tutorial

How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

Tonights lunar eclipse will be the last for quite some time. It will be visible across most of Europe and America. The totality will be around 1 hour , while the whole eclipse will almost take 3 hours. During the totality phase, the moon is going to have a bright red color, hence the unofficial name "Blood Moon".

Why does it occur? 

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Usually we would see the moon in a white colour, as it reflects the light caused by the sun. During an eclipse, though, the moon enters the shadow of the earth. In the earths atmosphere blue light is filtered out, meaning that the bypassing light, which is reflected off the moon will be red.

How to photograph the lunar Eclipse?

What you will need for photographing the Milkyway:

- A DSRL or mirrorless camera, where you have the ability to set manual settings

- A tripod that keeps your camera steady during longer exposures.  

- A lens that has a high aperture of at least f/5.6, better would be f/4 or even as low as f/1.4

 - A lens with 200-400 mm focal length for close ups, you can go wider as well if you wish.

 - Clear Skies, check the weather forecast. Small clouds could ruin the shot!

 - Make yourself familiar when the moon rises and sets at your place!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

What settings do I need? 

That's a hard question, and I will tell you why. During the eclipse the moon changes from white and bright to dim and red, meaning that you will have to adjust the camera during the eclipse. When photographing the standard full moon I usually start off with something like 1/300 to 1/400 of a second, wide open aperture and a low ISO, like 100. Especially when shooting with a 400mm lens you will need a fast shutter speed, if you want your images to be sharp. If you have a tracking mount you can expose for longer, of course. I suggest that you start off with the above settings and then just play around and see what works best with your camera and lens!

Once the the eclipse goes towards totality (the phase where the moon is way dimmer), your exposure can well be up to 1-2 seconds. Don't shoot longer than that, and rather increase your ISO to ensure sharp photos!

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

Things to consider:

If you want to shoot the whole eclipse, be prepared, as it almost takes 3 1/2 hours. So pack something to snack and to drink, and ensure that you've got enough batteries and storage. Last time I photographed the eclipse I filled two 64 GB SD cards. 

The Lunar eclipse is a stunning astronomical occurrence and really easy to shoot. I wish you guys all the best of luck, especially weather wise. And don't forget to look up and take it all in!

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Was this quick tutorial any help for you? You are still confused and want to know more? Let me know in the comments below!

How to check whether your exposure is correct?

How to check whether your exposure is correct?

In this weeks article, we are going to talk about how check your exposure settings, and how to get the perfect exposure settings for each image. To correctly expose is often regarded as a difficult matter. Especially for beginners, it can be hard to grasp. After failing a couple of times, beginning photographers might resolve to the automatic mode of their camera again. With this article, I will try to show that it doesn’t have to be that difficult. With learning how to read the histogram you will see that it is a very good tool to find the best exposure and to manipulate and correct the exposure to get the image you want.

Image 1: Shooting toward the sun is a tricky thing to do. I is easy to get blown-out highlights or clipped shadows. Therefore the histogram is of great importance to shoot images like these. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 27 mm | F/18 | 2 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & Landscape CPL

Image 1: Shooting toward the sun is a tricky thing to do. I is easy to get blown-out highlights or clipped shadows. Therefore the histogram is of great importance to shoot images like these. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 27 mm | F/18 | 2 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & Landscape CPL

In photography, the basic element is light. You won’t get a good picture without a proper exposure; it’s as simple as that.  That used to be the case with analog cameras and it is no different in the digital era. If there is too little light on the sensor, the photo is underexposed. If there is too much light on the sensor, the picture will be overexposed. In the case of an underexposed photo, the details will disappear in the dark areas and, in an overexposed photograph, in the light areas. The room to correct this afterwards is very limited so it is best to get it right in camera. In contrast to the analogue era, however, we now have some amazing tools that we can use to guide us in finding the best exposure we need to get the results we desire.

