Panoramic photos are incredible to see and easier than ever to take, thanks to recent advances in both hardware and software. With all that, however, there are still some techniques to know and follow to get the best possible results. There's also some equipment that will help make the shooting process easier and more efficient, which will make a difference in both the time required to stitch and process the images and the quality of the final results. Here are a few tips for creating awesome panoramic images.
Get a panoramic tripod head.
Steady, level camera movement and consistent rotational steps between shots will speed up your processing workflow by creating consistent overlaps and minimizing alignment issues. A panoramic tripod head is still the most reliable way to get that consistency. Also known as an indexing head, this mount takes the guesswork out of your camera adjustments. If you want to produce great panoramas, this will be a good investment. Here are a few good setups to consider:
Don't neglect the overlap.
An important point to remember is that even with one of the panoramic heads above, you'll still need to overlap your images 15-30%. No matter how careful and precise you are, you will always need to adjust a bit at the seams. Don't ruin a great panoramic image by trying to skimp on the number of images.
Don't shoot too wide.
Don't think that going wide will help you by allowing you to take less shots. While you will, indeed, be able to cover more area with each shot, the increased distortion will also make it more difficult to align your images and require you to crop deeper. For most purposes, a 30-35mm focal length will do a nice job with a crop sensor camera and 40-50mm is a good range for a full-frame DSLR. In other words, this is a great application for your “normal lens”! Don't have one? Check out these beauties:
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM (Sony)
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM (Canon EF & EF-S)
If you use Auto ISO (Please say it ain't so!), switch it off and select an appropriate setting for the lighting situation. Set your camera to manual (M) exposure and dial in an aperture that will give you maximum depth of field without diffraction. This is a matter of knowing the sweet spot of your lens, but f/11 is a good place to start. Meter for the midtones and set your shutter speed accordingly. Take a test exposure or two and lock in the optimum settings. Switch off your AF, focus manually about 1/3 into the scene and don't adjust the focus between shots.
Following these simple steps when shooting will help you turn out more natural-looking panoramas with less effort.