Panoramic Photography Techniques With Coloratti Hugo Rodriguez – Updated with 360 panorama links
by Dave Mobbs – April 19th, 2016
In this blog, Coloratti Hugo Rodriguez explores one of his passions, panoramic photography, and the techniques, effects and equipment needed to master this type of photography.
Panorama photography is really fascinating. It’s the only photographic technique which lets you capture wide spaces and then view them in an almost identical way to actually being there. Although creating panoramas can be a bit challenging, and requires special equipment, it’s an engaging technique and the result, if it’s good enough, is well worth the effort.
The most popular panorama cameras are possibly the classic, wide ones. The idea is simple; a wide film frame or sensor, high quality optics, and a big inner image circle. The most spectacular cameras were those that used medium format film, like the impressive Fuji GX617, which made negatives with an impressive 17cm width! With the 90mm lens it can captures up to 86° horizontally.
These types of cameras popularized panoramic photography, as they allowed photographers to very easily capture extremely wide angles. The problem with digital photography is that there are almost no panoramic cameras. However, digital does allow us to create panoramas.
Types of Panoramas
The easier type of panoramic (which is probably the one that most people have tried) is to capture a view of a wide angle, typically greater than what most lenses can capture with a single shot. This is perhaps the type of panorama that most people imagine when they think of a “panorama”. It is also the kind of image that was achieved with traditional panoramic cameras. Today, it is usually taken with two or three shots that are then assembled by software (or a ruler and cutter, the old-fashioned way).
The quality can be very high if the technique used and the quality of equipment is good, and you can actually capture up to 180º or more. More recently, smartphones with Apps for taking this kind of panorama have appeared, and make this process very easy. As they are shot by hand without an optimal rotation center, the quality is usually poor, especially in low light, but sometimes no noticeable defects without magnifying.
One of the worst problems using smartphones can occur indoors under fluorescent light because the gap between the shutter and fluorescent light causes banding.
360 ° Panoramic or Cylindrical
True surrounding panoramic photography actually begins with 360º photographs. This kind of photography allows you to explore all the space around you, allowing you to visually enjoy it with great realism:
You can actually say that this kind of photography is shaped like a cylinder, as it does not include the floor or ceiling (hence they are also called “cylindrical”).
The spherical panorama is the pinnacle of panoramic photography as it covers the entire space surrounding the photographer. Normally it is shot as a 360° and then the top and bottom covers are added. It is also the most difficult to carry out and has the highest level of technical requirements, as a VR head it is absolutely necessary to properly shoot the up and down covers.
Shooting Panoramas With Digital Cameras
The Stitching Technique
If there is a technique that has become especially popular in recent years in panoramic photography, it is this one. It is accomplished by dividing the scene to photograph it with a standard camera (compact or SLR) and then stitching the photographs using special software.
This view of the National Museum of Contemporary Art is taken using the popular photo stitching technique:
With this technique you can get very high quality panoramas without making a huge investment. All you need is your own camera with only a few accessories. These accessories can range from a simple nodal slide to a sophisticated VR head. As always, it depends on how far you want to go (and how much you want to spend)…
The technique is to shoot by rotating the camera, taking pictures at every particular angle of rotation. It’s important to calculate the angles in advance.
Stitching 360º Panoramas
Of course, the panoramas can also be cylindrical (called 360º). To create this, just take pictures until you close the circle. Then you need to stitch all of them, including the first and the last:
Stitching Spherical Panoramas
The final possibility is to take a spherical panorama. You’ll need to add pictures of “zenith” (the roof) and the “nadir” (the floor):
Stitching Different Panoramas Together
Here’s the result:
As in other highly technical areas of photography, it is necessary to use specialized equipment. What you need to achieve is to slide the camera to the back so that the optical center and the center of rotation match. This allows the shots to be put together much more easily when you get them back onto your computer. This is what is known as rotating from the nodal point. Let’s see it.
The most basic accessory is a nodal slide that allows the camera to slide. With one of these slides you can take 360º panoramas (although not spherical) with some ease.
A nodal slide is a great way to start, but if you really want to make spherical panos you have to think of getting yourself a good VR head. With a VR head, a world of amazing possibilities to capture whatever-you-want will open in front of you. From a 200º wide panorama to a spherical or even a huge gigapano.
There are several models on the market to meet the diverse needs, but the truth is that there’s not much variety. The most popular are, probably, Nodal Ninja.
Ensuring true image color
Finally, when you’re shooting and particularly stitching together a selection of shots, accurate color control is vitally important. Knowing my screen is accurately profiled using the i1Display Pro gives me complete confidence that from one shot to the next, I know the color will match up, and we won’t see different results across a panorama. Using a ColorChecker also ensures that consistency during a shoot. View more of Hugo’s panoramas on his website at http://www.hugorodriguez.com/.
Check out the post on photo stitching to learn more about these techniques.