Fascination of Panorama Photos

Roskilde Cathedral Square. A 169 megapixel image stitched from 28 downscaled images.

There is something about panorama photos or stitched photos that fascinate me. It’s a bit like a fisheye lens, that shows the world in a way you can’t see with the naked eye.

A panorama photo serves multiple purposes seen from my perspective. The obvious reason is to include more of a scene in one photo, in a panoramic way.

Another reason is to compensate, for a missing lens. If you haven’t got that really wide angle lens in the bag, shoot two less wide angled images, and stitch them when you get home.

An even more fascinating reason is to use it as an effect. An effect that can distort the world, just like the Fisheye lens does, only in a different way, but often with some resemblance.

The Cathedral of Roskilde

Same scene more or less, just shot with a Fisheye lens.

And what I like even more about panorama photos, is that I find it hard to predict the result. There is always a surprise. Sometimes I use my iPhone and shoot a panorama, it can help visualizing the scene as a panorama image, but the iPhone doesn’t work when it gets dark.

I have a deep passion for showing the World in a surreal, yet recognizable and realistic way. I have one foot in the surreal world and one foot in reality. Sometimes I have more weight on one foot, than the other.

Panoramic photos give me another way to add surrealism to my photos, and I like that.

The story behind why I shot this 28 image photo, is that I have grown fascinated by Medium Format cameras, and the fact, that a 60mm Medium Format lens is approximately the same as a 24 mm full frame lens.

Apparently a Medium Format lens distorts the scene less, but instead of spending a huge fortune on a Medium Format camera, I thought, shooting at 50mm and stitching the afterwards, would give a similar effect. As it turned out 50mm was too many shots, and I went to 39mm instead.

I must say, that the perspective is much less distorted, than in this 14mm shot. It is shot at approximately the same distance as the panorama.

14mm on a full frame. Shot at the same distanse as the 28 image stitch.

Stitching the Panorama photos

Panorama photos, or stitched photos, are several photos that are stitched together. Lightroom and Photoshop both have features to support this.

From my experience, Lightroom does a great job on simple panoramas but gives up on more complex stitching tasks. Photoshop is better and has got a few additional options.

But neither Photoshop nor Lightroom could give me, a decent result for this photo. The problem was the projections mapping the images distorted the image in an unpleasant way.

A projection is like when you want to map the round Earth to a flat piece of paper. In a way you record a sphere, from the inside, when you move your camera around shooting photos. When you project something round to a flat surface, you have to make some compromises. Just try to flatten the peel from an orange.

There are different algorithms, or projections for doing this, and they give different results. You just need to find one you like.

This photo is made of 28 photos shot with my Sony A7R, which means 36 megapixels per image, that is a lot of pixels.

Roskilde Cathedral monster pano

Shooting that many 3 shot HDR photos during the blue hour is a problem. The light changes so rapidly that you get different light in the photos, and I had to reshoot some of the photos because the light had changed too much. Luckily I discovered that before I moved the camera.

Lightroom only offered one projection, which looked terrible. For some reason, it would do not the two other projections. This is something I encounter from time to time.

I then exported to Photoshop, picked automatic projection and in a few moments, the fan went to high speed, and the computer got sluggish. Half and hour or maybe an hour later Photoshop was still stitching, and suddenly I got a warning “Out of disk space”. What?!? I have 700 Gigs of free space!? I opened my Finder, but “nooo” disk space certainly was critically low.

I emptied the trash can, but suddenly the fan stopped. After another hour of waiting and nothing had happened, I realized that Photoshop had died on me.

Instead, I exported the photos as TIFF 16-bit in 3000×2000 pixels. This Photoshop could handle nicely. I chose TIFF 16-bit, to be able to do some proper image processing later. When you export you only want to have fixed lens distortion, and synchronized the White Balance across all photos.

TIP: If your files are too big, export them as TIFF 16-bit, and make them smaller. You will still get a big file.

I have ended up with a 17.000 x 9.930 pixel image (169 Megapixel), using the smaller files. This is plenty for an insanely large print (7 yards wide, and you would still not be able to count the pixels close up).

Photoshop could now process the images, but I didn’t like the result. It got warped too much, in ways I didn’t like. Here’s an example:

Roskilde Cathedral Photoshop Stitch

Roskilde Cathedral Photoshop

The default project from Photoshop looked terrible, and one of the others is a bit funny. I tried the others, butdidn’t get a result I liked.

Instead, I turned to Auto Pano Giga v4. This is the most advanced Panorama software that I know of. It’s not cheap, but if you can afford it, it’s worth every penny, and it get’s the job done. I only had the old version had to upgrade, and now I bought the bigger version. It integrates into Lightroom and Bridge, and there are some other advantages, I thought I would like to have.

Auto Pano Giga offers a huge range of projections, and some have parameters you can adjust. I picked the ‘Pannini’ projection and adjusted until I got something nice, and then I exported the final result to a Photoshop file. I still only used the 3.000 x 2.000 files.

And from this point, I processed only in Photoshop and later in Lightroom.

I have tried to run the full resolution files into Auto Pano Giga, and I does allow me to do it, however, it does take some time to process. But, it does not suck up all my free disk space. It works in a different way than Photoshop does.

The full resolution is 40.000 pixels wide, and in a slightly different crop, it is just north of 1 Gigapixel. Photoshop struggled with my 169 megapixels image, I think I will only process the full resolution, if anyone needs a twenty yards wide print, with crazy people stepping up in front to see if they can count the pixels (which they wouldn’t be able to, once scaled properly).

–Jacob Surland

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