My new Canon SX20IS has an Easy Panorama mode…like the Sports mode or the Landscape mode, set on the main control dial. It displays your second shot next to the right edge of your first shot, so you and line them up before pressing the shutter…etc. etc. for as many shots as you want to string together. Canon also ships Photo Stitch software with the camera which automates the assembly of your images into one.
I have never quite gotten into Panoramas, primarily because I can not figure out how to view or display them effectively. I guess, if you had access to a continuous feed roll- or long sheet- inkjet printer, panorama sized prints would be possible. A little research around the web finds several services that will actually print at 20 inches x whatever at reasonable prices…so maybe the display part can be done, given a big enough wall.
At any rate, I was tempted by the Easy Panorama mode to experiment. I do not have a really panorama head, and I don’t generally carry a tipod anyway, so my experiments so far have hand held, or with the camera mounted on the end of my walking stick at best. The results were encouraging, from a technical standpoint, but not really good enough to make panoramas a part of my routine photographic day.
Until yesterday that is. Yesterday I was faced with a splendid view over blue water and a fringe of trees to an amazing sky, and on the near shore of the little pond, two white birch clumps just far enough apart to, in my minds eye, make a classic frame for the view. However, at 28mm (the widest reach of my zoom) and backed up so that one inch more would have put me over the embankment and into the marsh on the other side of the road from the pond, I could only get the outer fringe of branches on the birches on either side. Like this.
I fussed about at the edge of the road trying for better angles when it occurred to me that, while not a real panorama situation necessarily, here was a case where stitching two images together might catch what was in my mind’s eye much better than any single image I could take with the equipment at hand.
Okay. I set the lens to 28mm and tried two shots. If you have ever tried this you might guess at the problem. Your average P&S zoom has significant distortion at either end, and especially at the short end, and the distortion is worst at the edges of the frame. That made it next to impossible to line up the views from two images perfectly as the edge of one and the edge of the other fell across slightly different planes in the field of view…had slightly different distortion effects, and consequently, if you look at the image above, slightly different distances between, say, the horizon and the bottom of the first cloud up, or the horizon and the first small island down. It was impossible to line up clouds, horizon, and islands from any given position. Sigh. I took two shots for stitching anyway.
Then I thought about the problem. Distortion. Wide-angle distortion. Okay, so what if I set the lens to a longer focal length, with less obvious distortion, and took more images to cover the gap between the trees. I could not zoom in too close, since I wanted an impressive expanse of sky in the image as well, but at about 42mm equivalent I found an interesting compromise. It took three images to span birch clump to birch clump at 42mm…but digital is free, right? Snap, line up, snap, light up, snap.
One of the failings of the Photo Stitch software Canon provides is that it apparently just butts the images up against each other as best it can, without making any adjustments for white balance or exposure at the point of contact. In my first panorama experiments, you could see the lines, faintly, where the images overlapped. A reader of my Pic of the Day blog suggest a solution, but it must be applied in camera, and I had already taken these shots.
Because of the obvious limits of Photo Stitch, I had decided that I would try the PhotoMerge function in PhotoShop Elements for this set. Opening the first two files in PhoShoEl and applying the arrange only panorama option I was amazed a the seamless quality of the finished product. PhoShoEl is one smart program. Looking at the layers and the merge it created, it took an irregular cut of both images and put then together like a rather random jigsaw puzzle…and then, very evidently, applied some color balance and exposure analysis and adjusted the segments to match, all before it merged the files into one. Pretty good okay!
It even managed to stretch or shrink portions of the edges of the two images to make the horizon, clouds, and islands line up. Amazing. If you click the image, it will open on my WideEyedInWonder (Smugmug) site so you can view it at the largest size you monitor will allow.
I am actually quite happy with this effort. I catches pretty well what I had hoped to catch…my mind’s-eye view.
So, what about the 42mm shots? Loading those into PhoShoEl and applying the same options in PhotoMerge produced this finished product.
And that is remarkably like what I envisioned! You will notice that it is even a bit wider then the merged 28mm views, but the perspective is so much different: So much more, to my eye, natural, that most people might not ever guess it is a panorama shot.
Finally, both stitched images were taken into Lightroom for final processing. Recovery for the sky, a touch of Fill Light, Blackpoint right, added Clarity and a bit of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset.
So, while I may not ever make panorama shooting part of my day-to-day photographic experience, per se, this is a technique that I have a feeling I will employ, on those not infrequent occasions when my mind’s eye view is wider than what my widest lens can capture.
Now if I can just clear a 24×44 inch space somewhere on some wall…