When we asked the noted outdoor and nature photographer Rod Planck about his method of shooting panoramas, the first thing he said was, “I like to keep it simple.” We like to hear that, though he did add that making panoramic images isn’t spontaneous point-and-shoot photography; it takes some preparation. But it is pretty basic, and the results are very cool.
A panoramic image depicts a field of view considerably wider than the one that can be captured in one exposure, and it tells a more complex story and draws the viewer of the image closer to the feeling of what it was like to be there.
To make a panorama, you take several shots that capture overlapping sections of the scene; then you use imaging software to seamlessly stitch (that is, join) the sections together.
For Rod, panoramas represent a different and dramatic way of capturing the grandeur of nature, and they allow him to present that grandeur in large-size prints. “Panoramas gain information, detail and resolution,” he says. “Stitch three sections together and you’ve almost tripled your resolution, and thus tripled your enlarging capabilities.” Which is a significant, as part of Rod’s business is fine-art sales. It will be significant to you, too, if you’d like to maximize the quality of a framed print for your home—or for the print you’d like to give as a gift.
Gear: First, a tripod with a built-in bubble level. Next, a ball head for that tripod so you can smoothly and accurately turn your camera to capture the sections of the scene that the software will stitch to form the big picture.
The essential first step: level the tripod. Then attach and level your camera. Many Nikon DSLRs offer a feature called Virtual Horizon that will guide you to your level best. If yours doesn’t have that feature, Rod suggests a little accessory called the Double Bubble level, which slides into the camera’s hot shoe.
For most panoramas, it’s best to shoot with your camera mounted to the tripod in the vertical position; that way you’ll have plenty of room to crop the top and bottom of your stitched image.
Shooting a panorama horizontally is fine, too, but it can result in very narrow image. Best bet: experiment, then evaluate.