Monday, July 20, 2009

Panorama Photography Part I

When you go to an exhibition of photographs, what type of photo always seems to be one remembered? It’s the sweeping panorama.

Monument Valley, Utah
Panoramas of a scene seem to take the image to new heights. They make landscapes more dramatic and vivid. Mountains become more majestic. Horizons become more exciting. Even a panoramic style view of great architecture becomes more admirable. The above panorama, made from five photographs stitched together, taken in Monument Valley, far better represents the feeling one gets traveling among the Valley’s natural wonders than squarish photographs.

We’re used to seeing photographs in the typical 3:2 aspect ratio of width to height which started with the invention of the 35mm film format, and is carried through on today’s digital cameras, both the DSLR’s and Point & Shoot varieties. The most common print sizes of 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14, generally adhere closely to the squarish 3:2 ratio.

I think that part of the reason panoramas so appeal to the eye is their departure from the 3:2 format, and the easy way they draw your eye across their “canvas.” The appeal of Cinemascope, the first widely accepted “wide” movie format, is much the same. Cinemascope allowed movies to go to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, twice as wide as the conventional format of 1.33:1. With Cinemascope, the breathtaking beauty of the background of some of the classic movies of the 50’s and 60’s and beyond was greatly enhanced.

Imagine what “Ben Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia” would look like, reduced to a square screen. Without their wide screen aspect ratio, in my opinion, neither of these films would have won an Oscar for “Best Cinematography.”

The Louvre at Night, ParisYou don’t have to limit your panoramas to landscapes, though they are the most familiar use of the wide aspect ratio photograph. Buildings, city-scapes, groups of people, and parades are all great subjects for panoramas. Isn’t this photograph of the Louvre in Paris at night made more dramatic by its wide aspect ratio?

There are two basic methods for producing a panorama photograph. The easiest way is to take a wide angle view of your subject and crop it to produce an image with a wide aspect ratio. This is how I produced the photograph of the Louvre above.

Some Point and Shoot digital cameras have a “Panorama Mode.” If your camera has one, use it. It will enable you to get some spectacular results with some practice.

The other method for creating a panorama photograph is to take several photos of your subject, moving your camera across the subject, being careful to overlap each shot, then stitch them together with an image editor on your computer. Both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements contain tools to stitch photos together, or you can use specialized software to accomplish this task. I use PanaVue Image Assembler for my multi-image panoramas. It allows me excellent control in creating the combination image.

While you can hand hold your camera to take multiple photographs stitched together into a panorama, I strong suggest you use a tripod. Using a tripod allows you to easily keep each photo in the panorama in the same horizontal plane. I use a special panorama head on my tripod for these shots, which makes leveling the tripod easier, and helps you rotate your camera a specific number of degrees between each photo.

While you’re looking horizontally to produce panoramas, there may be some opportunities for vertical panoramas too. Don’t loose sight of these vertical possibilities.

Hubbard Glacier, AlaskaDon’t forget the “Rule of Thirds” when taking panoramas.

Take my word for it, or try it yourself. Placing the bay’s horizon in the lower third of this photo of the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, close to the intersection of the lower third with the middle third, made this panorama much more pleasing to the eye, than if I placed the bay’s horizon across the middle of the photograph.

In Panorama Photography Part II, I will discuss techniques for taking your photographs for multiple image stitched panoramas.


Sally said...

Wow, what an incredible photo of the Louvre.

Bill H. said...

Your photos of Monument Valley have pushed me to call my travel agent. Do you recommend we stay at any particular place while there?

Marv said...

I looked at your Hubbard Glacier photos. I didn't know glacier ice was blue, or that they are so large. It's a shame they're melting so fast these days.

What cruise line did you use to go to Alaska? Did you like the cruise, and do you recommend the line?

Your photos are great.

Ned S. Levi said...

Sally and Bill, thanks for your kind words about my work.

