Photographing animals in their habitat, by making an actual landscape image with a tiny subject in it – is one of my favourite ways to present beautiful nature scenes. Then, panoramic photographs of animals in their habitat takes this technique – one level up.
While panorama is usually a word often used by landscape photographers and seldom by the wildlife kind’s, I think it’s a technique if mastered, can be a real bonus to make large prints that keep the viewer’s glued.
So most of the DSLR or Mirrorless cameras produce a 2:3 ratio image. So firstly, why do we produce panoramic images? And why not just use a wide-angle lens and crop the image’s top and bottom areas to produce a 1:2 or 1:3 crop?
Good question. Doing that, we get a panoramic crop I agree, but it will not make sense for the megapixels we produce by cropping so much. In fact we add megapixels to make a large print by shooting panorama the right way. Also the DOF of a wide-angle lens is so much different compared to a tele-photo lens.
So let’s look at a use case. In fact, it’s a story that unfolded in Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan. This Tigress people call Arrowhead is one of the happening Tigers of the park right now and we were observing her one beautiful summer morning. She walked out of the tall grass around a famous lake called the Raj Bagh. I was photographing her using a 600mm super-telephoto lens at this distance. Soon she walked towards a small pond or let’s call it a puddle of water next to the lake bed.
Lovely light, great sight, we were busy firing our shots. Soon she got up and walked towards the puddle and sat in the water perhaps to use the silt as a sun-screen or may be to just cool herself.
After a few minutes of observing her and snapping great pictures at various focal lengths, I realised she was sitting against the background of the legendary Ranthambhore fort. So it would have been a shame to just frame the tiger and forget the fort. But the problem was the 2:3 proportion of the sensor wasn’t able to do justice to the scene I intended.
So I quickly decided to make a panorama and in fact I did execute it while the Tiger was still sitting in that puddle of water. I took a few shots to ensure there was enough Depth of Field to get the distant fort in clarity and also I tried this with 4 shots and stitching it.
I was convinced, I needed only 2 frames after this and I didn’t want to make this a very wide-panorama so I realised, the 3-4 shots would give me nearly 1:3 or 1:3.5 proportion. So then I did the next few things which are important to frame panoramas quickly on the field.
Firstly, Ensure exposure of both the shots would be the same. So how do we achieve that? Well there are a couple of ways to do this.
- Meter the shot and set the exposure in Manual Mode, which wouldn’t change on its own and we have consistency in exposures. Or,
- Copy the exposure you see in the camera while framing the first shot and replicate the same Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO values in the next shots you would shoot.
Secondly Ensure the focus distance of both shots remain the same. So we do this by Focusing the Tiger and then pulling the Focus switch from AF to MF thus not re-focusing for the rest of the sequence – in my case just one more image. You should know that if you don’t change the focus ring again, the focus will remain at the distance of the Tiger.
C. Thirdly ensure the same alignment from the bottom of the frame to the horizon and don’t change the focal length of the lens. How do we now do this? Well, if you can’t be on a tripod that’s completely calibrated being parallel to the ground, then use the approximate method (Well this is the technique I use)
D. Finally, figure out a way to overlap some portion of the first picture with the second and the second with the third so that it helps the software to seamlessly stitch. Use objects in the frame as visual cues to remember and overlap frames.
In this method, I use some of the AF points that you see through the viewfinder and rest them on the horizon for all the shots. Thus ensuring the same distance from the bottom. In my shot, I had the bottom of the distant land, or let’s say the top of the lake’s edge coinciding with the centre AF point in all the shots.
Don’t worry if this is 90% approximate. We don’t need this to be precise. Once we adjust and stitch images, we will crop the mistakes out. By using Lightroom’s Photo Merge feature, two raw files are merged seamlessly (Of course if it’s shot precisely) and then my beloved Lightroom produces a new file which unlike Photoshop isn’t just the PSD, but this time it’s a DNG which is also a raw file.
Now you could process this new panoramic raw file and achieve the results you dreamed of.
I then printed this masterpiece on the HP Z9 Designjet printer on a photo paper. It should decorate a beautiful wall or office space soon.
Inspiring? Well if you loved this video and would like to see more, please like this video, share it and even consider subscribing to Toehold TV.
Oh, before I forget, we have a great Lightroom Online Course that’s now available for you to access it any time any place. Check the link on the screen now if you are on Youtube or check the link in the description below. Ciao!