September 7, 2008

Panoramic Vision

If your creative vision has hit a wall or you are just bored with your photography, consider shooting with the panoramic format.

While the panoramic camera is as old as photography itself, I was not aware of panoramic photography until 1995. At a photo workshop, the teacher (Joe Meehan) had images pasted on the wall that took my breath away. They were panoramic images of nature scenes, and I couldn’t stop looking at them. That was when I decided to try panoramic photography.
Not every situation lends itself to panoramic photography. There are however, many situations that scream for panoramic views. Group portraits, seascapes, grand scenic vistas, architecture, stadiums, skylines, stage productions, and cityscapes are all popular panoramic subjects. It is important to remember that seeing a panoramic image involves scanning from side-to-side rather than isolating one single dominant aspect of a scene.

Recently, panoramic cameras have been finding their way into less conventional situations. Try photographing a sporting event with a pan camera. Or how about doing an environmental portrait that really shows the executive in her element?

Experimentation is the key and thankfully, the angle of view that most panoramic cameras offer is so different that experimentation comes easy.

When I attend or teach workshops, join Internet discussion groups, read photo magazines or generally just chat with other photographers, I hear people talking about seeing the same old images. I believe that panoramic photography is a great way to defeat this line of thinking. Rent, buy or borrow a panoramic camera next weekend and go shoot some of your favorite locations.

You can also use digital tools to stitch together images and make them into panoramas.

I am willing to bet that the panoramic format will change the way you see and help you make new and exciting images of old and familiar places.

I look at a great deal of photography. I like to look at photos for many of the same reasons that writers like to read. It helps me get better at my craft.

I encounter lots of vision-related photography problems (and I am NOT talking about the fact that I now need both driving AND reading glasses!) I see photos where I am not sure what the photographer was trying to accomplish. In those cases I like to play doctor and I have a simple prescription: Become a storyteller rather than a photographer.

Why tell stories with your camera? Well, for one thing, people who look at pictures will enjoy looking at a story over a snapshot any day. Telling stories with your camera forces you to slow down and think about what you are doing. What is it about this scene that makes you want to make a photograph? What moves you or attracts your eye? Is there a point of view that you want to capture and preserve?

Asking these types of questions will almost always lead to a better photograph. In fact, if you just want to do ONE thing THIS YEAR that will significantly improve your photography, do this – tell stories rather than take snapshots.

If you need help getting to the point where you are a storyteller, you can use a vision exercise that I talked about in episode one of our show called SAS – which stands for Subject, Attention, Simplify.

Using SAS, I approach each scene asking myself what is the SUBJECT of this photo. There is a real temptation here to over simplify. I am not merely saying that I can identify the object I am pointing the camera at. For instance, look at the photo above. I made a series of photos that focus on a high school basketball player sitting on the bench. My subject is NOT the player or the bench, but rather the old ABC show’s theme of “The Thrill of Victory – And the Agony of Defeat.” If a photo works really well as a story, it doesn’t even need a caption. Here, you don’t need a cutline saying the team lost. It’s obvious on her face and by her dejected pose.

I have my subject. I now have to draw ATTENTION to it. That is the “A” in SAS. This technique can help you tell your story. It forces you to focus, literally and figuratively, on what’s important in the shot.

I decided to do several things in this photo to draw attention to the subject. Now remember the subject is more than the player. It is the story of a dejected player about to watch her team lose. To draw attention to the subject, I shot this photo nearly wide open using a long lens. I shot with a reasonably narrow depth of field to help blur the background. This automatically focuses attention on the player. I used a long lens because I wanted to isolate the subject. I shot the image at the subject’s eye line, and helped tell the story from her perspective, not mine.

Just like every good story has a beginning, middle and an end, every good photograph should have an obvious way to draw the viewer in, something to hold his attention once he gets there, and somewhere to go when s/he’s done.

The last part of SAS is SIMPLIFICATION. It’s the most important part of the SAS regimen. John Shaw says the difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is that the pro knows what not to include in the photo. And that was certainly true in this shot.

There was another player to her right. I could have included that second player in this image but that would have immediately detracted from the story. The additional player was not necessary. And this is important. When you are composing an image, take a moment to look around the frame and ask yourself. Is this thing necessary to tell my story? Is it part of what really attracted me to the image? If you see a waterfall running past a boulder and the power struggle between the boulder and the water is your story, then you don’t need to include the flowers, the sky, the grass, etc. Include only that which is necessary to tell your story and nothing more. This will improve your photography immensely and it won’t cost you a new piece of gear to do it.

CONCLUSION

All I really want you take away from this post is the fact that it’s a good thing to think like a storyteller rather than a picture taker. Everything else is secondary.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. The Lumix LX3 has a great 16×9 aspect switch on the lens that reminds me of the old panoramic cameras. It doesn’t crop in, and the sensor was built to use this ratio.