Bill, I do have a Monument Valley recommendation for you. I recommend staying at Goulding's Lodge ( ). The motel is clean and the people running it are really nice and accommodating. It's location is the best in the area. I very much recommend taking the tours out of Goulding's. They are led by Navajo guides. They are the best guides and using them you have the added bonus of being able to go to Mystery Valley which has large collection of Anasazi ruins and rock art. Mystery Valley is part of the Navajo Nation's lands.

I recommend their full day tour.

Ned S. Levi said...

Marv, I've gone to Alaska twice, both times using Celebrity Cruises. I do recommend them as the best large ship (not mega large ship) cruise line I've been on. Princess is a very good line as well.

I set my limit on cruise ship size at less than 2,200 passengers. Recently I've taken to cruise ships which carry less than 1,000 passengers, although at some point I'd like to sail on the QM2.

According to your age, desire, abilities, and desires, you might want to take a land only tour of Alaska. If you do, you've got to take Denali.

For cruisers, for a better Alaska experience than you can get on just a cruise, I recommend taking a land tour too. The tour should include Denali, and the Alaska Railroad. Both Celebrity and Princess have great land tour options for their cruisers in Alaska.

I also generally recommend the southbound cruises in Alaska, as they seem to have the best itineraries, with the maximum amount of time in each port at which they stop, so you can take a variety of shore excursions which can really make the cruise, coupled with the cruising in either Glacier Bay or Disenchantment Bay (Hubbard) so you can see a glacier at the water's edge.

Ned S. Levi said...

Marv, excuse me please. I forgot to say thanks.

Harold said...

Ned, I see each of the panoramas you're showing in the article closely follow the rule of thirds, which you mentioned in the article. Many other photography blogs and articles talk about the importance of this rule.

Is it really that important?

Ned S. Levi said...

Harold, they say "Rules are meant to be broken." I agree with that, however, there is a reason for the "Rule" to exist in the first place, and following this one much of the time will help anyone make a great photographic composition.

The "Rule of Thirds" is not just a rule for photographs. In fact, it predates photography. Apparently, the first book which mentions the "Rule" is one by John Thomas Smith, an Englishman, who in 1797 had his illustrated book, "Antiquities of Westminster; the Old Palace; St. Stephen's Chapel, (now the House of Commons)" published. George Field, in his 1845 book "Chromatics," referenced Smith about the "Rule." I suspect artists have been using the rule for many centuries.

You can see the rule exemplified in countless works of art through the ages. Whether the "Rule" was self-taught by artists, found by discovery, or passed down from artist to artist, taught in "art schools" or passed from master to apprentice, centuries ago, we might not ever know, but the use of the "Rule" is clear and evident.

Picasso's famous Cubist work, "Three Musicians," located in MOMA, Van Gogh's painting “Street Scene in the Montmartre," and Monet's “Impression, Sunrise” all closely follow the "Rule of Thirds." Rembrandt's magnificent portraits generally exemplify the "Rule of Thirds." For example, take a look at Rembrandt's self portraits of 1629, 1634, 1635, 1640, 1660, 1661, and 1669. Look at the position of his eyes in the portraits. They are always on, or very close to the line separating the top and middle thirds. You can't tell me that was by accident. Rembrandt knew the "Rule of Thirds."

There are a lot of behavioral studies behind the rule of thirds. The eye is naturally attracted to the intersection points. Leading the eye over a layout or photo or ad page with placement along the lines makes a greater impression on the brain. The layout or theme is more memorable. It’s also more pleasing to the eye.

Most of my portraits and landscapes, as well as other photographs, follow the "Rule" as it makes them better images. Who am I to argue with the genius of Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet, and Van Gogh.

Kaka said...

I appreciate the labor you have put in developing this blog. Nice and informative.

Ned S. Levi said...

Thanks Kaka. I hope you keep coming back. Feel free to add yourself to our mailing list and don't forget you can follow the Blog via live feed RSS.

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