. Lock exposure and white balance on that typical part of the motif – and keep pushing the lock exposure button for all pictures! On the Canon EOS 550D it is the button marked with a “*“.
  3. Reposition the camera to the most left or right part of your motif – and take picture no 1.
  4. Take the following pictures – making sure to overlap 30-40% with the previous picture.
    Also try to align the pictures vertically as best as you can!
  5. You are ready – on location!

When I use my DSLR for panorama shots I usually do around 50% overlap – just because I find it is easier! Whatever is at the mid focus point I will move to the edge of the view finder and take the next picture – thus making it around 50% overlap. It would be even better to use the second focus points (the ones to the side of the middle) to give around 30% overlap. But as I said I find it easier to use the middle one – and the cost is just a few more pictures…!

Does the lens matter?
One question that I have got is if it matters what lens you have? Well, it affects the result but all lenses, wide-angle or normal or tele, can be used to take panorama pictures! With a wide-angle you can of course cover the same panorama area with fewer shots – but usually a wide-angle lens will not give as good result as a normal or tele lens because of straight lines being curved and vignetting (see below). The fact that you can use any lens, wide-angle or tele, means that you can use this to your advantage. With a wide-angle lens you will, as I just said, cover a bigger area with fewer pictures – to cover the same area in a tele setting you will have to take more pictures to cover the same area – probably layed out in a matrix – as I have shown in the illustration on the left. This also means MORE pixels and a sharper picture! This is actually how the Giga-pixel pictures are made! Remember to overlap!

Many zoom lenses will give a vignetting effect (darker corners) in its widest setting – this might be seen when you stitch the separate pictures together to a panorama picture. This is especially easy to spot in even same coloured areas like the sky but more difficult in uneven areas like trees or grass. (See sample at the left.) Do test this to see if your lens/camera suffers from this – you might think it is allright! If you find it disturbing you can avouid or lessen the vignetting by zooming in just a little, say from 28 mm to 35 mm (equiv). You can also increase the overlap a little so that you will not have to use the (darker) edges of the pictures. Some cameras even corrects this vignetting in-camera for many lenses.

2. On computer you do this

No matter which one of the three alternate ways above that you used you should now have at least 2 overlapping pictures! But you can have many more than 2 – you can have many hundred pictures!

You will need to join together these pictures using a special software! This is often called “stitching”. You probably got this type of software on the CD with your camera but there is also many other alternatives – both free and commercial. I was recommended the free Microsoft ICE software about a year ago – and it was so good that I have not used the software that Canon shipped with the cameras since then! 🙂  I will describe the joining/stitching process using Microsoft ICE.

The general process is soo simple! Just drop the pictures on the Microsoft ICE window – and the software will do the rest! The software will figure out how the pictures relate to each other – both sideways and up-downways (is it called that?). It will also figure out the camera motion – how the pictures were taken – if you were moving or turning the camera.

If you just have a few (2-5 pictures) the software will be ready in just a few seconds – presenting a joined together picture as the one above. The above one consists of 3 pictures. I will here assume that you are pleased with the result and want to save it as a JPG image of the largest possible size.

  • Zero – drop 2 or more pictures on ICE. It will automatically sort out how the pictures are related and join them up. (This you have just done!)
  • First you will have to get rid of the uneven edges – press “Automatic Crop” and a white rectangle will frame the picture just inside any uneven edges!
  • Second you will have to decide JPG quality. For now I recommend you let it stay at 80.
  • Third you will have to decide what size/scale you want the saved picture to have. I recommend to go with 100% – which means that all of your pixels will be used.
  • Fourth you press “Export…” and decide what name your panorama picture should have.
  • Ready! Open it with your favorite viewing software … IrfanView is a good one… 😉

The challenges

Generally the process is as simple as the one I described above – and the result is stunning! There are actually a few things to be aware of that can lessen the success of your panorama picture. Do read through the tricky points below so you are aware of them but do not let them worry you too much! Most of all: Do not let the it stop you from taking panorama pictures! 🙂

Bad alignment
This affects the picture in three ways: If you have bad alignment vertically the resulting panorama picture will be low – meaning that a lot of the top and bottom of the pictures will have to be cropped away to get even edges! If you do not have enough overlap – around 30% minimum – the software might have difficulty in joining together the pictures. If you have too much overlap – you will have to take many more pictures to get the coverage you wish. If you do not hold the camera horizontal or the resulting image might be crooked! (Thankfully, this can be corrected in ICE – see below!) Most of the time the software will succeed and you will get your panorama but it will be a little limited.

Moving objects
The Chania picture above has one very typical challenge when you take panoramas with water – waves! Any moving parts of the motif will be a challenge! It might be waves, trees, people, cars, … etc. (See sample below in the “Software Section!”) You can accept the flaw in the picture or you can maybe try again with better success … or you can use your favorite image editor to fix the picture. Waves are a real challenge! Wait for the waves to look similar at each picture you take. You will probably have to fix the resulting flaws in your favorite image editor. This is also true for the few/small flaws that you might see from the software join. One fun tip is to actually let a person appear several times in the resulting panorama picture – just ask the person to move into (preferably the middle of) each picture as you take it!

