JULY 2020


Yet more online talks and how to take Panoramic images (long read!!) and the future of DSLR Cameras?

The good news is that 2020 is half over. The bad news is that there’s still half of it to go! Well, let’s be fair it’s not been that bad really during lockdown for those of us lucky to live near the countryside in particular. Although I do feel sorry for many people, like two of my children who live in the middle of towns and have been even more isolated at times than we have.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks sitting and looking at a screen. I’ve watched an enormous amount of TV – the whole of Spooks from Series 1, episode 1 right through to the end of Series 10 and then the stand alone film!

But a lot of my screen time (as well as re-processing images) has, in the main, been a learning and informative experience. The RPS started and are continuing to hold a series of free talks, some aimed a photographers wanting to undertake a distinction and many, some with a charge are for online learning.

Facebook has also been a great place to listen to live talks from Canon staff about printing and getting the best from your printer or from companies talking with their ‘staff’ photographers about locations where they do workshops. (I think I mentioned this last month). Of course there are lots of talks and training videos on YouTube too. Here’s a link to one of my favourites. An OnLandscape talk by Overlooked by Joe Cornish

Taking Panoramic images

What has taken me by surprise though is the actual number of photos I have in my archive that haven’t seen the light of day for a few years. Some never at all. The other thing, as I revisit photos, is that my processing skills have improved slightly in these intervening years. I am now able to look at some images that I would have written off before and get something more out of them.

I think I look at images differently now too. I crop differently for a start. Previously I’d have stuck with the 4:3 ratio which is what I get from the camera. Now I look at things and ask “would this be better square”, or “what about 16 x 9”. Furthermore I’m experimenting (along with a good friend from the camera club) with Panorama shots. The image below was taken recently on at Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire. Not only is it a panorama it’s one of the first times I’ve ever really tried to shoot using the camera on Manual settings. Below is the gist of an article I read about the process of taking Panoramic images.

Sutton Bank Panorama
Panorama from Sutton Bank

So what is a Panoramic Photo?
Panoramic photos are created by taking a series of overlapping photos of the scene and merging them together digitally using special software.

So why not just take a single photo of the scene with a wide-angle lens?That’s a good question. There are many good reasons why you should shoot panoramic photos using multiple photos rather than a single wide-angle photo.

  • Your wide-angle lens may not be wide enough to capture the whole scene in a single shot
  • Photos taken with a wide-angle lens exhibit undesirable lens distortion
  • A panoramic image created from multiple photos is much larger than a single shot, and therefore can be printed at much larger sizes
  • A standard lens can be used instead of an expensive, specialist lens
  • Turning the camera into portrait mode allows more depth in the image

How to shoot Panoramic images.
It’s easy to shoot panoramic photos, but there are certain things you can do to guarantee excellent results.

Use a tripod
While it’s not essential to use a tripod, you will get better results because the photos you capture will be in alignment in at least one axis. When the photo merging software merges your photos later, there will be less wastage and you’ll end up with a slightly larger panoramic image.

Shoot in RAW
For best results, it’s advisable (but not essential) to shoot in RAW rather than JPEG format.

RAW images are the digital equivalent of negatives in film camera terms. Unlike the JPEG format, there’s no image compression, and no adjustments to the image are made (such as sharpening or changes to color saturation, etc.).

RAW gives you far more options for working with the images in post editing. Furthermore, Lightroom Classic CC is happy merging RAW images into a panoramic photo as it is with JPEGs. In fact, if you use RAW images, the resulting panoramic image will itself be a RAW image.

Panoramic view from Haystacks
Panoramic view from Haystacks

Take a test shot in AV mode
You’re going to use Manual Mode to capture the photos which will make up your panoramic image. But first, to help you identify the correct exposure settings, switch to Aperture Priority mode, set the to f/11, then take a test shot of the brightest part of the scene.

Check that the test shot has enough sharpness in the foreground and the background. If it doesn’t, then increase your aperture value, e.g. to f/16, and take another test shot.