Required shutter speed
The required shutter speed for a well-exposed photo is determined by the amount of light and the subject (still or moving), in combination with the aperture and the ISO value, plus the intended effect of the photo. If you want a waterfall to be sharp and detailed, you use a shorter shutter speed than when you want to emphasize the effect of moving water. The ‘correct’ exposure therefore depends on what you want to show. A good example of a ‘correctly’ exposed image is Image 2. Because the northern lights were moving constantly, I did not want to make the shutterspeed too long because that would mean the beautiful details in the aurora would be lost. Still, I did not want to lose too much light because then the photo would become too dark. By choosing a shutter speed of 5 seconds and setting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I succeeded in freezing the movement of the northern lights without losing detail in the foreground.

Image 2, I wanted both the aurora and the foreground to have enough detail. Based on the speed of the aurora, I set the shutterspeed to 5 seconds. By adjusting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I managed to keep enough detail in the foreground. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 5 Sec | ISO 1600

Image 2, I wanted both the aurora and the foreground to have enough detail. Based on the speed of the aurora, I set the shutterspeed to 5 seconds. By adjusting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I managed to keep enough detail in the foreground. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 5 Sec | ISO 1600

Back in the days of the analog camera, it was necessary to determine the correct exposure values using an external light meter. This was based on knowledge, experience and a certain dose of luck. This was really hard practice and you had to get a lot of experience to master this. Film was expensive so you wanted to have it correct right away. There was no way to preview your image. Fortunately, nowadays the camera has a number of very useful functions. We have the LCD-display, the built-in light meter, and the histogram. I deliberately put them in this order, because that is the way they should be used, as we will learn in the following part of this article.

LCD-display
Now you might think that the image on your LCD screen or digital viewfinder provides sufficient information about the exposure. Overall this might be true, but it is anything but accurate. Because you can set the brightness of the LCD screen, it is variable. Furthermore, environmental factors such as sunlight, reflections or darkness also influence what you see on the screen. It is a handy check to know if you’re getting there, but it’s not a reliable method to perfect your exposure. Therefore, the  LCD-display should only be used as a rough indicator.

Built-in exposure meter
To determine whether your settings are correct or not, you can use the built-in exposure meter. You do this by pressing the shutter button halfway down (as with autofocus). A bar with scale will now appear. This is the exposure indicator. The pointer indicates whether your exposure is correct (image 3). The camera thinks the picture is right when the pointer is in the middle. With an underexposed photo, the pointer is on the left. With an overexposed photo, on the right. The numbers are called stops. From 0 to -1 means half the amount of light, and 0 to 1 means a double the amount of light.

Image 3: This image clearly shows what the exposure meter does. With an underexposed photo, the indicator shows a negative value. With an overexposed photo a positive value.

Image 3: This image clearly shows what the exposure meter does. With an underexposed photo, the indicator shows a negative value. With an overexposed photo a positive value.

Personally, I often use the outcome of the light meter as an indication. It often happens that my exposure turns out to be either above or below zero. This really depends on my subject and my intentions. For instance, photographing in snow or straight into the sun messes with the exposure meter. In those situations you need something else, something much more reliable. Luckily we have it! It is called the histogram!

Histogram
The histogram is an amazing tool! Unfortunately, it is also feared by a lot of people because of its seemingly complex appearance. For that reason, a lot of (beginning) photographers won’t use the it. This is a pity because it offers so much information and once you know what it means, it is really simple to use. As mentioned, the histogram is a much more reliable method to check whether your exposure is correct and to make sure you get the result you want. Let me begin by explaining what a histogram is by using a definition: the histogram is a compressed bar graph of a frequency distribution. This might sound a bit abstract but stay with me, it will be a lot easier once you know what the graph stands for. It is a graphical representation of an exposed image, which shows you how many pixels in your photo have a certain tone on a scale from 0 to 255. The horizontal axis runs from pure black (0, very dark) to pure white (255, very light), with mid-gray in the middle.

Image 4: The histogram is nothing more than a graphical representation of the number of pixels with a certain brightness.

Image 4: The histogram is nothing more than a graphical representation of the number of pixels with a certain brightness.

Each tone is one pixel wide. The vertical axis shows the amount of pixels that have that certain tone. If you see a peak, then many pixels have that tone. If the photo is predominantly dark, then the weight of the graph is on the left. If the photo is light, then the weight is on the right (Image 4 & 5).


