Technique Tips

Master High Contrast Panorama Image Taking: Panorama Photography In High Definition

Kevin 2 Comments
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Shooting panoramas in HDR is perfect for those times when you want to shoot awe inducing landscapes.

When shooting in areas like mountains, beaches or canyons where there is an enormous amount of scenery to get into one shot, panoramic imaging is the answer.

Combining both HDR and panoramic technologies allows you to attempt photographs that once only seasoned professionals were able to produce. These technologies include up-to-date digital tools and superior post-processing software that help make the magic happen.

Panorama photography along with High Dynamic Range or HDR imaging allows photographers to achieve complex images that might have been more difficult or even impossible in the past.

Until recently, a photograph of sweeping landscapes was unheard of, without a wide angle lens. However, with nonstop improvements in digital technology combined with laptops now performing the jobs once only supercomputers could do; even an amateur can now take and process amazing panoramic HDR photographs, without a wide angle lens.

There are a couple approaches to panoramic images.  One being a software based solution like PT GUI for example.  The other is camera based.  Many modern cameras actually have a panoramic mode or function which will perform the stitching in camera.

My personal preference is the software based approach if using HDR.  Few cameras will actually shoot a bracketed set of images and stitch all your images for you, and those that do limit your options.

Software Based Approach

The idea here is that we are going t take several slightly overlapping sets of bracketed photos (see example below).  Typically you will want to overlap the photos by a minimum of at least 15 percent and a maximum of 30 percent.

Experimentation is the key to finding the “sweet spot” on exactly how much you should overlap your images.

PT GUI example

You will then take your images into a stitching program like PT GUI which will stitch the images together for you.  I recommend PT GUI because it is very HDR friendly and automatically recognizes when you are stitching bracketed images.

It should go without saying by now that a tripod is highly recommended.  Keeping the camera level from shot to shot is particularly important when it comes to panoramic images.

1)  To start, set your metering mode to a manual setting and scan the entire region as you meter, then select a setting near mid-range or perhaps slightly darker to ensure all the details in the lighter areas are preserved.

2)  Set your camera to AEB mode and set your bracketing preferences to 2EVs apart, if possible.

3)  I strongly recommend shooting from left to right. This will make your post processing much easier by using some standard logic.  Also, I can tell you from experience (unfortunately) that shooting from right to left can result in an untightened Tripod Head.

Don’t be afraid to try to grab as much of the scene as possible, for post-processing at a later time. Remember to swipe the camera from left to right as well as up and down.

Overlapping the images is just as important on vertical swipes and a vertical panorama as it is for tall buildings and waterfalls.

Processing your Bracketed HDR Panoramas

Once your bracketed images are “stitched together”, you can then begin to process them in your HDR program.  There is a lot of debate about whether to stitch your bracketed images first and then process them in your HDR software or process each bracketed set and then stitch them. 

Personally, I stitch then process in Photomatix.  I feel that this provides a more consistent image quality and superior ability to make corrections and touch-up your images.

Recommended Workflow

workflow example

Not So Recommended Workflow

good workflow exampleprocess example

As you can see there are a few more steps involved in the not so recommended workflow. 

Additionally I find that the images don’t always match up when stitched together – so they look like three images processed separately and then stitched together.  When they are stitched then processed there are little to no differences from image to image resulting in one fantastic panoramic image.

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  1. Jim Taylor

    I have a question or potential issue. I have yet to use AutoPano and am just starting to use PTGui. I have seen online instructors claim that with either or both, each time one processes a pano the results come out unique or slightly different each time. It was specifically stated that if you ran the pano 5 times, each would be ever so slightly different in the way it interprets the distortion / stitching outcome, thus the distortions wont line up. So in your scenario, of first creating the panos based upon exposure, then processing them through Photomatix, might be problematic with AutoPano or PTGui. Is your experience such that the distortions correction processing will be exactly the same each and every time so things will line up for HDR processing?

    • Kevin

      Good question Jim.

      When using PTGui the program automatically recognizes when a bracketed set of images is processed and applies the same stitching points to all exposures to prevent the slight differences you mentioned. Which by the way is a true and fair statement.

      So if you processed each exposure individually and separate you would end up with some mis-alignments. So be sure to pay close attention to the HDR dialog box that pops up in PTGui as you begin processing your bracketed image set. You want to select the box that says “taken from a tri-pod”. This is specifically what assigns identical stitching points to all exposures of one shot.

      As for Autopano I haven’t used it in years so I can’t fairly comment on how Autopano works.


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