Adventures in Panorama

I decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend learning how to use Photoshop to take scenic panorama photos. This is something I haven’t gotten around to before, and I figured it was time to get better at it.

After a bit of practice at home, I headed down to Lookout Point in Newport Beach and set up my tripod. Here’s a plain, full-frame shot taken at the 24mm setting, which provides an angle of view of 52° (horizontally). The advantage of this is that it’s easy and requires no special effort to keep everything straight and level. The disadvantage, obviously, is that it’s not really very panoramic.

Like most cameras (and smartphones) these days, mine can shoot a panoramic picture in-camera. The is a quick and easy way of getting a wide shot, but it has problems. First, it’s generally a low-resolution image, which may or may not be a problem depending on what you want to do with it. Second, it’s very narrow in the vertical direction. In this case that’s not too bad (the palm trees on the left are cut off), but in other cases it makes it difficult to capture an entire scene.

Next up, then, is to use Photoshop to produce a panorama. Put your camera on a tripod and then take a series of pictures while rotating from left to right. Then use the Photomerge feature to stitch them together. This works remarkably well, especially when there’s nothing too big in the foreground. On the other hand, our palm trees are still cut off.

Finally, you can do the same thing but with the camera turned vertically. This requires more pictures, of course, but that’s no real problem. Here’s the original shot after Photoshop has finished its merge.

In all these cases, the original picture will display a fisheye effect, but you can play around with Photoshop’s warp and distort filters to get what you want. In this case, I chose to make the horizon line as level as possible, which means that the palm trees and the clouds are distorted a bit. Alternatively, you can retain the fisheye effect for the horizon, which keeps the rest of the picture less distorted. In this case, I don’t think the distortion would really be noticeable if I hadn’t pointed it out.

Not bad! This is probably an angle of view of 120º or so, and it looks pretty good. This works best with a tripod, but Photoshop is pretty forgiving even if you shoot handheld and then stitch everything together. I shall keep you all posted as I produce ever more panoramic shots.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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