Image 5: The histogram explained

Image 5: The histogram explained

How to read and use the histogram
Using the histogram, it will become quite easy to see when details will be lost in either shadows (pure black) and/or highlights (pure white). A peak at the immediate left side means that image information disappears in pure black. A peak against the right side means information dissolves in pure white. Both are not desirable, but if you are forced to choose (because of extreme contrast difference for instance), go for a peak on the pure black side. In general, black shadows are experienced as less disturbing than blown out highlights. The shape of the graph depends on the subject and the amount different tones (light and dark areas). And, because all brightness information is displayed in this graph, we can use the histogram for checking our exposure because it accurately reflects the brightness levels. Moreover, you can clearly see what you are doing using live view and therefore prevent errors when fine-tuning your exposure (Image 6).

Image 6: Using the histogram allows you to easily check for errors.

Image 6: Using the histogram allows you to easily check for errors.

Because each picture is different, your histogram will be different too. If the histogram shape doesn’t match the typical mountain shape with the center of gravity in the middle, it does not mean that it is poorly exposed. Do not compare your photos with a certain type of histogram. It is a tool that is useful for correcting over- or underexposure and to check whether all tones are represented or not. It is not a fixed rule that you should keep with every shot. The final exposure is determined by what you want to transfer with the photo and your creative vision. This means that you sometimes deliberately overexpose a photo and another time you will underexpose. Sometimes, you even have to over- or underexpose to get the correctly exposed image.

Correctly exposing light scenes
In situations where you have predominantly light areas in your photo, such as a beach or in the snow, the automatic mode will produce an underexposed photograph. To illustrate this, I used a picture of the Paard van Marken lighthouse in the Netherlands (Image 7). At the end of the winter, there was a beautiful ice deposit due to prolonged cold and strong eastern wind. I wanted to capture this during blue hour (an hour before sunrise) to emphasize the icy cold even more. The first photo is exposed to the middle. The gravity point is exactly on medium gray. It can clearly be seen that the photo is underexposed. As a matter of fact, the pars that should be white turned out medium gray. In order to get the correct exposure, I’ve exposed this image towards the right, which means that the center of gravity within my histogram has shifted to the right side of the graph.

Image 7: It is easy to see that exposing towards the middle results in an underexposed image with a lot of tones missing.

Image 7: It is easy to see that exposing towards the middle results in an underexposed image with a lot of tones missing.

Put it to use!
Almost all modern cameras have a means to view the histogram. Depending on the brand and type of camera, this can be live, which is awesome because it immediately shows the effect of adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and/or ISO. Your camera doesn’t have a live view of the histogram? That’s no problem; use the light meter of your camera as an indication, take a picture and view the histogram in the viewer. Adjust the exposure and repeat until you are satisfied.

Thanks a lot for reading
That’s it for this week’s article! Thanks a lot for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and you learned that using the histogram isn’t scary at all. I hope it will help you to get better images. If you have any questions, please let me know! If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share on social media! And, if you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema

I would like to thank my buddy Cody Fjeldsted for proofreading this article! Your help is awesome and means a lot, thank you so much.

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Optimising images for social media

Optimising images for social media

I’ve had a lot of people reach out to ask when the next blog was coming and to share their ideas for topics they would like me to write about. So, thank-you for your patience. All of the ideas and requests on topics have been most welcome and I’ll certainly do my best to cover off as many of them as possible over time. 

Okay, here we go. One of the recurring themes in the questions I’m asked is how I optimise my images for social media. That is certainly reasonable, as it’s a problem I’ve broken a light sweat over from time to time, so that’s the topic I’ll try and focus on in this piece. 

Instagram+Elephant.jpg

 

 

First things first though, let’s say hi to the elephant in the room - the Instagram crop which doesn’t matter, yet somehow really matters a lot.

When I joined IG a few years ago, it hurled a big pineapple in my entire workflow. Why? Because of the stupid low res 1:1. 

Then in July ’15, Zuckerberg gave us a warm “we’re listening to you” with an upgrade to the pitiful 640pixel square to a heartier 1080.

 

 

Instagram+Pineapple.jpg

A few weeks later, it was announced that IG would support non-square uploads. A peak into the fine-print affirmed we could now post landscape images in a 1.91 to 1 ratio which was wonderful. I assume this was an exercise towards cross platform compatibility for FB and IG ads because 1.91:1 is exactly the same as a Facebook link preview image but, it solved my issue. 

