Video Tutorial

Here I made a short video demonstrating how I rotate the camera when shooting a bokeh pano. This is my first such video, but I will be trying to make more better ones soon, so watch this space...

Camera Settings

For best results you should set your camera to full manual. Imagine the batch of images you’re about to take is a single image. Any slight difference will damage the stitching process and final result. Here's a checklist for all the settings you should lock:

  • Focus

  • Aperture

  • Shutter speed

  • ISO Sensitivity

  • White Balance (only important if shooting .jpg)

NOTES:

  • 'White Balance' can be left on auto if shooting RAW files

  • Be careful when setting the exposure (see next paragraph)

  • Try not to knock the focus ring when rotating the camera throughout the panorama

  • You can shoot video for this. Some software will take it. This is not recommended however. Rolling shutter is mostly a severe issue. Same rules apply for settings. Log profile recommended for better dynamic range.

Exposure

As you can see by these two frames from the bokeh pano (below); the exposure of each frame can differ wildly. These two cases would produce different settings on your camera, so you need to be quite mindful of what’s going on and how you should set your exposure before you start shooting your batch of images.

Exposure: Subject

After you have chosen a subject, frame your focal point and expose for this area as if this was a single image. This will ignore other, more tricky parts of the final scene, but I often find this to be best approach. If you're confused, or in a rush this is the option I recommend. Don't over-think it!

fern-pano_43670846740_o.jpg
Exposure_B.jpg
Exposure_A.jpg

Exposure: Balanced

The alternative way to deal with exposure is to delve into the details of your scene's lighting. Figuring out what the brightest and darkest areas you require to see detail or colour. There are many ways to approach this. Firstly; Aim you camera towards the brightest part of the final frame and take a reading, then do the same for the darkest area and note the values down. The hard part is deciding where to balance your exposure between these two readings. Averaging these two values out could work ok, but remember that digital cameras are still better at retrieving detail from shadows than highlights.

 

You could try to expose to specifically retain highlight detail (so you can see colour in the sky and not have it blown out). The tricky aspect of this method is that it can make it difficult to retrieve detail from the shadows and if you can it might be noisy, so it might not be ideal.

NOTE: I advise Shooting RAW for this technique as it will give you better flexibility, although this is no substitute for setting a good exposure. Also note that the if you're processing RAW images you should extend your dynamic range of the individual images by modifying the black, whites and contrast. Not the highlight and shadow sliders. The reason for this is that the latter two options usually adjust local values, rather than global ones, so they may introduce uneven lighting in your frame and damage the stitching blends.

Correct Rotation Axis' - (Panoramic Head)

Adding a panoramic head to your tripod goes from being a guaranteed failure to assuring perfect rotation. Set up properly, this will avoid parallax errors (with static objects) and increase your chances of a reliable, artifacts free stitch.

Pivot Pano3.jpg

 

Tripod & Heads

Using a tripod with a standard head isn’t very useful for this technique. A video or a ball head will rotate your camera/lens in all the wrong axes. You can add a plate to push your camera backward and get one rotation point correct, but to correctly rotate in all axes you’ll need a panoramic (nodal) tripod head. Properly set up one a pano tripod head will avoid parallax errors (with static objects) and increase your chances of a reliable, artefact free stitch.

 

Some gimbals can fully automate this process. I haven’t tried this myself, but I am very curious to give it a go.

 

You don’t need this, however. In fact I choose not to use one to keep the weight down, but also because I feel it’s largely unnecessary with just a little practice. Simply carrying a camera and one lens means I can take the setup with me everywhere (every day), if I want to. This allows for shooting a potential scene whenever you find it. I also don’t like dealing with the extra time it takes to set up a tripod and then move it around, but this is personal preference.

 

NOTE: The incorrect axis of a standard tripod becomes less of an issue when your subject is further away. If you’re shooting a very large aperture (tele/long) lens this can work ok, although that isn’t ideal for this technique.

Construction.jpg

Overlap

I recommend aiming for 50% overlap, moving the camera half way along the previous frame for each movement. It might seem like overkill, but remember than any slight slip could reduce this amount and the stitching software needs matching elements to align the images later on. If you get really good at this you could aim for a 1/3 overlap, but this can result in more failures.

Orientation

There is no rule for this. As you can see from the example on the right; I prefer the portrait orientation. This is probably due to the horizontal movement and trying to perceive the best overlap. You should do whatever is the most comfortable for you. Just consider that using the less comfortable orientation might end up stitching more accurately for your rotation technique.

Direction.jpg

Motion

Consider the direction to move between shots for your subject. I tend to shoot a zig-zag (middle), from bottom left to top right, but there are few other options. Starting from the middle and spiralling out (left) can be great for portraits due to it getting the subject covered quicker, in case of accidental movement. Once you’re outside of the subject you can tell them to relax. I have seen some people shoot horizontal strips (right). This is more risky as switching rows it’s easier to forget how much overlap you need. This will also not help the automation process, because it can’t always lead on from the previous shot. As with orientation, whatever is most comfortable for you is probably the best approach.

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