All to often you see a magnificent view, a sweeping landscape vistas or wide open beach scene but for some reason you never manage to capture the essence and feeling that you felt at the time. This is often due to the human eye taking in a much wider field of view than can be captured with a camera which in part is due to the limitations of the camera lens size. This is one of the reasons why I first became interested in taking panorama photos back in the days when I used to be more accustomed to using my DSLR camera rather than an iPhone.
Back then, the process involved taking a series of overlapping photographs that were later stitched together in Photoshop. The results fascinated me due to the distortions created as lines in the photograph were stretched and contorted. It was also a step closer to capturing the wide landscapes that I was seeing and the feelings I felt at the time.
Thankfully today’s smartphones make taking panorama photos a breeze and remove the need to stitch images together in post production. With the smartphone you are able to practice, adjust and preview the results in real time.
What is panoramic photography?
Basically, a panoramic photo is an image that captures an extremely wide angle view. They are much wider than they are tall, although you aren’t necessarily limited to taking horizontal panoramic photos. You can also take them vertically to create tall, thin images.
The best subjects for panorama photos are generally wide, open spaces such as sweeping valleys, lake views, beach scenes, large group shots or urban views that capture a city skyline or take advantage of the distortions created by lines in a street scene. Also by shooting a panoramic photograph vertically, you can capture tall buildings or scenes filled with magnificent cloud formations in the sky.
In order to capture a great panorama, you still need to consider your composition. Here the same rules of composition still apply, it’s just that the process of framing your shot is a little trickier. The first thing to do is decide what is going to be the subject of your photo.
It may be that you are just photographing an expanse of open space in which case your subject of interest is everything you see in front of you but on the other hand, if the scene you are photographing is way to busy then the eye will get confused and not know where to look. The secret is to identify where you would like the eye to be led and then plan how the scene and the distortions created by the panoramic photograph will frame the subject and lead the viewers eye towards it.
If you have a particular subject that you want to draw the viewers eye to, then consider trying to position them at either the quarter or three-quarter points in the photograph. This may take some practise and a few trial runs. If you subject is a person then placing them in the middle of the image could be a bit boring. If they are to close to the edges of the photo, then they won’t have the same impact.
How to take a panorama photo using the iPhone
So let’s look at the process of taking a panoramic photo with an iPhone.
Step 1: Open Pano mode
The first step in taking stunning panoramic photos is to fire up the iPhones native camera app and then swipe through the different shooting modes until you have selected the Pano mode.
Step 2: Plan your shot
The next step is to look at the scene in front of you and decide where your photograph will start and where it will finish. When doing this consider if there is going to be a specific object in the scene. Where would you like to lead the viewers eye? How will the lines within the scene distort? Is there a central subject of interest in the scene? If so, you will want to position that subject at a certain point within the frame so as not to locate it on the outer edges of the photograph. You will need to plan where the subject will appear as you pan across the scene.
In Pano mode the iPhone displays an arrow to indicate the direction that you need to pan. If you need to change the direction of the panning orientation, then tap the arrow, and the direction will swop around.
When planning your panoramic photo, it is often a good idea to do several dry runs to get a sense of how your final image will look and highlight if you need to adjust your composition or correct any issues with exposure.
Step 3: Lock your exposure
Another consideration that you need to pay attention to is the exposure levels within the scene. As you sweep across your panorama, there is more than likely going to be wide differences in lighting. This will result in areas of your photo being over and/or underexposed. In a panoramic photo, you will want to lock the exposure on a medium exposure point. This will allow you to strike a balance between the differing exposure ranges within the frame.
To lock the exposure simply tap and hold the screen at a medium range exposure point. This will help capture a more even lighting level in the photograph.
Step 4: Shoot the Panorama
Finally, with your photo planned out, exposure locked and dry runs complete you are ready to capture your final image. To take a panoramic photograph begin at your starting position and tap the shutter release button before slowly panning towards your end point. As you pan, keep the camera steady and try to keep the directional arrow on the line. This will keep the scene even. If you do deviate too far or pan to fast just follow the instruction prompts on the screen.
Once you have reached your end point either press the shutter button one more time or reverse the panning direction back a short way in the opposite direction and the camera will stop recording. The reverse direction method will reduce the potential risk of camera shake by removing the need to make any unnecessary hand movements. Should you reach the extremity of the panning canvas, then the app will stop automatically. Your photo is then saved to the camera roll.
Shooting vertical panoramas
Panoramic photos don’t need to be horizontal; they can also be vertical to create tall, thin photographs. The process of shooting a vertical panorama is exactly the same as shooting a horizontal one. Hold the camera in a horizontal position and start your panning sweep from the ground and pan upwards vertically in a smooth arc to your end point.
There are also many ways to get creative and inject a bit of fun into your panoramic photographs.
One way is a continuation of the vertical panorama idea and involves slightly turning the camera as you pan vertically. Its may take a few attempts, but the results can be interesting.
Another way to get creative with your panoramas is to get your subject to appear in multiple locations in the scene. To do this ask your subject to pose in one location and then move to a different location by running around you once they have left the viewfinder. As they reposition themselves on the opposite side of the viewfinder, they will re-appear for a second time in the same photograph. It is possible for them to do this multiple times within the same image.
Alternative panorama apps
Although the focus of this tutorial has been on using the iPhone’s native camera, panoramic photography isn’t just limited to this app. There are many other apps out there that will do the same job no matter what platform you use. Here are a couple of them you can try out.
360 Panorama is an iOS app that lets you capture gorgeous 360-degree panoramic photos in seconds and instantly share them with the world. Simply pan the camera and watch as images are stitched seamlessly.
DMD Panorama is similar to Apple’s native camera app except that the app also shoots your panoramas in HDR. It also allows you to shoot with the flash on, off or on auto as well as locking the exposure. This makes the app quite versatile.