Basic Rules & No Parallax Point
As I mentioned before, the pictures are usually shot vertically, portrait format.
When you take photos for a panorama, the most important thing you have to respect is an overlap of about 30% of the pictures. Each photo has to overlap its neighboring photos by 30%. Even up to 50%. That’s how the software will detect the panorama.
If the overlap of the pictures is not enough, it will either be not detected, or the quality of the stitching will be bad. If they don’t overlap, there will obviously be no panorama to be detected at all.
The second important rule is that all the pictures have to be taken from the exact same position, called the no parallax point. I know it’s not always easy when you are not using a tripod, but the more precise you are with this, the better stitching quality you will get. A moving position, even slightly, often results in parallax errors.
Look at the picture below to understand what a parallax error is:
How to find the no parallax point?
It is also called the entrance pupil of your lens. Very often, it is around the golden or silver ring that is (often) present near the tip of your lens. I can’t really give you a precise rule because it all depends on what lens you use.
But if you are just started and shooting without a tripod, you won’t be able to keep a 100% precise position anyway, so for now you can just consider that somewhere around the tip of your lens is your no parallax point.
In order for you to understand better this concept, I recommend you to take a look at this page – it shows how to find this point when you have a panorama head.
It may be better not to use an automatic white balance because it could be modified at each picture you take according to what you point your camera at. Just set it to “sun” if you are outside, “tungsten” if you are indoors, etc. But anyway, the white balance is not such a big deal because it can very easily be corrected and harmonized on post-processing software.
Generally, try to pay attention to the exposure of your images. It is better to have a similar exposure in all your pictures, even if the stitching software is good at harmonizing it. The less work you give your software, the better your panorama will look.
For example, if you point your camera at the sky, the trees will likely appear black – underexposed. If you point it towards the trees, the sky might appear white – overexposed… A good solution to this problem is to shoot in RAW if you are using a DSLR, and improve the underexplosed and overexposed areas with Lightroom or Photoshop.
If you are not using a DSLR or can’t use any advanced photo editing software, you can try to take an intermediate photo with an intermediate exposure, increasing the percentage of overlapping. Like this you won’t be stitching a very light picture with a very dark one directly. The result wouldn’t look good – you will understand better when looking at the way to shoot spherical panoramas below.
It is always better to shoot in manual or aperture priority mode.
Of course, you want to keep the exact same level of zoom on all pictures.
Panoramas from places with moving objects like cars on the road or the crowd can be tricky. It will be up to you to take the pictures quickly when they are not moving. For example when all the cars are stopped at the traffic light. Or if you can try to wait for people to walk away from you a bit.
Generally, if you are not so sure, it is always better to shoot more pictures than not enough, and overlapping more than not enough. It is always possible to select the pictures to use and the ones to discard later if needed.
How To Take Photos For a Partial or a Cylindrical Panorama
This one is pretty obvious, you just need to take one row of pictures, overlapping themselves by 30-40%.
Here is an example of the Jatun Sacha forest in Ecuador, showing the different pictures composing the panorama:
The most intuitive way to do it would be to stay where you are, turn on yourself and take pictures all around you. The result can be acceptable, but remember what I said earlier? All the photos should be taken from a single precise position – the no parallax point.
That means that you should be turning around your camera instead of having your camera turning around you! Your camera should remain at the no parallax point, and you turn around it to take all the pictures.
If you don’t have a tripod with a panorama head and don’t mind a bit of DIY, you can use a string attached to the tip of your lens, with a heavy object touching the ground. This way, keeping the string taut, you can turn around this point where the heavy object touches the ground.
As for the cropping, if you plan to convert this cylindrical panorama into an interactive format, make sure that the horizon is in the center of the image. Otherwise it will appear curved. The example above is a bad example because if we chose to convert it, the horizon would be completely curved or a lot of the forest would need to be cropped out to get the horizon in the center. A significant part of the image would be lost. However, if kept as a still image, the higher horizon looks better (respecting the rule of thirds).
How To Take Photos For a Spherical Panorama
Let’s get to full 360°x180° panoramas. For this one, your technique will depend on what equipment you have.
It is possible to shoot panoramic images with any camera, even your iPhone is fine. But you understand that since you have to cover the whole sphere around you, if your lens is not a wide angle, you will have to take many, many photos!
The more (handheld) photos you take, the more challenging it is for your stitching software to create a really perfect image. Moreover, stitching images is not a small job for a computer, it takes quite a lot of RAM resource and stitching 10 images is not as easy as stitching 100 of them.
With my basic 18 mm lens on my Canon 550D DSLR, I often needed around 80 pictures to cover the whole sphere. Fortunately, nowadays stitching software are very powerful and able to stitch properly a great number of images. The limit is basically the RAM resource of your computer. Since then, I got myself more adapted equipment – wider lenses.
If you are serious about creating panoramas, invest in a fisheye lens. I am glad I did. Your panoramas will be done with 4 or 5 pictures! 3 or 4 pictures around you, one for the sky, one for the ground, and you’re done.
Serious panorama photographers usually have their camera on a tripod and mounted on a panoramic head. A panoramic head enables to have the camera moving in any direction to shoot the pictures, while guaranteeing a perfectly fixed no-parallax point and as a result an optimal stitching quality. They may also use a small bubble level to make sure that the horizon will be perfectly straight (super important!).
If you couldn’t get any professional equipment yet, I will show you the method I use to take the photos hand held for a spherical panorama with a basic wide angle lens. The little trick with the taut string that I talked about for cylindrical panoramas, is also applicable here.
I have tried several methods to take photos for spherical panoramas with a non-fisheye lens, but the one I like the most if shooting in “columns”. I take a series of photos from my feet to the sky, then I turn a little, shoot another series, etc. I do this all around me. All images in a column overlap each other, and all columns overlap each other.
Look at this example for a better understanding:
This is the best method I found to shoot pictures for a spherical panorama when you only have a not-so-wide lens. If you can think of a better a way, just leave a comment, I would be happy to hear about it!
Once you have shot all the series of pictures all around you, you are just left with a picture up above you and one where you were standing. You just walk one step back and take a picture of the ground from above. This last picture is called the nadir.
This is already enough to create a panorama, but there is a much easier way with a bit of equipment. Click on the link below to know more.