Differently exposed pictures
Microsoft ICE even out the differently exposed pictures before joining them together. It can do a lot but it is best that you try to keep the exposure similar. It is very easy with a compact camera with Stich Assist support – like the Canon S95 – because it will lock exposure when the first picture is taken. If you have DSLR like the Canon 550D it is also easy – just press the exposure lock button! Using a compact without stitch support and without exposure lock you have two alternatives: just take the pictures and let the software sort it out as well as it can – or lock exposure at the same point and reposition the camera for the first picture, lock exposure at the same point again and reposition for the second etc picture – this is OK for 2-3-4 pictures but becomes more and more tedious – but it is doable! (I would only do the second if I have a truly stunning view!)

Under this heading I have also put vignetting (dark corners) of pictures. Most lenses will show some vignetting at their widest angle – this can show up on the panorama picture as a darker band where one picture is joined with the next. Most of the time this effect is so small that you wont have to worry about it! In Canon EOS 550D this is even corrected for in-camera so you do not have to worry about it! MIcrosoft ICE handles some of this effect also. Most compact cameras do not do this – so in order to avoid vignetting – if your camera/lens is much affected – you can minimize the vignetting by zooming in just a little.

More functions

 We are now almost into advanced usage so I will not go through it fully but just mention that you can usually fix slanting or curved/crooked pictures and you can correct or even exaggerate the perspective by clicking the little 3D cube  on the toolbar! Move the mouse around over the gridlines and you will see several different alternatives to move and rotate the picture – click around and try things out!

Software

I thought I would mention something about the panorama/stitch software program that you can use to actually make the panorama picture itself. There are many different programs on the “market” both free and commercial ones. As always it is the requirements that will steer you to the right software for you! I want a software that will do most of the job automatically – with an advanced approach – and with a really good result! Preferably it would also allow me to make adjustments manually if I found it necessary! And it should also be free! I have above written about a few of the “challenges” to good panoramas. The program should – as much as possible – handle these “challenges”. It should leave as invisible joins as possible – giving me very little post processing to do! I have tried a few different programmes and they all have their strengths and their weaknesses

I have found only one – so far – that I think fills most of my requirements – Microsoft ICE – even if I would liked it to have more manual possibilities – to “help” it when it is faced with a difficult set of pictures! Many programmes are commercial and of those I have only used the ones that are included with Canon (PhotoStitch – an older version also as a free download) and Nikon (ArcSoft – a few years ago) cameras. Other programmes that are free have often very complex ways of using them – but at the same time some are often extremely flexible and adaptable – a good choice if you want to/need to tinker around manually a bit!

Just to mention a few of the other ones I have tried: Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher (amazingly good – if you need the flexibility and have the time to learn) , AutoStitch (automatic – a limited demo available) and Photoshop Elements (surprisingly basic in its approach). To be honest I have seen that developments have been made on several of these to simplify things so there might be a new contender for my liking but …

For over a year now I have not tried any other than Microsoft ICE software because – I simply have not seen the need! Also it handles the panorama “challenges” very well. I especially like its ability to really stitch the pictures together – not just blend them along a straight line – and to even out exposure and white balance between the pictures! The only drawback I have seen so far is that ICE only allows some limited manual control over the panorama creation – especially frustrating if it can not automatically join the pictures – and I know that I could help it along manually! Remember that no software is perfect all the time! In the few cases when ICE fails I usually use PhotoStitch – because it allows me to manually set the common control points – to at least get a panorama – even if the quality is not as high as with ICE. But I can not help even PhotoStitch by specifying where it should do the blending!

   

See the samples above from a busy street in Sacre Coeur, Paris on how Canon PhotoStitch and Microsoft ICE handles the tricky moving people challenge! Notice the half seen blended man in the middle of the PhotoStitch sample (the one on the left) – not so good! ICE (the one on the right) have put the stitching in somewhere else … but where? Taking into account that this is a really busy street with lots of moving people – the ICE result is perfect!

Print the best out at a good photo lab – panorama pictures are really on their own when printed out i big size!
Good luck with your panoramas!

Advertisements

, ,

  1. #1 by Peter on December 7, 2010 - 16:46

    Thanks for that. I have a S95 (but, shame on me, I got it 2 weeks and haven’t read the 200 page manual yet and haven’t discovered the automatic panorama function till I read about it here today 😉
    I’ll definitely give the ICE a try for advanced stiching. I was thinking of a person doing multiple things in a room. However, the images might overlap quite a bit and the camera might not be on one spot but move along with the person. Hm, I’ll see how powerful it is / I am with it. I’ll give you a shout when I got that working.

    • #2 by sfennl on December 7, 2010 - 21:14

      Nice to hear that my ramblings have been to some use! As you have guessed ICE is my favorite panorama program – I do hope you will like it! Good luck with your “project”. Would be great to hear how you get on with it!

  2. #3 by mattg on December 20, 2010 - 17:04

    Just bought me a S95 and really like it. Hands down the best camera that’ll fit in a pocket. The pano mode, like you said, is fun but for a real pano nothing beats a DSLR and a pano head rig. I’ve been using PTGui for years to stitch. Does well, but I imagine most pano software nowdays does a good job. The real trick to a perfect pano is understanding how to deal with paralax. I enjoy he site, I read from time to time.

    • #4 by sfennl on December 20, 2010 - 19:26

      Then we agree! I like my S95 a lot as well! The snow arrived here in Sweden at the same time as I got the S95 so it will have to be snowy pictures for a few months … Panoramas as well! Thanks! Nice to hear you are returning every now and then!

  1. Canon PowerShot S95 – The Features « Photoman Camera Reviews
  2. Panorama | Photo Challenge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: