Tip: Creating a Digital Panorama

I have published an overview explaining the steps for creating a digital panorama from start to finish. This article was inspired by the panorama I shot of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze on May 27, which was also featured in my recent post about my visit to Florence, Italy. It is pretty detailed so I put the entire article in its own page. I have included the introductory sections in case you are just passing through or unsure whether you care to read the article in its entirety.

Overview

A panorama is a large composite picture created by stitching together a series of overlapping smaller photos. This is done to capture a broader aspect ratio and higher resolution of a scene than a single picture is capable, even when it is captured with a wide angle lens. The best panoramas are created from two or more photos with overlapping vertical or horizontal regions across the entire scene. When the photos are combined, they recreate a full 90°, 180°, 360° (and anywhere in between) of a given scene.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze (Florence, Italy) panorama
Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze, May 27, 2007, Florence, Italy

Introduction

The quality, popularity and relative simplicity of digital cameras and photo processing software have made creating digital panoramas much easier today than just a few years ago. Creating a decent panorama using a digital camera is greatly simplified, as in most cases, by having the proper equipment and workflow.

As with single-image digital photography — and photography, in general — adhering to the fundamentals by controlling focus & lighting is a must. The omelette is only as good as the ingredients that go in it. If you take a crappy set of photos, you will end up with a crappy panorama. The more control you have and exert over the process of capturing the individual photos, the better the final panorama will be when you will later stitch them together. For this reason, point-and-shoot digital cameras are great for their convenience but not ideal for capturing panoramas. You can use point-and-shoot cameras to capture a panorama but you won’t get anywhere near the results possible with a basic digital SLR which provide more control for capturing a consistent set of images across the entire scene.

Other must-have equipment, in my opinion, is a good tripod. Camera shake will kill a panorama. Tripods also help you control the level of the camera as you pan it across the scene capturing the individual photos. Imagine taking 24 pictures (at 15° intervals) to capture a full 360° scene without using a tripod. Could you keep the camera steady? Would the pictures be anywhere near level from start to finish? Probably not. A tripod is your friend when it comes to panoramas. Invest in one, borrow one or rent one. You won’t be sorry.

Once you have captured a solid photo set, creating the composite becomes an exercise in matching the overlapping regions and correcting for lens artifacts & color shifts then transforming (or warping) the images so they can be joined into the final panorama. By investing more in equipment specifically designed for capturing panoramas, one can completely eliminate such corrections and transformations from the workflow. However, such equipment can be very expensive. The good news is there are several relatively inexpensive computer software programs that automate the image corrections and will even automatically stitch the images together for you.

Pictured above is the most recent panorama I created. It is of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze in Florence, Italy taken on May 27, 2007. The final, high-resolution image has a resolution of 7097×3624 pixels. My current camera is a Nikon D200 which has a maximum resolution of 3872×2592. So how did I create a single image 1.8x wider and 1.4x taller than my camera can capture? By taking 7 separate, overlapping pictures and stitching them together.

In the following article, I will take you through the process, equipment and software I used to create the picture above from start to finish. Let’s get started.

Read the entire article…