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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

How to Create a Wide-Angle Panorama Portrait

2023-03-10
39
5.88 k

When the lens that you have on hand isn’t enough to capture a scene in its full glory, one quick solution is to take multiple shots and stitch them into a panorama instead. Using an ultra-wide-angle lens can achieve very unique results, but how do you get a successful outcome especially with human subjects? Award-winning pre-wedding and portrait photographer Johnson Wee (@johnsonweew) shares how he achieved one of his wide-angle panorama wedding portraits as well as some professional tips. (Images by Johnson Wee; as told to the SNAPSHOT team)

EOS R5 + RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 15mm, f/6.3, 1/200, ISO 200
Panorama stitched from 5 horizontal images
Other equipment: 1 off-camera flash with softbox (on photographer’s left)

In this article:

 

Why do wide-angle panoramas?

I started doing wide-angle panorama shots after I began to do destination pre-wedding shoots. We went to many scenic locations, but even with an ultra-wide-angle lens, it was often hard to capture the entire scene in a single frame with satisfactory results. Even if we did get the entire scene in, the couple would look too small and be “overpowered” by their surroundings.

Wide-angle panorama shots are my solution to this.


Wide-angle panorama vs. single ultra-wide-angle shot

Compare the following:

Normal ultra-wide-angle shot (15mm)
This is one of the “safety shots” that I always take just in case the panorama doesn’t work out. Marina Bay Sands would have been in the shot if I took a few steps back, but the couple would look smaller.


Panorama shot (stitched from 5 images shot at 15mm)
The panorama captures more of the scenery while keeping the wedding couple the same size.  Notice the curving at the edges. I placed the couple just slightly off-centre so that there wouldn’t be too much unnecessary negative space in the form of the wall on the far right.


Why use a wide-angle lens instead of something longer?

Beginners are often taught to shoot panoramas with a standard focal length or longer as this results in less distortion, which makes stitching easier. There are three main reasons why I do it with a wide-angle lens, usually at the wide-angle end:

1) Comfortable working distance for the framing
With a wide-angle lens, you can frame in the couple and what you need, plus extra allowance, without having to step too far back. The distance is comfortable enough to communicate!

2) Flatters the brides
I rely on the wide-angle perspective to make my brides appear taller with model-like proportions. Of course, the groom benefits, too.

3) The unique cylindrical warping effect at the edges
Images shot using a standard or medium telephoto focal length have less distortion, which makes them easier to work with especially for portrait shoots. However, the cylindrical warping effect at the edges that results from the merged wide-angle shots can look quite unique!

You can avoid unwanted distortion in the portrait subjects with skilful composition—I’ll share more about that in the following points.

 

Things to prepare

- An ultra-wide-angle lens (shorter than 24mm)
- A scenic location and willing subjects
- Lighting if necessary
- If you are new to this: Consider if you want to use a tripod

 

1. Setting up: Camera position, composition, and settings


i) Keep the camera as level as possible as you pan the shots

Taking shots for panoramas is like taking a panning shot: it’s important to keep the camera as level as possible when you move it. Up and down movement can cause merging errors, and you might have to crop the shot more than desired if the horizon is tilted.

If you decide to use a tripod
It’s best to use a tripod head that lets you restrict movement to one plane. Be more careful if you are using ball heads: they can be tricky to control.

If you decide to shoot handheld
Shooting handheld allows much more flexibility. The same techniques you’d use to take good panning shots apply:

- Shoot from a stable stance: keep your centre of gravity low and your feet about a shoulder’s width apart
- When you pan the camera, keep your elbows as close to your body as possible. Then move your entire torso, not just your hands or arms. You might feel like a robot, but this gives the best stability!
- For even better stability, shoot through the viewfinder. Your face acts as a third point of support.


Practice until you can shoot like this!
Behind the scenes. The wide-angle lens lets me capture the couple and the scenery from a comfortable distance away—I still can communicate with them. For better stability, use the viewfinder so you have an extra anchor point. It took me a lot of practice and trial and error before I could consistently get good source images while panning handheld with the LCD monitor!


ii) Leave more allowance at the top and bottom

Leave ample allowance in every shot, especially at the top and bottom. Images will get cropped during the perspective correction and merging process. You don’t want details like heads, feet, or dresses to be cropped away!


iii) Decide if you want to take horizontal or vertical shots

I usually choose to take horizontal shots for horizontal panoramas. Vertical shots mean more shots to stitch, which potentially causes more merging issues.


How many shots?

