CAPTURING GREAT PANORAMAS v.2007a – PART I – by Leung Photography

– by Leung Photography

There are 4 very important considerations for shooting panoramas and they will be discussed as follows:

1. Your Lens
2. Your Tripod
3. Settings, Orientation, Execution
4. Stitching


Many people have photographed panoramas with different lenses. From Sigma 10-20, Nikon 12-24 to 18-70mm, 18-200vr and even the 70-200vr. The range is from super-wide to super zooms. In my opinion, the ones that work the best are the 20mm or 35mm primes. Although, I do shoot mostly with the 18-70mm or the Tamron 17-50mm. When using zoom lenses, I would generally set the focal length between 24mm to 50mm. For Nikon lenses, you would want to avoid anything below 24mm so that there is less of the barreling effect.

(2) TRIPOD (a must for low-light/night photography)

Many people have been quoted to say that the tripod is an absolute must for a panorama. Not true! IMHO, this belief comes from the days of film photography where the camera was much simpler in design and the viewfinder was not as useful as it is now. You also wouldn’t have been able to view the results on a screen immediately and perfect alignment was a must for someone to put the photos together properly… fortunately, things have changed quite a bit. Using the tripod is desirable but not always necessary.

If you use a tripod… Then great! The tripod must be level with the ground if you want your horizon to be straight. If your tripod does not have a level, you can purchase one that goes into your camera flash hot shoe. OR… you can spend $5,000 after November 2007 and get the Nikon D3 which tells you if your camera is not level. 🙂

(Let me know when you buy the D3… I want to play with it! LOL… )

Pay careful attention to this… Take a lot of time, as MUCH time as it takes, to get the tripod level. Correction of a horizon that is not straight can and will be a nightmare. If and only if you think the tripod and camera is level, pan the camera across the scene and make sure that the horizon stays consistently on your gridlines.

If you pan the camera/tripod head and it is not level, then go back and make it level!

IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO USE A TRIPOD… then beware that you will lose some of the top or bottom details of your panorama depending on your skills. You will need to learn to use your gridlines properly to align the panorama. If not used properly, your panorama will become a disaster…

If your tripod is not level or you don’t use your gridlines… you will end up with a wiggly horizon, a bowed and/or lop-sided panorama. Heck… I’ve ended up with an “S” shaped horizon before!! Go figure!!

– by Leung Photography


3. Settings, Orientation, Execution
4. Stitching


Since most panoramas are scenic and the subject is wide and far away, the following settings should work for most situations and will be discussed as follows:

(a) Initial camera settings
(b) Aperture and Exposure
(c) Setup camera in MANUAL
(d) Execute the panorama

–3A– Initial camera settings:
(3) the proper WHITE BALANCE
(4) shoot at RAW and JPEG FINE (if available)
(5) shoot in PORTRAIT orientation or with the camera VERTICALLY

–3B– Setting aperture and metering the scene for EXPOSURE


You will want to set your aperture appropriately to what is appropriate for the lighting conditions. One thing to consider is the sunny 16 rule. Works great every time. In full sun use the sunny 16 rule and don’t meter.

>>> Sunny 16 Rule: <<<

For NIGHT shooting, set your ISO to the lowest possible setting… usually 100 or 200. Your aperture should be between f/8 and f/11 to get the sharpest pictures. If your scene contains water, then you may want to consider smaller apertures for smoother, more reflective water.

Set your camera to aperture priority (A Mode). Once you have your aperture set to the desired setting, depress the shutter button halfway and pan across the scene slowly. Notice the exposure readings for each part of the scene and (very important) take special note of the brightest part of the scene. NEVER INCLUDE THE SUN IN THE FRAME WHEN METERING.

–3C– Final setup of your camera in MANUAL MODE

Put your camera in MANUAL mode and use the settings that you noted from the brightest part of the scene. Depending on the scene, you might be able to overexpose it a bit. For example, if the brightest part of the scene calls for f/16, 1/250s and the brightest part of the scene is only comprises of 10% or less of the scene, you might be able to get away with shooting the panorama at 1/200s. You could make 2 panoramas and see what comes out best for you.

Whatever the case, you will need to shoot EVERY SINGLE frame with the same manual settings (INCLUDING WB). DO NOT change your settings between frames. No… No means NO! No changey da settings! (my asian accent… hehehe)

–3D– The execution!

(a) WB should be set properly. Auto WB is a NO NO!!! The camera WILL adjust the WB for each frame differently. You will end up with a nightmare. You better hope you were shooting raw!

(b) Shooting Orientation (very important, to avoid stitching issues):
1 – in PORTRAIT ORIENTATION or VERTICALLY.. make sure to overlap 40-50%
2 – in LANDSCAPE ORIENTATION or HORIZONTALLY.. make sure to overlap 30-40%
(c) Shoot every single frame with the same MANUAL settings!!

(d) For best results, start with the left most frame of your scene. After shooting each frame, pan over and make sure the next frame overlaps with the previous frame with proper overlap rate (above). The more you overlap the better the panorama will align.

(e) After the final frame, YOUR DONE! With only 50%… 🙂

—> For night or evening panoramas, you must use a cable
release or set the self-timer to 2 seconds.
—> Remove UV filters to avoid flaring (IMHO)


There are many programs you can use to stitch the panorama. In my opinion, the best above the rest is PTgui. If you are serious about panoramas and plan on doing it professionally, PTgui is a must.

Others have used AutoPano Pro, Panorama Maker, Panorama Factory, AutoStitch (free), or Photoshop CS2 or CS3 (new/improved) Photomerge function.

Capturing Great Panoramas – version 2007a
(c) 2007 by Leung Photography.
All Rights Reserved.

dpreview: leungphotos

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