    Nice vertical shot, it helps remind people to shoot differently.

  2. The Lumix LX3 has a great 16×9 aspect switch on the lens that reminds me of the old panoramic cameras. It doesn’t crop in, and the sensor was built to use this ratio.

    Nice vertical shot, it helps remind people to shoot differently.

  3. You’re totally right. Since I saw your videocast on the CS3 panorama function, I went through my archives and made quite some stunning panoramas! I had the photos with the correct approach (same light measurement, slightly superimposed and with a fairly horizontal view) for quite some time now, secretly expecting for such a function.

    By the way, great photo sample to introduce the theme, since most of the time we tend to think panoramas are only horizontal!

    Thanks a lot for the tips.
    Joao
    Lisbon, Portugal

  4. You’re totally right. Since I saw your videocast on the CS3 panorama function, I went through my archives and made quite some stunning panoramas! I had the photos with the correct approach (same light measurement, slightly superimposed and with a fairly horizontal view) for quite some time now, secretly expecting for such a function.

    By the way, great photo sample to introduce the theme, since most of the time we tend to think panoramas are only horizontal!

    Thanks a lot for the tips.
    Joao
    Lisbon, Portugal

  5. while i love doing panoramic images-i use the nodal ninja-i often forget that i can just as simply create vertical panoramic images. i have done a few, but need to use this technique more often for a more powerful image that can’t be produced any other way with the ease of stitching them together.

  6. while i love doing panoramic images-i use the nodal ninja-i often forget that i can just as simply create vertical panoramic images. i have done a few, but need to use this technique more often for a more powerful image that can’t be produced any other way with the ease of stitching them together.

  7. I’d also note that for panoramas of moving objects, without buying/renting a panoramic camera, you can get the same effect (obviously, with less resolution and needing a wider lens) just cropping your standard “landscape” photo with a “wider” than natural rectangle.

    In fact, I’d advise just simply unchecking the “constraint proportions” checkbox on your cropping tool of choice and letting the field of view be “everything interesting” in the frame, instead of “enough sky so that both trees appear on the sides of the frame”. If you want: make two different versions (at least) of each photo: one cropped to fit a “standard” aspect ratio, the other(s) to fit the content of the photo. You’ll have to do special matting and framing for any such print, but give yourself license to experiment.

  8. I’d also note that for panoramas of moving objects, without buying/renting a panoramic camera, you can get the same effect (obviously, with less resolution and needing a wider lens) just cropping your standard “landscape” photo with a “wider” than natural rectangle.

    In fact, I’d advise just simply unchecking the “constraint proportions” checkbox on your cropping tool of choice and letting the field of view be “everything interesting” in the frame, instead of “enough sky so that both trees appear on the sides of the frame”. If you want: make two different versions (at least) of each photo: one cropped to fit a “standard” aspect ratio, the other(s) to fit the content of the photo. You’ll have to do special matting and framing for any such print, but give yourself license to experiment.

  9. Are there any good plug ins for aperture 2 for panorama stitching?

  10. Are there any good plug ins for aperture 2 for panorama stitching?

  11. For the longest time I used RealViz Stitcher to create my panoramas. However, once CS3 came around I found it to be easier for cylindrical panoramas (Photoshop won’t do sperical panoramas). However, Stitcher seems to do a better job of adjusting the levels across the images than Photoshop. It also lets you create Quicktime VRs with Photoshop doesn’t (yet?).

    If you click my name above it will take you to a Quicktime VR I recently did. I used Photoshop to stitch the pano (Stitcher had trouble matching the complex images up) and then I took the 360 JPG into Stitcher to export it as a Quicktime movie.

  12. For the longest time I used RealViz Stitcher to create my panoramas. However, once CS3 came around I found it to be easier for cylindrical panoramas (Photoshop won’t do sperical panoramas). However, Stitcher seems to do a better job of adjusting the levels across the images than Photoshop. It also lets you create Quicktime VRs with Photoshop doesn’t (yet?).

    If you click my name above it will take you to a Quicktime VR I recently did. I used Photoshop to stitch the pano (Stitcher had trouble matching the complex images up) and then I took the 360 JPG into Stitcher to export it as a Quicktime movie.

  13. I always knew that there was a way to make panoramas in software but I also didn’t try it until your 5-min. vidcast on photomerge. Now I’ve gone completely wacko with HDR and photomerge.

    http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=6872168

    thanks, scott.

  14. I always knew that there was a way to make panoramas in software but I also didn’t try it until your 5-min. vidcast on photomerge. Now I’ve gone completely wacko with HDR and photomerge.

    http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=6872168

    thanks, scott.

  15. Is there any software out there that lets me stitch RAW files?

  16. Is there any software out there that lets me stitch RAW files?

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