Fewer shots isn’t necessarily better—you need enough information to get a good panorama. To me, around 5 to 6 horizontal shots give the best balance. Experiment and see what works for you.

From 3 shots
There are still traces of the perspective effect. The buildings and the wall seem to tilt outward.


From 5 shots
The buildings don’t tilt as much. There is also a desirable spherical effect from the “curving” on the right and left corners of the image.


iv) Settings: Keep exposure and focus consistent

Exposure: Manual exposure
Use manual exposure mode to ensure that every shot has the same exposure values. Semi-automatic and automatic exposure modes are increasingly accurate, but the brightness might still change across shots especially in high-contrast scenes.

Focus: Make sure it doesn’t shift
Shoot with a fairly narrow aperture (larger depth of field) as out-of-focus parts can affect the stitching. This is where the naturally larger depth of field of wide-angle lenses provides an advantage.

The EOS R5’s AF tracking kept the bride and groom in focus in every shot.

 

2. Taking the shot: Things to note as you shoot


i) Overlap each shot more than you would with a longer lens

When using a wide-angle, I usually overlap each shot by about 50 to 60%. This is more than on a longer lens, where the norm is around 30 to 40%. The larger overlap helps to reduce unwanted distortions.

I panned from the right side of the scene to the left. The second and third shots, which feature the couple in and near the centre, have an overlap of almost 90% as this is where I wanted the least distortion.

 


ii) Compose with your subjects as close to the centre as possible

This is the most important trick for avoiding distortion in your portrait subjects! On a wide-angle lens, distortion is always more obvious at the edges of the image. Make sure that you have shots with your subjects in the centre of the image. If you noticed in the images in 2i), I have two such images that are 80 to 90% overlapped.

The distortion in the bridegroom is obvious in Example 1, and less so in Example 2.

 

3. Merge the images

I usually do a spherical stitch. Here’s how the panorama looks right after stitching.

The black object at the top of the last (leftmost) shot is the corner of the softbox, as my assistant moved the light on my left slightly to get it out of the way. It’s easily removed in post-processing.


Here’s how the panorama looked after global edits and cropping.

It looks almost complete, but we’re not done yet: notice that there’s something funny about the flooring?

 

4. Fix merging errors

Once the stitching is done and you’ve fixed more obvious issues, scrutinise the panorama for merging errors. This is especially important if you are getting the image printed. The image might seem flawless, but any errors will be a lot more obvious when blown up!


Pro tip: Repetitive lines and patterns are highly prone to merging errors

The clone tool was not enough to fix this; I had to use the warp tool as well.

The issue that occurred with the lines happens because things look different from different angles (parallax). The difference is more obvious with objects closer to the camera.

The simplest way to prevent such errors is to avoid repetitive lines and patterns in the foreground when you can. This is not always possible if you are doing client work! For this image, I wanted to show what can be done.


Pro tip: “Fix in post” might be inevitable sometimes, but try not to over-rely on post-processing

I usually try to get every composition as complete in-camera as I can and avoid over-relying on post-processing. It’s how you improve your skills as a photographer!

In Steps 2 and 3, we have done as much we can to prevent stitching errors, but issues like the lines above are inevitable. Save the post-processing time for things like this, instead of those that could have been easily fixed on the spot during the shoot.


i) Masking and retouching

Once you have fixed the merging errors, proceed to do your masking and retouching.

Pro tip: Make your subjects stand out against the large depth of field

The bokeh effect isn’t ideal for panoramas, so be prepared to deal with a huge depth of field. The more elements in your shot, the more distractions. Process your image selectively so that the main subjects stand out. Make sure that the colours, sharpness, and tonality don’t overpower your main subjects.


For more wedding portraiture tips, see:
2 Simple One-Light Techniques for Gorgeous Day/Night Wedding Portraits
Indoor Wedding Photography with Available Light: 3 Simple Techniques
Staple Yet Brilliant Wedding Poses To Direct Nervous Clients

About the Author

Johnson Wee

Based in Malaysia, Johnson Wee is one of the fastest rising stars in the wedding photography industry. Known for his strong composition, good use of lighting, and unique post-processing, he has won over 300 international photography awards in his career including the prestigious WPPI awards. A Double Master of the prestigious WPPI and a Fellow of the MPA, Johnson has been invited to conduct workshops and seminars, and judge photography competitions all around the world. He is also a Canon EOS Master and Profoto Ambassador in Malaysia.

Website: https://www.johnsonwee.com/
Instagram: @johnsonweew

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