The truth I’ve learnt though is posting a landscape image on IG is of little value. All images will be cropped to a square on your grid so only the 1:1 mid-section of your beautifully wide shot will be shown, which generally looks a bit naf.

What’s more, they don’t present well on vertical mobile devices which is exactly what IG is designed for. That’s not a big deal to some but it discourages others from re-sharing your images which will really curb the breadth of your exposure, if that matters to you, then this matters to you. Sorry. 

 

 

WHO, WHAT, WHERE

As with any process, we can’t decide the best steps to take unless we first nail what it is we want to achieve.

Who are the audience, what is the format, where will it be seen? An image should be finished very differently for presentation on a wall at an exhibition than it should for Facebook or Instagram.

My process is exclusively geared towards online viewers and I’ll keep a full resolution tiff file saved in the event I need to re-visit the image for printing purposes later.

My primary online audience is Instagram and my secondary audience is Facebook and Flickr. All the others fall a distant third. My images are optimised for these audiences to view on their mobile devices but also on a larger desktop screen, so I need a balance between file size and resolution.

 

IN THE FIELD

As recently as a few years ago I was shooting almost, exclusively, panoramic. I had a camera and lens set-up dedicated to this style of shooting and my images were all finished at at-least a 3:1 if not wider.

I loved that look, and I still do, but it was more work. Today I shoot single frames. I find myself choosing a vertical frame more often. This has been a hard transition, as the purist landscaper in me just doesn’t see the same aesthetic character in a tall and thin image as I do in a more grandiose wide scene, but I’m mindful of how my images are most commonly presented and what’s most satisfying for the viewer. 

33562190904_71b5ccdeba_z.jpg

 

 

IN POST

Once I’ve edited my RAW file (I just use Adobe Camera Raw) I’ll open it in Photoshop. By this point, I have an idea of what proportion the end result will be. For example, 3:2, 5:4, 1:1 and if it’ll be vertical or landscape. In the rare instance where I’ve taken multiple frames for a panoramic, I’ll place the stitched image on a blank canvas and literally skew and scale parts of it to fit the canvas using the transform tools in photoshop (Edit > Transform > Scale / Skew / Warp / Perspective shift).

Screen+Shot+2018-04-06+at+8.38.51+pm.png

Once I’ve finished editing the image to my liking, I’ll flatten all of the layers and save it as a high res file (there’s a bit to this so make sure you see my dedicated section on Saving below). Now that I have a high res version of the file safely tucked away it’s time to go to town on it.

If the image is a portrait, I’ll crop it to a 5:4 vertical – that’s the max vertical proportion I’ll use for Instagram, resize and save as low res. Note, I would happily share a 3:2 jpeg online and a second 5:4 version of it for Instagram only. If the image is a landscape I'll save it in its native aspect ratio and then create a second IG-specific 1:1 version of it.

 

80s+workout+clothing.jpg

Getting a 5:4 or 3:2 down to a 1:1 can be a calamitous and heartbreaking ordeal, slicing away mountain peaks hurts. Where possible I’ll try to scale in sections of the image and that works but I STRESS caution - an overly shrunken image catches the eye like 80’s workout clothing, it's function and, for a fleeting moment it’s a good idea but everyone will notice right away, and no-one will think it’s cool.

I recommend only doing this to selected portions of the image without any identifiable shape to them. Sky, water etc. 

 

SAVING

This isn’t the place or time for an in-depth analysis on file formats and compression but understanding the basics of how to properly save an image is important. Photoshop (and most other editing applications) offer an abundance of file formats and options so here’s what I know.

Image quality is a product of two variables; resolution and compression, both of which can be cryptic business.

The easiest convention for resolution is the one that’s used to describe the width x height in pixels.

Compression is a little more complex and used to manage the file size of an image. If you’ve heard the terms lossy and lossless in a conversation than chances are you were inadvertently talking compression (nerd alert). Compressing an image reduces file size which is great for getting a big file to a small enough size for uploading online.

Lossy and lossless compression are characterisations of explicating data from an image file. Saving an image using lossy compression discards information from the image which drastically reduces the file size. The problem comes when we need to re-save the file. Each time a lossy file is re-saved it’s recompressing, compression on compression, and each time, the quality of the image is reduced.

