Most times, when we trip the shutter of our camera, we’re extracting just a small part of everything in our view. Generally, we compose the image with a subject or focal point contained completely within the frame in a way that is balanced and pleasing. But there are limitations to what can fit within the confines of the frame and occasionally we’re faced with the choice of whether to cut out part of the subject or switch to a wider viewpoint to include it all. That means using a wider angle lens which consequently will make the subject recede, making it more diminutive and less powerful. However, the panorama may be the solution in cases like that.
In the image above, as the light faded, I wanted to capture the beautifully graphic shape of the clouds and their reflections in perfect balance between the sky and the mirror like lake. Even though I would break the “rule” of placing the horizon line directly in the center, I felt that is where the drama resided, and wanted to have that area of the scene dominate the image with the wispy clouds emanating from it and pointing directly back to the focal point. The sunset glow stretched almost completely across the horizon, so in order to get it all in the frame without cutting off one end or the other, I had to zoom out to 17mm transforming the glow into just a thin strip of light lost in a huge sea of blue sky and water. And there was nothing in the sky above or it’s reflection below that added any interest or drama; it was just empty space. If I zoomed in to 35mm, the light filled the frame in a more powerful way, but I wasn’t able to completely include it all inside the limits of the frame, losing the fundamental graphics of clouds and reflection. The only way to achieve the final image I had in mind was to take several frames across the scene and stitch them together later.
It’s important to note that when taking a panorama, it’s best to switch to manual mode if not in it already, to have a consistent exposure as you pan across the scene. After deciding on the best exposure, start taking the frames overlapping each by at least one-third. You can use one of the camera markings within the frame, such as a focus point, to keep things as level as possible as you compose each frame. And if you find the camera having difficulty focusing on the scene, especially with a blank sky or fog, switch to manual focus as well. If there are clouds in the panorama, try to take all the frames quickly to limit their movement from one frame to the next. Of course, a tripod makes this all possible, although it’s not impossible to do handheld, just more likely to be successful. After all, the software has to be able to match up the frames in order to combine them into one seamless image, so do everything possible to allow that to happen. One additional technique to consider is to turn the camera vertically to take a horizontal panorama. This helps when there are important elements that need to be included that the horizontal placement is unable to include when using a longer lens which I try to use whenever possible since there is less inherent distortion, especially around the perimeter.
This second image came about when I was a bit disappointed by the lack of clouds in the sky for a sunset overlooking the receding ridge lines. Before arriving at this location, I originally envisioned a magnificent scene of brilliantly illuminated clouds that would be the star of the image as the sun sank below the horizon. But without that drama, the gently fading and flowing ridges became the star. The nearest and darkest ridges on either side of the frame seemed to embrace the entire view and therefore needed to be included in the final image for balance, but were too far apart and therefore impossible to include in a single shot. The obvious solution was a panorama. It was fortunate that there was a single unique cloud that stretched across the sky and I waited for the sun to drop just below it to keep the focus toward the ridges. If the sun were above the cloud, it would have separated the image in two, dividing the interest as well.
Although stitching together several images may allow distant areas of a scene to be included within one frame, this process also provides greater detail within an intricate image. You are essentially multiplying the number of pixels that would otherwise be included in a given dimension. If the intention is a large print that reveals much more than what is possible to see with the naked eye, then this process may be the appropriate method to reveal that detail. And it’s not necessary for the final image to be long and narrow; it can be a more normal 4:5 or 2:3 ratio as the image of Looking Glass Rock above. A “normal” 50mm lens was used (about 35mm on a cropped sensor) with the camera positioned vertically on the tripod and three frames were stitched together. The result is a photo that could have been taken with one frame, but with at least twice the information creating a much sharper, cleaner image, especially if printed in very large sizes.
To achieve the inherent detail contained within this image of a distant hillside at Soco Gap in spring bud, three individual images using a telephoto lens were stitched together. The screen shot below of the area just above the right side evergreen reveals how a 16-in. section would appear in a print over 9 feet wide!!
The intricate visible detail would never be as sharp if a single image were made as big. Correspondingly, something in a more likely size would hold detail even better.
So, panoramas are not simply an attempt to broaden a perspective of view using long, thin images or cropping a single image to eliminate unnecessary or uncomplimentary areas within your frame. They serve a specific purpose to fulfill your personal vision for a particular shot the same as your conscious choice of shutter speed and aperture. Just another tool in your photographic toolbox.