Creating photographic context with Telephoto Panorama’s

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I love pushing people out of their comfort zone during photographic workshops, if you are not testing your own limits than frankly you are not learning. I do this in a variety of ways, but mostly with simple suggestions of using photographic gear in alternative ways than most photographers would not think of normally. This is especially true when working within the limitations of photographic great to present a scene in a particular way.

A key element that needs to be included in any natural scene being photographed is context, space or environment for your subject. Photographs taken with long or big telephoto primes lenses like 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm have this absolute beautiful effect on our images partly because of lens compression and have very shallow depth of field, however both of these factors removes context from our photographs. Shooting with a wider lens adds the context back into the frame however at the cost of that soft creamy shallow depth of field.

The solution is a stitching a series of telephoto images together to create a wider view of a scene and still maintaining that very shallow depth of field. Telephoto panorama’s is not a new concept, however its often thought of as this incredibly difficult and time consuming technique that most wildlife photographers would rather not go through and instead just opt for a slightly wider lens to capture a scene in its entirety. Its a whole lot easier than one thinks and all that is added, is an extra step into to a photographers normal workflow. Which is actually a very easy process if you get your images right in the field, read on and I’ll show you how …

Basic Definition: Photographic panorama is a technique used in photography, that captures images and blends them together to create a horizontally elongated field of view.

Its a technique thats has always been used primarily by landscape photographers to be able too include more content within a scene they are photographing. For a wildlife photographer in search of that shallow depth of field and context it needs to be modified slightly to be used with a telephoto lens. Also our subject matter has the ability to move as well, so again there are things that the wildlife photographer needs to change in-terms of the technique so we can capture the scene effectively.

Shooting everything Manually

Understanding how Adobe Lightroom (or your editing softwear) functions in creating or building these panorama’s will give you a better understanding how to photograph a scene for an effective panorama. Every photograph that is going to be blended needs to be identical with its exposure and point of focus. If your exposure and your point of focus changes from image to image Light room will struggle to blend them and it will create mixed points of focus and blotchy exposures across the panorama.

Focus

  • Firstly we require a single point of focus, there can only be one area with in the frame that is in focus.
  • To achieve this switch your lens to manual focus.
  • There are other ways swell, which we can help with in a One-on-One workshop

Exposure

  • The exposure needs to be the same through out each image that will be used to blend the images together into the panorama.
  • So shoot in manual mode, the shutter speed. aperture and ISO needs to be constant.
  • As the lens from side to side and your subject may potentially move, your shutter speed needs to be quick enough to freeze all this movement quickly enough to render a sharp image.
  • The whole idea is to have a shallow depth of field, so shoot at the widest or largest aperture possible (small f-number). This will intern help to increase your shutter speed.
  • The Shutter speed and Aperture values will govern what ISO setting you require

The Shooting Process

  • While looking through the viewfinder, move your camera across the scene and get an idea of how many frames you will need.
  • Once you have your camera setting completely on manual and choose your point of focus.
  • In the beginning this process takes time, but you will get quicker with practice. So don’t be discouraged. Simply move across the scene while taking photographs.
  • The key here is to give Light room enough information between frames so it can blend the images together.
  • Work on around 30% overlap between frames. Move through and take the images.
  • Alternatively put you camera in continuous high for the maximum frames per second and just hold down the shutter as you move across the scene.
  • This can be a littles excessive as you will have 70-80% over lap on frames.
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Processing the Panorama

Let me start by saying that this is not difficult at all, as long as you have followed the steps I have outlined above then your soft wear of choice should make very easy work of stitching the images together.

Selecting Highlight all images >>> right click >>> Select >>> Photo-merge >>> Panorama

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You can play between Spherical/Cylindrical/Perspective settings >>> let Lightroom auto crop your image

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Now make the Lightroom adjustments as required >>> see very simple

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Final Image

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I do a few panoramas in a sighting to try and get a great moment, here she finally lifted her head and it created a more complete image. The big secrete here is to experiment, play and have fun. It opens up a lot of possibilities. For example I often just shoot with a fixed 300mm and by creating a panorama I can include bit of the animal that i have to clip out if i were to shoot only one frame. The tip of a tail for the front leg as it stretches out. These are the things that complete an image. Creating the bigger options for compositions as well.

Regards

Etienne