Lossless compression is akin to vacuum sealing a suitcase. Sucking out the air reduces the size for storage, but the air can be let back when it’s unpacked, and everything returns to normal.

Compression+copy.jpg

 

The reason I’m talking about this is because I do both. I’ll save a full resolution version of my image as a TIFF (Lossless). I’ll then reduce the image size (File > Image Size) to 1080 pixels on the longest side and re-save it as a JPEG (Lossy). If I need to create a second version of the image for Instagram (5:4 or 1:1) I’ll revert to the original image size, crop and scale as necessary then re-size to 1080 again and save as a second JPEG. All files will be saved at 300dpi using an RGB colour mode. 

I will never re-open either jpeg and re-save it. Any changes or copies I need to make will be done from the TIFF and then saved as another JPEG from it. 

Files+types+copy.jpg

 

THE FINISHING TOUCHES.

My TIFFS are saved on two separate hard-drives (usually) and backed up to the cloud. My JPEGS are saved on one hard drive.

300x0w.jpg

I have two dedicated folders on my phone, IMAGE UPLOADS and IMAGE UPLOADS – IG. I’ll airdrop both JPEGS from my laptop to my phone (Airdrop = Apple, just, do it) and store them accordingly.

I’ll upload my jpegs to Facebook and Flickr separately, I don’t automate this, then upload to IG. I generate half my hashtags using an app called Focalmark and then take a punt on the other half. 

For anyone who has seen my IG stories, I use an app called LumaFusion which is an iOS video editing app and super capable. I’ve made a standard project template in it for IG stories and set to 1080 x 1920 resolution (the standard IG story size) at 30fps and saved as an MPEG4. I’ll then open the saved video file in a second app called HypeType to add the animated text, re-save and upload. 

 

WATERMARKING

Last but not least is this old chestnut. I’ve seen some heated debates on this topic and there isn’t a right or wrong approach, but I haven’t put a watermark on an image in two years now.

This all comes down to your objectives and use cases for social media. If you want your images to get shared and drive traffic back to you then don’t watermark them. They’ll still get shared, just a lot less and IMO watermarking just cheapens a classy shot.

I know many people will argue that they need to prevent theft and that’s fair enough, but I’d ask who you are afraid is going to steal your image? If a scoundrel is bold enough to pass off your image as their own, chances are they’re probably bold enough to remove your watermark as well. If you’re worried about the opportunity cost of someone downloading your image for commercial use, then I’d recommend making sure the version you publish online is no bigger than 1080pixels. Whilst this size looks good for social media, it’s rather ineffectual or inoperative for any other purpose.

Well that’s about it folks. I hope this has been helpful and please keep the questions coming. I don’t have an awful lot of time to churn out blogs, but I’ll make a better effort at keeping them a little more frequent.

Muchas gracias. 

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How to photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower?

August usually means Summer, at least for the northern Hemisphere and the Perseids. The perseids are an amazing meteor shower usually occurring during mid August with up to 150 meteors an hour. In 2018 the peak is happening tonight (12th of August) and tomorrow night!  In this blog I will outline how to capture this amazing event with your DSLR or even with your PHONE!

Image courtesy: www.usatoday.com

Image courtesy: www.usatoday.com

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH THE PERSEID METEOR SHOWER?

WHAT YOU WILL NEED FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE PERSEIDS:

- A DSRL or mirrorless camera or PHONE, where you have the ability to set manual settings

- A tripod that keeps your camera steady during longer exposures.  

- A lens (PHONE)  that has a high aperture of at least f/4, better would be f/2 or even as low as f/1.4

 - Clear Skies, check the weather forecast. Small clouds could ruin the shot!

 - A dark place in your region without too much light-pollution. Lightning Pollution Maps is a great service to find a dark place close to you!

- A wide-angle lens (phones usually have ultra wide angle lenses attached). Meteors often travel along the whole sky!

Image Courtesy: www.space.com

Image Courtesy: www.space.com

How to set the camera?

