Panoramic Images, Film & Digital – Part 1
Classic Panoramic Images – Single Row, Aspect Ratio 2:1 and Greater[caption id="attachment_32846" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] The Mittens, Monument Valley, 2009[/caption] The above image was made by stitching three horizontal medium format images together. They were taken with an 80mm normal lens equivalent to a 50mm lens in 35mm format. However, I wasn’t thinking about panoramic formats when I made these exposures. That occurred to me later while editing. Had I planned for this from the beginning I would have taken four or five overlapping vertical images to create this panorama. That would have yielded more space on top to allow for differences in composition between the three images, and also would have produced a smaller, more pleasing aspect ratio. Ironically, this wasn’t the last time that a stitched panoramas resulted from one of my afterthoughts. This happened periodically until I added that alternative to my checklist. [caption id="attachment_32847" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Kebler Pass Aspen Grove, Crested Butte, CO, 2010[/caption] I made the above panorama in 2019. The original images were made in late September of 2010 during one of the best color seasons any local could remember. Every scene I saw was alive with color. And, this Aspen grove is 10 miles long! All of the Aspen trees in this grove are interconnected by one root system. Thus, this grove is the largest single living organism in the world. On the first day, all I did was take a few shots, drive a little further, and shoot some more. On the next day, I found one stretch that had a wide color range and took a dozen shots with slightly varying compositions. Nine years later, when I re-edited many of my older files, I noticed that two of the Kebler Pass images had a 12% overlap. I didn’t think that this was sufficient but tried stitching them anyway. To my surprise, they blended very well. But, I had again taken horizontal images that left me without sufficient upper margin, causing the peak on the left to be cropped out. Again, had I shot overlapping vertical images, the composition would be better. But, the color is so vibrant that one hardly notices the foreshortened peak. I use Lightroom Classic to merge my overlapping images. I like the results, though another stitching software app might correct the field curvature enough to salvage more upper margin. Yet, it is always better to resolve issues in the field rather than through software fixes later. [caption id="attachment_32848" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Mogollon Rim in Winter, 2010[/caption] The preceding panorama was planned prior to exposure. Having photographed it from my house many times I already knew that a panoramic format fits it well. This image required only two horizontal exposures, which were made using a focal length of 108mm. [caption id="attachment_32849" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Reflections on a Blind Arch, Kanob, UT, 2011[/caption] The above image was created with a panorama in mind prior to exposure. Water running along the Rte. 89 roadbed has eroded the adjoining sandstone rock for many years. This time through, I was intrigued by small regular reflections on the upper part of the arch. This image required stitching three horizontal images, which were taken with a focal length of 131mm. [caption id="attachment_32850" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Sunrise Over Bryce Canyon, 2012[/caption] Once again, I failed to anticipate an opportunity for a nice panoramic image, this time waiting for the sunrise in Bryce NP. I stitched two horizontal images together in early 2018, over five years later. The original images were taken with a 55mm medium format lens which, in 35mm format, is the equivalent of a 35mm lens. This is one of only three times that I used a wide-angle lens to photograph the segments to be made into a panorama. One of the later images will illustrate why I don’t recommend using wide-angle lenses for this purpose. [caption id="attachment_32851" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Castle Creek Vista, Aspen, CO, 2013[/caption] In the case of the above panorama, there was never any doubt about shooting for this format. The most compelling aspect of this scene was the broad expanse of color developing throughout the large valley. A normal focal length was used to capture 7 vertical exposures. [caption id="attachment_32852" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Mt. Rushmore NP, Black Hills SD, 2014[/caption] Rather than show the usual tightly cropped image of the four presidents’ likenesses carved from rock, I wanted to show them in the context of the rocky ridge from which they were carved. The strong diagonal contrasted nicely with the opposing diagonal created by the huge strato-cumulous cloud on the right. The final image was made by stitching six vertical segments, using a 50mm lens with a C-size sensor, giving a 35mm format equivalent focal length of 75mm. [caption id="attachment_32853" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Weathered Granite Rocks, Lake Sylvan, Black Hills SD, 2014[/caption] I didn’t envision the preceding image as a panorama in 2014, though I’m glad that I thought to take separate views that just happened to overlap. I first thought of joining the two segments in December 2020. Here, a Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 normal lens was used to take both segments. [caption id="attachment_32854" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Red Rock Formations, East Sedona, AZ, 2015”[/caption] There was no question of which perspective to capture in the above image. Four overlapping horizontal exposures were digitally stitched using a 35mm lens that left substantial room around the major elements of the scene. [caption id="attachment_32855" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Palm Springs Vista from the Marriott Grounds, 2016[/caption] The rocky desert hills, and the mountains behind them, form the southwestern border of the Coachella Valley is often the anchor for dramatic cloud formations and lighting. With the lush vegetation of the Palm Springs Marriott grounds and golf course in the foreground, the scene above is natural for classic panorama images. The one above was made from three horizontal segments taken with a 55mm normal lens. [caption id="attachment_32856" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Teton Sunrise from the Oxbow, Grand Teton NP, WY, 2016[/caption] In order to ensure enough space in both the sky and reflection, four overlapping vertical images were taken using a 70mm focal length on a C-size sensor giving a 35mm format equivalent of 105mm (short telephoto). It is important