Panoramic Photography: How to Shoot and Merge Pictures

Here’s a quick rundown on how to make your own panoramic photos from scratch! By scratch I mean just by using a basic camera with no features and a tripod. I know, your mobile phone’s stock camera app can do this already, but I think it’s still handy to know about how to do this manually- you may need it one day as an alternative.

Here are two I made awhile back- click to enlarge:

From outside my house

From outside our terrace

There are a lot of ways to do this, actually, and the most efficient one would be buying and using specialized equipment that would definitely make your wallets (or at least mine) cry: those that are usually used in commercial virtual tour photos by real estate groups (like this one). But fear not, we can still achieve the same results, almost, with just your everyday digicam and a steady tripod- and that’s exactly what we’re gonna do!

For starters, we’re gonna need those individual photos we plan on stitching together.

Here are a couple of quick tips on getting the shoot right:

1.) Use a tripod with a fluid head and vertical lock to avoid unnecessary shifting and to minimize the parallax effect caused when panning. Make sure the tripod’s spirit level is balanced at all times.

2.) Set the camera to manual mode and manual focus to avoid the automatic changing of aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. Having different settings on different photos would pose serious problems in the stitching process later on.

3.) On shooting: we’ll start from what we plan to be the left-most part of the photo. After getting the first shot, pan to the right, but pan in a way that the right-most side of your previous photo will still be visible to the left-most portion of the next one. Do this until you’ve made a full 360-degree turn. How many pictures needed to take would depend on the lens and the camera. In my case, I had seven.

Now that we have our pictures, time to stitch them in Photoshop!

Note: If you don’t have Photoshop, there’s also the free Autostitch and the not-so expensive yet more versatile PTGUI. They’re good alternatives- check ’em out!

a.) Go to Adobe Photoshop’s File > Automate > Photomerge

b.) Import your photos via Browse, put the Layout on Auto, and then press OK

Note: The photos must be named and arranged in sequence. In this case, 1.jpg being the left-most part and 7.jpg the right-most part.

Wait for Photoshop to process the stitching, and then voila! Your photo is done. Take note that due to this imperfect procedure, there may be black portions on the sides of your photo because of the parallax- but you can always crop them out or just enable Vignette Removal.

To push things further- if you’ve got the gear (or budget), use a full-frame camera paired with a wide angle lens and fluid tripod with a special panoramic head. With those, you’ll be able to make a full 360-degree by 180-degree panoramic sphere with no sweat- enough for a professional virtual that you can sell for big bucks!

Questions or clarifications? Write it down on the comments section below!

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