1. You will need to select the manual modus on your Camera of choice. If your phone doesn't allow this, there are great 3rd party apps. The biggest names are Camera+, ProCam 5ProCamera (for IPHONE) and Manual Camera  (for ANDROID).

2. Deselect autofocus and set the focus to "infinity" or focus on a star through live view!

3. For the shutter speed you should set something between 15-30 seconds. For the Aperture you should select the lowest you can possibly set, as you want to collect as much light as possible during the exposure. For the ISO you start at something like 640 and work your way up depending on the location you are shooting at. NOTE: Especially on Smartphones the shot will get noisy!

 

SO GO AND HAVE FUN AND ENJOY THIS AWESOME EVENT!

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How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

Tonights lunar eclipse will be the longest we have seen in the 21st century. The totality will be around  1 hour and 20 minutes, while the whole eclipse will almost take 6 hours. During the totality phase, the moon is going to have a bright red color, hence the unofficial name "Blood Moon" 

Why does it occur? 

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Usually we would see the moon in a white colour, as it reflects the light caused by the sun. During an eclipse, though, the moon enters the shadow of the earth. In the earths atmosphere blue light is filtered out, meaning that the bypassing light, which is reflected off the moon will be red.

How to photograph the lunar Eclipse?

What you will need for photographing the Milkyway:

- A DSRL or mirrorless camera, where you have the ability to set manual settings

- A tripod that keeps your camera steady during longer exposures.  

- A lens that has a high aperture of at least f/5.6, better would be f/4 or even as low as f/1.4

 - A lens with 200-400 mm focal length for close ups, you can go wider as well if you wish.

 - Clear Skies, check the weather forecast. Small clouds could ruin the shot!

 - Make yourself familiar when the moon rises and sets at your place!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

What settings do I need? 

That's a hard question, and I will tell you why. During the eclipse the moon changes from white and bright to dim and red, meaning that you will have to adjust the camera during the eclipse. When photographing the standard full moon I usually start off with something like 1/300 to 1/400 of a second, wide open aperture and a low ISO, like 100. Especially when shooting with a 400mm lens you will need a fast shutter speed, if you want your images to be sharp. If you have a tracking mount you can expose for longer, of course. I suggest that you start off with the above settings and then just play around and see what works best with your camera and lens!

Once the the eclipse goes towards totality (the phase where the moon is way dimmer), your exposure can well be up to 1-2 seconds. Don't shoot longer than that, and rather increase your ISO to ensure sharp photos!

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

Things to consider:

If you want to shoot the whole eclipse, be prepared, as it almost takes 6 hours. So pack something to snack and to drink, and ensure that you've got enough batteries and storage. Last time I photographed the eclipse I filled two 64 GB SD cards. 

The Lunar eclipse is a stunning astronomical occurrence and really easy to shoot. I wish you guys all the best of luck, especially weather wise. And don't forget to look up and take it all in!

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Was this quick tutorial any help for you? You are still confused and want to know more? Let me know in the comments below!

How to shoot panoramic photos. A tutorial from shooting to editing.

Shooting panoramic photos

Sometimes a landscape can be really overwhelming and beautiful, but when photographing such a scene, you might get disappointed. Imagine standing on top of a huge cliff overlooking the landscape. The view is absolutely breathtaking, but your images turn out rather boring. The result doesn’t look anything near what you see with your own eyes. How is this possible you might wonder. The explanation is that our field of view is much wider than the single frame from your camera. An ultra-wide angle lens will do the trick you might think! But if you would use, lets say a 14 mm lens in order to widen the field of view, everything will look small and far away. This of course reduces the impact of the photo too. So, what can we do to capture an image that is as stunning as the view itself (read: almost.. nothing is as stunning as being actually there of course). The answer is quite simple, we make a panoramic photo!

This panoramic image of Kvalvika and Vestvika beach, consists of three overlapping portrait oriented photos. I forgot my remote trigger so I had to use the 10 second timer and run to get the last frame. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/9 | 1/13 sec | ISO 100

This panoramic image of Kvalvika and Vestvika beach, consists of three overlapping portrait oriented photos. I forgot my remote trigger so I had to use the 10 second timer and run to get the last frame. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/9 | 1/13 sec | ISO 100

In this post I will try to explain how I make panoramic photos. I will talk about the things you have to keep in mind, and finally, I will show you how I stitch my images using Lightroom. There is plenty of good software that will do this for you, but I think Lightroom does an amazing job with just a few clicks.