to note that both the vertical and horizontal field of view in a photograph are a function of both: the lens angle of view, and the distance from the subject. Whenever I make a landscape exposure, I select a lens that will give the amount of space that I want around the main subject both vertically and horizontally. In this case, I was sufficiently far away for a short telephoto focal length to leave all the space that I needed. [caption id="attachment_32857" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] The Grand Teton Range from Willow Flats at Sunrise, 2016”[/caption] After two glorious sunrises, I shifted my perspective to capture the entire Teton Range as seen from Willow Flats. The sun never came out that morning. Instead, the dramatic peaks were mostly shrouded in low-lying clouds. After one hour, the ground fog lifted and the clouds became more defined. Using a panoramic format was the only approach that made sense. The above panorama was made from three horizontal medium format images using a 45mm focal length that in 35mm format is equivalent to a 28 mm lens. This covered more of Moose Flats, but also diminished the size of the mountains. If I were to do this shot over in medium format, I would have taken five or six overlapping vertical images with an 80mm normal lens to minimize image size falloff at the ends of the image, and make the mountains larger overall. [caption id="attachment_32858" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Skaftafell NP from Hwy 1, Iceland, 10pm, 2016[/caption] The sunsets late in the Icelandic summer. We saw this view as we were driving along the southern route to the East Coast. After taking some individual images of each of the visible glaciers visible from this perspective, I decided to take two successive horizontal images to form a panoramic perspective of the whole vista, including the highway, as our van was the only vehicle for miles. Taken with a handheld Sony A7rM2 camera and an 85mm f1.4 GM lens. [caption id="attachment_32859" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Fresh Snow on the Mogollon Rim, Christmas Day, Sedona, AZ, 2016[/caption] The preceding panorama was made from three vertical overlapping segments using a handheld Sony A7rM2 camera and a 90mm f2.8 short telephoto lens. [caption id="attachment_32860" align="aligncenter" width="705"] The Campanile Tower, U.C. Berkeley Campus, 2017[/caption] Probably more than 99% of all panoramic images are horizontal. However, there is no good reason not to use this format for vertical subjects. I took three overlapping horizontal images and stitched them vertically. I could have taken five or six to capture the whole tower. However, the Berkeley campus is almost always crowded and I really wanted to concentrate on the upper portions in any case. A Sony 85mm lens was used for the three segments. [caption id="attachment_32861" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] View from the Highest Point in Rocky Mountain NP, CO, 2017[/caption] The dramatic view above was taken at an altitude of 12,183 feet. To capture this panorama, I made five overlapping vertical images using a 35mm lens. While that fully encompassed the dramatic sky, and the patches of snow in the foreground, it also introduced curvature in the foreground that actually wasn’t there, as I had to tilt the camera down for this composition. This is one reason why I prefer to use normal to short telephoto lenses for panoramic stitching. [caption id="attachment_32862" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Clouds Moving Through the Red Rocks of West Sedona, 2020[/caption] I made two exposures of the above view from my home, but was not thinking “panorama”. Fortunately, they overlapped sufficiently to stitch them. The segments were made using a Sony A7rM4 camera, and a 135mm f1.8 GM lens known for its unmatched resolution (as of this date). The stitched panorama has more detail and crispness than any I have ever seen. That quality is the first thing that everyone mentions when they first see this image on my iMac 5K. [caption id="attachment_32863" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Winter, Dead Horse Ranch, Cottonwood, AZ[/caption] When I first saw the trees, bulrushes, and their reflections in the above image, the first thing that came to mind was “Panorama”. Safe to say that I am finally conditioned to considering that format before I start shooting landscapes. I took five handheld overlapping vertical segments to set up this image, using a Voigtlander 50mm f2.0 Apochromatic lens on a Sony A7rM4 camera. The image quality is lovely and captures the moodiness and nuances of the scene.
ConclusionMost photographers quickly assess a scene to see whether they should frame it horizontally or vertically. Later, if a wider format is desired, the easy way is just to crop the image in post edit to accomplish that. However, if the scene is particularly strong and brilliant, a stitched panorama should be considered. That requires shooting multiple overlapping images for later stitching. It also means composing the image to leave extra space at the top and bottom. This is yet another reason to plan your shots carefully to maximize your opportunities. All of the images shown above are traditional single-row panoramic formats. However, digital stitching now opens the door to many different possibilities because of the ease of creating large files by stitching segments arranged in both rows and columns. Part II will focus on 2-dimensional multiple-image stitching to accomplish several objectives.
Harvey Stearn January 2021
Harvey Stearn has photographed landscapes and wildlife for over sixty years. Though he was a top executive for two large scale land development and home building corporations, he always found time for his fine art photography which won many awards. His work was exhibited in art museums in California and Arizona, and was also featured in billboard advertisements and published in magazines. Mr. Stearn served on the California Arts Council for nine years, including two years as Chairman and another two as Vice Chairman. In addition, he was the founding Chairman of the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission in Orange County, California. Mr. Stearn’s work was sold through Arizona galleries for 15 years. In recent years he wrote 14 illustrated articles for Luminous-Landscape.com, and published a book entitled “In Search of the Old West”. He was a guest lecturer on photography on a cruise ship visiting Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. In 2019, his landscape image "Clearing Snowstorm at West Fork of Oak Creek" was selected as one of the top 100 images out of 3800 submissions for NANPA's (North American Nature Photographers Association) Showcase exhibit and publication.