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Don’t Bring a Wide-Angle Lens, Just Make Panos

Making pictures on a photowalk or hike should be enjoyable and relatively stress-free. One way to reduce your stress is to carry less equipment. A small kit makes your body lighter and helps you keep going longer. Bring a prime lens and stretch your vision by framing with your feet instead of lazily zooming in and out to frame a shot. This go-light method is terrific until you see a wonderful picture that just doesn’t fit in the lens you brought.

levi_sim-panorama-1
Lumix GH4, Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/2.8, 1/4000s, ISO 200, 10 frames stitched then cropped. I made this at Grand Teton National Park with www.thedigitalphotoworkshops.com. Finished with Photomatix Pro.

Fortunately, you’ve got tools available to help you make the most of even that tough situation. Lightroom and Photoshop both do a great job of stitching together a panorama, and there are other purchasable options as well as free options. I favor Lightroom’s stitching because the final file is a DNG RAW file and it gives me full color and tonal control of the pano just like other RAW files. All you have to do is shoot at least one picture overlapping the same area as another picture. You can use only two pictures, or you can use many. You can shoot a straight line, you can shoot all the way around you for a 360-degree field of view, or you can even shoot in a grid to make a panorama that is not long and skinny. I recommend choosing a telephoto lens over a wide-angle lens because you can stitch panos to make a picture with a wide field of view, but there’s no way to make a more telephoto picture later.

levi_sim-panorama-1-2
Lumix GX8, Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/2.2, 1/40s, ISO 2500, seven frame panorama.

The key things are to shoot with your camera perpendicular to the pano and to overlap each picture by about 25%. If you want to make a wide pano from left to right, turn your camera into portrait orientation; keep it in landscape orientation if you want to shoot a vertical pano.

Look in your viewfinder and you’ll probably see a grid line or focus point about 1/4 of the way from the left side of the frame and 1/4 of the way from the right side of the frame and you can use these as a marker to help you overlap each frame. Pay attention to whatever object is under your right side 1/4 marker when you shoot the first picture, then move your camera to the right until that object is now under the left side marker; do this for each frame and you’ll be overlapping 25%. This overlap allows your software to keep track of where each frame belongs in relation to the next.

I made this vertical panorama on a photowalk at the Out of Chicago conference. I only took one lens with me, the Leica 42.5mm Nocticron, and the Platypod Max. When I found myself on a balcony overlooking Millenium Park with a unique horizontal view of the downtown area, I was glad to know that Lightroom would help me stitch a panorama together so I could still make pictures even though I was using a telephoto lens. Next time I’ll shoot a grid so there is more context.

Platypod Pro Max

Go ahead and liberate yourself with a light weight kit and don’t worry about not having a wide enough lens to get the shot. Just shoot a panorama and enjoy your walk.

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