Method

There are devices like smartphones and compact cameras that are capable of making panoramic photos by simply panning the camera along the horizon. This works fine if you just want a nice holiday photo, but we are going to focus on taking a panoramic photo with a dSLR. As with normal photos, you’ll get the best results when photographing in Raw. The file with get a lot bigger but you will have a much more information to work with, resulting in a higher quality panoramic image when post-processing.

The view you get when standing on top of Reinebringen is so overwhelming that a single-frame-photo won’t do it justice. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/9 | 1/125 sec | ISO 100.

The view you get when standing on top of Reinebringen is so overwhelming that a single-frame-photo won’t do it justice. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/9 | 1/125 sec | ISO 100.

When taking the photos for the panoramic, you can do two things. One, you can put your camera into landscape orientation, or two, you can put your camera into portrait orientation. Would you be shooting a panoramic image in landscape, the result will be a narrow image (less sky and foreground, lower resolution, lower margin of error in post). Whilst shooting in portrait mode will result in a broader panoramic image (more sky and foreground, higher resolution, higher margin of error in post). More of the sky and more foreground can make for a much more impactful image. A downside of this method is that it requires more photos (and thus a higher chance of making mistakes), and because of this the file gets much larger.

Level your tripod

If you want the photos to aline perfectly, you need a sturdy tripod. The next step is to make sure that the tripod is leveled. Most high-end tripods have a waterlevel which can be used to do this. It requires some practice but trust me, it’s really useful and worth your time. If the tripod is leveled, your photos will be straight and stitch perfectly without losing much of the top and bottom. If you have enough margin of error, you can come away with losing some of the photo, but sometimes you need the whole frame to fit everything. I learned this the hard way and had to trow away one of my panoramic images because my tripod wasn’t leveled!

Next to having your tripod leveled, it is important that your ballhead is straight. This way the horizon will be straight. Most ballheads have a waterlevel making it as easy as leveling the tripod. But a lot of ballheads (especially the cheaper ones) have a waterlevel that only works in landscape orientation. This means that if you want to shoot in portrait orientation, you need to use an L-bracket to be sure the horizon is straight. You can read this article for an explanation.

A beautiful early winter morning. When shooting panoramic photos like these, make sure your image doesn’t get too dark when moving away from the sun. Of course, de difference in light is something natural and is a consequence of the sunrise, therefore part of the difference should be left untouched. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/11 | 2.5 sec | ISO 100

A beautiful early winter morning. When shooting panoramic photos like these, make sure your image doesn’t get too dark when moving away from the sun. Of course, de difference in light is something natural and is a consequence of the sunrise, therefore part of the difference should be left untouched. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/11 | 2.5 sec | ISO 100

Using filters

You can use filters when making a panoramic image but you have to be careful. With every shot you take, make sure to check whether the filter still does what is supposed to do. The filters I use the most are gradual ND filters and a polarizer.

Gradual ND filters

When you pan the camera, the relative angle with the horizon changes. And, as a consequence, the position of the gradual ND filter. This means you have to correct for this by adjusting the position of the filter. When using a medium- or soft edge filter you will get away with this but when using a hard edge filter a slight shift will introduce an error immediately. If this goes unnoticed, it will ruin your panoramic image. Furthermore, some parts of the photo may become too dark (if you pan away from the sun for instance) and you might need to swap the ND grad filter for a lighter one.

Polarizer

Another filter that might introduce errors is the polarizer. Although fantastic in landscape photography, you need to pay extra attention when using this filter for panoramic photography. The reason for this is that the strength of the polarization depends on its angle with the sun. The filter is at its strongest when in a 90 degrees angle, thus when moving the camera either towards or away from the sun, you have to correct this by adjusting the polarizer. If you forget this you will get a dark area in your stitched panoramic.

The arrows mark a dark area in my photo. This is caused by the polarizer, I had forgotten to adjust my polarizer while panning. This illustrates that you have to adjust the amount of polarization when panning.

The arrows mark a dark area in my photo. This is caused by the polarizer, I had forgotten to adjust my polarizer while panning. This illustrates that you have to adjust the amount of polarization when panning.

