Dave Fieldhouse, a self-taught, award winning landscape photographer takes us through the process of creating breathtaking stitched panoramas.
I recently visited Haweswater in the Cumbrian Lake District, a location new to me, but I knew from research online and through books that the views were stunning, and that there are a couple of abandoned/ruined cottages that would add some interesting foreground detail. The forecast when I went to sleep the night before was for cold, clear blue skies with light winds, so the blizzard I had to drive through was both unexpected, but welcome.
The view really was superb and made so much better for the dusting of snow. The clouds were low and dramatic and the water on the reservoir surface was still. Having wandered around for 10 minutes trying to find the best position and composition, here the key elements of the picture (The cottages, the tree covered headland and the island in the lake) did not overlap, I fired off a number of shots with my ‘go to’ lens (Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II). I was really pleased with the result, but I felt I was missing out on what I could see before me. I wasn’t 100% happy with the fact that the lake disappears out the side of the frame, I felt it made you wonder what was around there, it was only part of a view. I quickly swapped lenses to my 16-35mm f/2.8L II super wide angle lens and it helped, but now the distant mountains looked tiny and insignificant. There was only one option.
Why I have decided to resort to stitched panorama solution
I swapped back to the previous lens, made sure the tripod was perfectly aligned (most tripods have a small spirit level bubble built in to help), then made sure that the camera was level. I use a cheap additional spirit level on the cameras hot-shoe to do this. With the camera and tripod level I panned the full extent of the scene to make sure there was no slope across the scene.
For my panoramas I always use the manual settings on the camera. It’s important that the camera doesn’t change aperture or shutter speed across the images used for the panorama. It’s also important to take the white balance off auto. Set it for cloud or shade, shoot in RAW and you can always correct it once you get to your computer. With everything set, focused and ready, I fired off 5 frames, overlapping each one by at least 20%.
Later that evening I uploaded the RAW files to Lightroom6 (my editing software of choice) and allowed it to do its magic. It really is simple to photo merge images like this nowadays. So long as all the images have the same focal length, aperture, shutter speed and white balance, you have allowed enough overlap and some space for cropping, the software does the rest. It takes my Mac about 5 minutes to do this, perfect time to put the kettle on and make a brew.
I was over the moon when I returned to find the stitching was complete and the image was just what I had intended when I was on the Fell earlier that morning.
I didn’t think the image needed too much processing. I sharpened it, cleaned off two annoying dust spots, added a little bit of contrast and dropped in a slightly graduated sky, just to drag out some details in the clouds. Happy with the look, all that was left was to crop it to size. Aspect ratio is very important when you chose a crop for a panorama (in my opinion). I like 2:1 or 3:1, but nothing more than that. I have tinkered with super wide panorama’s, but there’s no way to view them properly unless you can print on roll paper or you have a HUGE monitor. In this instance I settled on 3:1. Here’s the finished shot…
Making a panorama is a rewarding process and something I would urge all photographers to at least have a go at.