Panorama photography in the wilderness.
When you travel in wilderness, as in backpacking, weight is everything. So you want to keep weight as little as possible and, if you care about image quality as I do, bring professional equipment. Which limits your choice of lenses to one, unless you are built like a Sherpa or have a mule to carry it for you. But first, let’s start with camera choice. Latest generation of mirror-less cameras and their image quality is phenomenal. They are also weight less than DSLR cameras. Unfortunately their battery life is not very good. Also battery recharging, at least in case of Sony batteries, takes twice as long compare to Canon batteries. I also love to photograph Star Trails at night. For that I needed full frame sensor camera because I need very high ISO settings with clean image quality. For reasons above I chose Canon 5D Mark 3. My favorite wilderness lens is Canon 24-105L 4.0 To some people 105 is an odd choice for wilderness. I also love to photograph people and it’s a great compromise between wide lens and portrait lens.
How to bring your pro gear into the wilderness. I have been struggling with this question for a while. At first, I tried to carry my camera on my neck with a camera strap, like some photographers do. It's OK if you are only going for a few hours. Ones I went out for 12 hour hike and could not move my neck for several days. I tried to put my camera inside my backpack. But found out that I did not take any photos because it was very time consuming to get my camera out. Finally I found the solution from ThinkTank Photo They make several products that let's you carry camera where it belongs: right in front of you. Below is the photo of me using their digital holster 20 in conjunction with their digital harness in Patagonia earlier this year. They do have other sizes available for different camera sizes. With this set up, I carried my Mark 3 with 24-105 very comfortably. The most important thing: I could access my camera in a few seconds and camera was protected from elements (I carried plastic bag on the bottom of the holster in case of the downpour)! The digital holster also had room for my IPhone and maps.
By the way, if you buy anything from ThinkTank Photo, enter this special code number in the "Affiliate Box" in the shopping cart: 141269.357718 You will receive free gear with every order over $50.00!
Why Panorama photography? Why not take extra wide lens and capture everything in one exposure? I was asked those question many times. The simple answer is this: The wider the lens, the further away your subject will appear to be. So when you photograph magnificent mountains, for example, they will look very far away. But if you use longer focal lens and make several panoramic exposures, the perspective will be compressed, the closer your subject will appear to be. Another reason is files size. If all you want is web image, this is of no importance to you but if you wish to print panorama image, you want the biggest files size possible (panoramas never look good in 5x7 or 8x10). They look beautiful large.
Creating Panorama images:
Tripod: You want all panorama images to be horizontal! (Unless you are doing vertical panorama). Tripod with leveler will help you achieve this with ease.
You want to eliminate image parallax by finding lens nodal point. In plain English, you want to rotate camera/lens combination not where camera mounts on a tripod (camera center) but in center of lens (nodal point). Instead of trying to explain what it is, below is the link to Really Right Stuff page on the subject. By the way, all my panorama equipment is from Really Right Stuff.
Yes, the camera can be hand held. With practice you can make decent panoramas. But if you have lots of lines in the photo (fences, electrical lines, tree lines, etc.…) your software will have very hard time stitching it together and you will not be happy, especially if you are stitching more than 3 images together.
Below is a panorama photo made with 25 images stitched together using pano gear from Really Right Stuff. Please notice how many horizontal lines are there (deck, rails, etc.) This kind of image is completely impossible task for hand held camera.
Secure your camera vertically into tripod/pano gear (your file will be larger). ALL camera settings must be on manual: aperture/shutter speed/focus/ISO/white balance. The last thing you want is for one image to have focus in the foreground and next one on the background. You will never be able to make clean stitch. For pano photography you want high aperture number to get foreground and background in focus. Since camera is on the tripod, shutter speed is less important. You may have very strong highlights and shadows in the scene. Adjust exposure for middle ground (unless you also doing an HDR. Focus on what is important in this photo and turn off auto focus. Just for this reason alone, I love lenses that have auto focus switch on the lens. Trying to go through the camera menu to find focus switch is a pain! Do not put any filters in front of the lens, especially polarizing filter! You will get more even files to stitch together. If you take multiple panoramas of the same scene, before I start moving camera to photograph, I take a photo of my hand. This way in Lightroom I can easily identify different pano groups. When you photograph panos, you want to overlap your images. The rule of thumb is to overlap it by at least 30%. 50% is even better.
To process images, as in stitch them together, I use Photoshop. Latest Lightroom can do it also but I still prefer Photoshop.
In Lightroom, identify what images you want to stitch. Take the first image and do all adjustments to your liking. Select all other images, including the one you just adjusted and sync all images to the first adjusted image.. You want all files to be the same. Photoshop will love you when you make stitching easier. While all images are still selected, right click, edit in, and in the drop down menu, select Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. In Photomerge window, I get good results with auto selection. I also select Vignette removal and Geometric distortion correction. I leave Content Aware fill unchecked. I like doing it as needed by myself ones stitching is done. If I use tripod and pano gear, very little content aware fill is ever needed.
Below are few of my panoramic images:
Enjoy your panorama photography.