In order to know where the darkest spot (the 90 degree angle) will be, you can form a pistol with your thumb and index finger and point towards the sun. Keep pointing straight towards the sun and If you now rotate your hand clockwise or counterclockwise. Your thumb will point towards the area with the maximum amount of polarization. Take this into account when making your panorama and check with every photo. It would be such a pity if you get home and discover an ugly dark spot in your photo like the one shown above.

Exposure

When shooting panoramas in low-light conditions, for instance at sunrise, the difference between the image closest to the sun and the image furthest away, can be too big. If this happens, you can balance the exposure by adjusting your exposure. This can be done by adding stops (1 stop is the doubling of halving of the amount of light let in by the camera). For example, if we make a panoramic that consists of 5 photos, with the sun in the first frame, we set our exposure in a way we’ll get a pleasing result, than if we move to the second photo, we adjust the exposure with 1/3 stop, the third photo will get 1/2 a stop, the fourth will get 2/3 and the fifth 1 full stop. This is just as an example, again, the best way is by checking every image. Of course, the difference in light is something natural and is a consequence of the sunrise, therefore part of the difference should be left untouched. Otherwise you will end up with a flat and unnatural looking image.

The night I took this photo, the aurora was quite boring. It didn’t move but just formed a large band in the sky (and a few flares behind the mountains). A single image of this scene was uninteresting, therefore I decided to shoot a panoramic photo. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 20 sec | ISO 2500

The night I took this photo, the aurora was quite boring. It didn’t move but just formed a large band in the sky (and a few flares behind the mountains). A single image of this scene was uninteresting, therefore I decided to shoot a panoramic photo. Five images shot with a Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 20 sec | ISO 2500

Focus

It sounds obvious but make sure that every single shot is in focus. It might be that when panning the camera, the foreground gets out of focus. If this is your main subject, than your panoramic is ruined. But also take notice of the wind. A panoramic consisting of long-exposure shots, can easily be ruined by camera movement. It would be a real pity if you get home, stitch your shots and discover that one of the images is softer than the others because of the wind. Furthermore, if plants (trees, reeds, flowers etc.) are in your frame and it is windy, they will become blurred.

The wind can cause another problem that can even be evident at lower shutter speeds. If the wind changes the shape of a tree for example, and this tree happens to be close where the frame gets stitched, an error will occur leaving an artifact in your panoramic shot. Wait for the wind to settle or make sure no movable objects are within the range of the stitched area.

Stitching

As I mentioned in the introduction, there is plenty of software (both free and paid) to do the stitching for you. I like to use Lightroom because it works in a convenient way and does an amazing job. It is really simple too. First you choose and edit the images you want to stitch. When editing for a panoramic, only stick to global adjustments first, then use synchronize to apply the settings to all the images, and manually adjust each image if necessary to make them fit perfectly. Lightroom will only use global adjustments when stichting. If you want to make local adjustments like a radial or graduated filter, you can do this after the image is stitched. Next you select all images you want to use and right-click one of them. Choose Photo Merge –> Panorama. Now you will see a dialogue box with 3 different projections, an option to auto crop, and a boundary warp slider. On the left side you’ll see the preview of your stitched panoramic.

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Spherical

This projection stitches your image as if placed onto the inside of a sphere. Best option for really wide, multi-row and 360 panoramas.

Cylindrical

This projection stitches your image as if placed onto the inside of a cylinder. Best option for very wide panoramas. This option tries to keep vertical lines straight and works really well with landscape photography.

Perspective

This projection stitches your image as if was placed onto a flat surface. Tries to keep vertical lines straight and works best for architectural photography. Doesn’t work very well for very wide panoramas because it tends to distort the edges a lot.

After choosing the projection mode that fits best to your image, you can either choose the Auto Crop function (to crop the white edges off) or use Boundary Warp (to fill the frame by folding the edges). Press Merge when you are satisfied. Depending on the amount of photos and the size of the raw files this might take a while. The output file is a Digital Negative Raw file (DNG). This file can be edited like a normal Raw file. Now you can do local adjustments as well. For instance to remove small stitching errors or to brighten or darken the sky.

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