Preparing for Panoramas

There are a great many ways of successfully recording a panoramic image today, however, depending on your requirements for the final picture, both your approach to shooting as well as the actual equipment used can vary widely. After all a small image required for web use, where fine detail would be hard to see, is quite a different proposition to that of a two meter long print mounted on a well and open to close scrutiny, although compositionally both require an equal amount of care and attention.

My own approach is to produce large images capable to being printed to two or more meters in length yet still retain the maximum amount of information and detail when output on a printer. To achieve this I like to shoot with a full frame SLR such as a Canon 5DsR or Nikon D810 attached to a range of ‘Nodal Ninja’ panoramic heads, dependent on whether I mount via the camera body itself, or a lens collar clamped to the panoramic head. The entire setup is mounted onto a solid tripod fitted with a ball and socket head which allows for quick adjustment, together with a micro leveling spirit level platform allowing me to get the camera 100˚ level.

The whole setup is of some considerable weight so not something I would take out on a whim, just hoping that I might find a suitable subject for a panorama. I much prefer to already have a idea for a location in mind, which I would pre-visit with just an SLR fitted with a wide angle lens to get a ‘feel’ for the spot, as well as take a few establishing shots to work out lighting angles and exact shooting positions. With experience it becomes easier to visualise a potential panorama, however there is still no substitute to having a few actual pictures to look at back home, to help me work out exactly what equipment I will return with to take the final panoramas.

With the advent of smartphones however, most of which are capable or producing a single shot of 180˚ to 360˚ depending on make and model, thus the whole process of pre-visualization has become much easier to the point that quite successful final panoramas can be produced with a smartphone alone, especially for the web where you are somewhat limited by the usable file size. Although these phones are getting better and better they still tend to struggle with difficult lighting conditions as well as maintaining critical sharp focus throughout the whole panorama, especially if there is subject movement as well. Fortunately for visualization purposes none of this is an issue, even when I’m using an older model such as an iPhone 5SE, which is more than capable of producing a satisfactory result with very little effort.

Checking the results back home soon informs me which locations have potential, and knowing the viewing angle of the phones lens, helps in deciding which camera and lens combination will be best suited for a final high resolution panorama. I quite imagine that with the rapid advances in smartphone technology, their will come a time when that’s all you will need, but for the time being I am happy to stick to my trusty SLR setup!

The following, hand held, 140˚ to 180˚ iPhone images were taken as both a visual notebook of locations, also as an aid in deciding if worthy of a return visit with the full panoramic equipment. To minimise banding it IS important to pan the phone as slowly and smoothly as possible, and keeping it as level as you can will also help.


(above) Leicester – Grand Union Canal


(above) Leicester – Grand Union Canal


(above) Derbyshire – Monsal Head


(above) Trent and Mersey Canal Junction with River Trent

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(above) Manchester – Canal Basin

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(above) Manchester – Canal Basin


(above) Leicestershire – Stanton Lakes


(above) Leicester – Street Graffiti


(above) Leicester – Street Graffiti


(above) Leicester – Street Graffiti


(above) Leicester – Football Fans. Note what happens when someone walks in front of you while you are panning the shot with a smartphone!






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