I’ve just gotten back to taking and making panoramas after a break of several months. Some good weather lately inspired me to go out and try to capture the light.
The conditions were perfect for landscape photography with high altitude clouds providing texture to the sky, a moderately clear horizon for the setting sun for lovely colours, and not too windy. The waves add texture to the water but do pose a slight challenge to making sure that seams are not too obvious. A small amount of retouching during post-processing was needed to smooth over the most obvious joins.
The main challenge is dealing with the large range of contrast within the whole scene. The dark rocks and seaweed have to be balanced against the sunset and bright sky. Much of this is able to be handled by the dynamic range of the camera, a Sony A7m3 shooting raw, but some additional steps needed to be taken to comfortably cover the extremes in exposure. In addition to the usual shooting pattern of 4 around (spaced at 90 degrees) + Zenith + Nadir, additional shots were made directly at the brightest parts of the sky using autoexposure (as I use for all the shots). This additional shot will have detail in the brightest parts that can be combined with the rest of pano that has detail in the dark and mid tones. Enfuse is used to combine the various exposures into a single image without having to go through the steps of creating an HDR intermediate image and then tonemapping.
I have also delved into the back catalogue of panoramas that were taken but but assembled, in this case ones taken in 2019 and 2020.
These panoramas varied in difficulty. The Christmas Market pano had many extra shots added and masked in to deal with moving objects such as people and the Big Wheel. Exposure blending was also used to tame the contrast. The Pollok House pano did not have to worry to much about moving objects between frames but did have a very large contrast range. This require bracketing and exposure blending to arrive at a decent image. The Kelpies pano was as staightforward as you could get, a simple 4+Z+N shooting pano, no need for bracketing as the dynamic range of the camera was sufficient, and not even exposure blending was required.
I’ll continue to dive into the back catalogue to see of there are any more unassembled panos waiting for their turn. Hopefully there are some undiscovered gems.
Here is an example of a simple 360 deg panorama in Hugin that shows that good results can be obtained using “wrong” techniques. Specifically, you can use autoexposure, even for highly contrasty scenes that normally would required bracketed exposures and HDR+Tonemapping.
For post-processing, you can crank up the highlight and shadow recovery and individually tweak each frame for exposure. It is not necessary to shoot with manual exposure with each frame with the same exposure settings, nor process them identically.
Additionally, you do not need very much overlap between frames in many cases, only a few control points can do, and they only need to be placed along the seam lines. A few manually well placed control points can quickly give a good stitch.
This example also shows some other things that you may need to watch out for. You should clean your lens and sensor. I’ve not been able to do much photography lately so my equipment has not been maintained as well as they should have been. My lens also needs to be adjusted as the plane of focus is slightly skewed and it does not reach infinity focus. This is slightly masked by the depth of field at f/8 but can still be detected in the full sized source imagery.
I have provided downsized source images and a Hugin project file if you want to have a look at how it was assembled. I only spent a few minutes putting it together so I’m sure it could be further optimised. The final full sized and processed panorama can be seen at 360Cities. I adjusted the exposure curve, sharpened the image, tweaked saturation, and repaired the dust spots in the sky.
A recent forum post asked how to turn beautiful scenery into good photographs. The complaint was that even though the views were lovely, the resultant photos were boring. My advice on this goes roughly like this:
As an exercise, analyse why the photos are boring and then seek to do the opposite. Is it because the light is flat an uninteresting? Then find times when the light is dramatic. Is it because the scene is too flat? Then try taking photos from different perspectives, down low, up high. Maybe your post-processing is too conservative. Take artistic licence and play with levels, contrast, dodging/burning, saturation or cropping.
Some views are best enjoyed live and don’t translate well into a photo, at least not with a straight interpretation. You could try portraying it not simply in a representational manner but the impression you want to convey. Digital photography and post-processing gives you a lot of power to explore the artistic possibilities of a photo.
Here is another photo from the Highlands. This was take after I had done some spherical panoramas around and in the Loch. Here, you can see both a propeller and a radial piston engine belonging to the B-24 Liberator bomber which crashed here in 1945. There is a memorial to the crew next to the Loch. For this shot, I used the NEX-7 with the LA-EA1 to mount a 16-50mm/2.8 A-mount lens. I set the exposure to f/8 and ISO to 100. Using LiveView, it was easy to make sure I exposed for the sunset so as to not blow out the highlights. It also made manually focussing the lens very easy. As the sun was setting fast, I had to quickly work my way around the Loch in order get some alternate viewpoints and perspectives. I think this one shows the view of the Loch the best.
I was returning from a hike to the Fairy Lochs with the sun rapidly descending towards the horizon. Some distant cloud cover prevented a truly magnificent sunset but the colours in the sky which remained were still impressive. I have very little time to set up my tripod, make sure my SAL 16-50mm/2.8 lenses was mounted properly onto the NEX-7 via a LA-EA1 adapter, and to set out to find a suitable spot to capture the scene. Luckily there is a beach next to the Shieldaig hotel which was at low tide at the time. I quickly set up the tripod, composed the capture both the sky and beach, and focussed manually, very easy to do using zoomed liveview. I took a few bracketed shots to make sure that I did not blow the sky, using both the live and post-shot histogram. I finally retreated under an onslaught of midges.
After importing the file into Lightroom, I was keen to see just how much detail I had managed to retain in a single frame, from the setting sun to the dimly lit beach. Cranking up the highlight and shadow recovery sliders, I was pleased to see that I could bring out detail both in the sky and the ground without too much trouble. A bit of clarity and vibrance completed the treatment of the photo. Some licence has been taken with the interpretation of the colours, but this more faithfully represents the impression of being there rather than actual photometric values.