Lightroom CC Panorama stitching tips
Tips to improve your landscape panoramas
Several years ago, my wife, my sister, her husband and I visited the Richtersveld National Park situated in the furthermost north-western corner of South Africa, right up against the Orange River which forms the natural border with Namibia in those parts. Our trip started with a wonderful 4 day canoe adventure down the Orange River ( we used Felix Unite, great guides, great food) which starts and ends at Noordoewer in Namibia. The Richtersveld is a World heritage site. It is technically a mountain desert with less than 220mm rain a year. It is famous for its vistas and landscape scenes, with the odd Halfmens (Pachydodium namaquanum) and beautiful Kokerboom (Quiver trees) standing sentinal over the tortured red and black mountains, etched against blue skies. It is a place to rest the soul.
After a long and gruelling trip, through deserts, over mountains and down steep sandy valleys we finally arrived at our destination, the Tatasberg Wilderness Camp, in the dark, long after sun-set. Early the following morning with the first light of dawn, I headed out and climbed the koppie (small rocky hill) behind our camp with tripod and camera in hand, exited about what might unfold as the day breaks. As you have seen above, I was not disappointed - this remains one of my favourite images. This week, after the Lightroom CC update I tested the new panorama function on one of my favourite landscape images, and revisiting those shots reminded me of the good technique I had applied at the time, which is the real topic of this post.
A quick look at the exif data for the images used reveals the following: - a slow shutter speed 1/8 sec; a small aperture f/16; a low ISO 100 and lastly the lens zoomed to a "standard" focal length, 60mm in this case. In addition, focus, exposure and white balance was firmly set to manual. Each of these settings were chosen for a reason, explained below with the tips:
- Scout your location and pick potential "lines of fire" upfront. If you are unfamiliar with the terrain and time is constrained, use Google Earth and /or apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) to determine sun and moon angles and potential set-up sites before you venture out.
- Get there early and stay aware - there are many things to set-up and get right, and when the perfect moment arrives it does so suddenly and fleetingly and, if your eye is not in the viewfinder, you have to wait 24 hours to try again. Be aware and anticipate how the light will unfold.
- Set your camera to manual everything. You do NOT want the camera to automatically change any settings between the frames - it will certainly spoil your final image if the exposure, colour or focus changes visibly across the panorama.
- Set Aperture small and ISO low - Keep your ISO at the cameras lowest setting to minimise noise and improve image quality. Keep your aperture as small as you can to increase depth of field and ensure sharpness across the photograph. Focus 1/3rd in or use your lens's hyperfocal distance to ensure maximum sharpness.
- Use a standard focal length lens - Lenses in the range of 35 to 70mm (35mm equivalent) are said to be normal or standard lenses as they produce images roughly as the human eye sees it. Wide angle lenses also make distant objects appear much smaller in relation to closer objects than what a normal or telephoto lens would, therefore rather use a longer lens and stitch a few more frames to get a more pleasing result.
- Frame loosely - Do not frame your sequence of shots tight, remember that the stitching software will prune off quite a bit, therefore ensure that you leave adequate space around the frames. Note how I almost cropped the top of the mountain on the last frame in the image posted above - doing so would have spoiled it. Consider shooting vertical (portrait) orientated frames if you have trouble fitting foreground and background into the frame simultaneously.
- Use a tripod - The combination of a sunrise or sunset, low ISO and small aperture will inevitably result in very slow shutterspeeds, therefore do not forget your tripod, or at least a ground pod to mount a panning head on.
- Pan horizontally and overlap frames by at least ⅓ - Set up your tripod so its level and will allow a good horizontal pan, use your viewfinder grid and pick a prominent feature at a ⅔ rd point as an overlap anchor.
- Mark the start and end frames of your sequence with hand signals, a shot of a your finger pointing in the direction of the sequence and one at the end showing how many frames you shot does wonders to find the sequence of frames when you return years later.
Lightroom CC and landscape stitching
The new Lightroom CC (Lightroom 6) update released this week prompted me to post these Lightroom CC Panorama stitching tips. You will find the new Panorama function under the Photo menu, under Photo Merge as shown in the screenshot below.
By the way, I found two quirky issues with the Lightroom CC update on my Mac, firstly after update you have to sign-out of the Creative Cloud app (found under the gear icon) and sign back in before Lightroom CC will open, and secondly, the LR icon in the dock for LR 5 remains after the update. This lead to a moment of panic as I frantically searched for my new pano, only to realise I had mistakenly opened the old LR5 library. The merge to panorama feature works really well. It is easy and intuitive and what is really great is that the resultant file is a DNG raw file, which allows full non-destructive editing in the develop panel. A useful feature was the auto crop which did as good a job as I would have done manually.
In the mean time have fun and remember to take care out there - it's lion country.
April 2015; Pretoria