Double-check that there are no blown highlights in your test image. That is to say, very bright white areas. Many cameras indicate blown highlights by making them flash on the camera’s screen.

If you do find blown highlights, you have two options.

i) Make a note to increase the shutter speed  by one stop, e.g. if the shutter speed is 1/250s, change it to 1/500s, in the steps below. ii) Adjust your camera’s exposure compensation setting to -1. If that works, remember to keep that exposure compensation setting for the steps below.

Both of the above options will halve the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor, reducing the effect of blown highlights.

Once you’re happy with the test shot, make a note of the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure compensation settings. You’ll need them in the next step.

Select Manual Mode
For the very best results, you’ll need the exposure to be the same for each of the photos you take.  The aperture size, shutter speed, and ISO should be constant for each of the shots you take. You’ll use the values you identified in your test shot.

To ensure the values don’t change between shots, switch to Manual mode and set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO values based on the values you identified in your test shot.

The reason for using the exact same settings for each shot is to ensure that the image brightness remains constant for every shot you take, creating a seamless final panorama.

Set your focal distance
Your focal distance is the distance from the camera sensor to the point in the scene you want to focus on. It’s important that you keep the focal distance the same for each of the photos you take. This is because shooting each photo at different focal lengths will cause variation in the sharpness of elements of the scene which are at the same distance.

A rough guide is to focus one-third of the distance from where you’re standing to where the furthest element of the scene is, e.g. the horizon.

To ensure the focal distance doesn’t change between shots, once you’ve found the right focal distance with your lens, switch to manual focus mode. On most DSLR cameras this is a switch on the lens barrel, but on mirrorless cameras it’s often found on the camera body instead.

Choose the correct White Balance Mode
White balance is how warm or cool the colours in the scene are perceived by your camera.

It’s important that you don’t let the camera decide how warm or cool the colors are because it will most likely choose a different value for each of the photos you take. This will result in each photo looking slightly different, and the photo merging software will struggle to merge the photos together correctly for the final panoramic photo.

Your camera has a range of white balance presets. Consult your camera’s user guide to find out how to change the white balance on your camera.

As you’ll most likely be photographing an outdoor scene, choose the Sunny or Cloudy preset depending on the lighting conditions.

Shoot Panoramic Photos With Your Camera Positioned Vertically
For horizontal panoramic photos, shoot with the camera positioned vertically as this will give you more wriggle-room for the photo merging software to work its magic.

It does mean that you’ll need to take more photos than with the camera positioned horizontally, but it’s totally worth the extra effort.

It doesn’t matter whether you shoot your photos from left to right, or right to left, but make sure the camera is kept level and steady.

It’s perfectly ok to create a vertical panoramic photo. A tall tower, waterfall or mountain can be captured effectively by moving the camera vertically in between each shot. In this situation, have the camera positioned horizontally, as this will give you better results later. Of course not all panoramic shots have to be landscape format!

Warnscale Beck
Warnscale Beck

Take Multiple Photos & Overlap Your Shots By At Least 30%
The photo merging software requires you to have a generous overlap of each photo you take. It needs this to make it possible to match up and align the photos. When you shoot panoramic photos, aim for an overlap of about one-third or about 30%.

Merge Your Photos Together
Now you need to merge the photos you’ve taken together. While it’s possible to do this manually, it’s very tricky, so I use some software to make the task really simple. My software of choice for the merging is generally Adobe Lightroom Classic and on occasions I also use Adobe Photoshop. But take some getting used to, but once you know what you’re doing it’s a fairly straight forward process.

Innonimate Tarn Pano
Innonimate Tarn Panoramic view

The future of Cameras?

One major piece of photographic news this month was from Olympus Cameras. Rather than cutting and pasting from news sites have a read of this article from the BBC Technology website. Of course in this day and age we all (in the main) have smart phones and as these get better will this trend continue with other camera manufacturers? Why would enthusiast photographers ever need to carry all that equipment around when for a fraction of the price that a whole DSLR set up costs you could just use an iPhone 11 Max?? Watch this space I guess.

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