The easy way to create an amazing panorama
A fantastic property, to die-for interior design and top of the line accessories. Everything was impeccably prepared for the photo shoot: natural light in abundance, carpets cleaned, cushions puffed, no pets and not a single speck of dust anywhere to be seen. While I happily clicked my DSLR around, room after room, I suddenly realized that the sun was going down and I still hadn’t capture the garden in all its beauty. A 360 would have solved the problem in a snap, if only I knew back then how to properly manage such an endeavor. This was at the start of my real estate career when often times the LCD screen of my camera showed me a completely different imagine from what I had imagined.
As wide as the eye can see
Although the sky and subject stretched over the horizon in a magnificent composition, I just couldn’t squeeze in the whole scene however hard I tried, the result being below mediocre. In fact, this was a typical panorama’s subject and so was my attitude at the time – baffled and slightly blasé, such as beginners usually are.
Since then, I experimented at length with panoramic photography and came to understand why those confused about notions like panoramic head or parallax errors where tempted, not long ago, to forsake such ambitions and put away the camera thinking they could never get a good photo out of it. Things have drastically changed over the past years and now most computer software or online services can generate impressive images by stitching together a series of photo shots while the composition doesn’t require complicated human interventions.
Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of panoramas, their use in real estate photography, and discover the general principles to getting the perfect shot while keeping things fun.
First and foremost, you have to make sure that the camera is leveled. A tripod with a built-in spirit level is ideal, but if you don’t have one at hand, simply use your eyes and the horizon line to level the frame. Exposure is another important factor to the equation and you should really try to be consistent across shots or your final result might get completely ruined. More about this later on. Ah, one more thing: dark spots don’t mix very well with light areas in one single panorama so it’s better to shoot evenly lit spaces. If necessary, use a combination of small flash units and large strobes to add some extra lighting.
Mega and gigapixels
The evolution of digital photography and computing technology had a major effect on the increase in photo’s resolution, panoramas included. This means that even a panorama made of 5 individual frames, each having a 10 megapixels resolution, can amount to a whopping 35 megapixels – because it overlaps the edges. Usually only high-end cameras can offer such high resolutions from the get go. In case of big real estate projects it is even possible to get gigapixel resolutions, but your computer should have enough horsepower to process such enormous requirements.
What if the individual frames of your panorama have a different focus? A good stitching software usually solves this kind of problems reasonably well, but Manual mode should be your first choice for panoramas. Use a small aperture, from F15 to F22, and focus to infinity in order to achieve a deep depth of field. It’s also a good idea to manually set the shutter speed, white balance and ISO settings.
To determine the ideal exposure time, you should take several exposure readings or do a few sample frames, then compare exposures and use the average.
Nowadays, almost every point and shoot, DSLR, and smartphone camera features a panoramic or stitching mode. The name may vary across manufacturers, but the idea is the same. At the beginning, you could use this features to display the last picture taken and a live view of the next one together with the overlapping area of those two. Now, all you have to do is pan the camera up and down, left or right, and let the built-in camera’s computer take pictures and stitch them together into a single file. However, some cameras do not come with a good control over exposure settings in between shots, which can pose a problem.
Light is the archenemy of every photographer, regardless of his field – a volatile element that can make or break almost any composition. In the case of panoramas, if the light varies considerably among frames, you can get better results by shooting a series of images using exposure bracketing (minimum three per panorama) and create a HDR panorama out of them. For the final image though you will need a special software.
Rotate around the nodal point
In most cases, turning the device on its axis and shooting as horizontally as possible does the trick. But when the scene or the subject is closer to the camera, more precision is needed: the nodal point must be the center point of rotation, otherwise the computer will not be able to properly stitch the scene.
The nodal point varies from one camera to another, but it usually is in the middle of the lens. That’s also the reason why the center of panoramic tripods is not on the same axis with the camera tripod thread.
Ideal focal length
There are no general rules when it comes to focal length, but I would recommend staying somewhere in the middle because this setting does not produce big distortions like barrel effect or fisheye deformations. Feel free to experiment with wider lenses, too, if you’re going to be using a software to correct errors and distortions, but keep in mind that computers can only do so much.
Elements tend to sit still in real estate photography, but there comes a time when you simply cannot avoid some slight movement in the background decor. In theory, that can infuse energy into an otherwise lifeless frame, but in reality you will most likely end up with “ghosts” right in the blending area of two frames, where images overlap. That can be easily fixed in your photo stitching software or by simply taking a few precautions before shooting. On the other hand, if you want to have a dynamic element in your panorama – not many real estate photographers do – then make sure you place each element in the center of the frame when shooting individual pieces of your panorama.
360 degree panorama
A 360 panoramic image is a special kind of horizontal panorama consisting of several images stitched together using a specialized software like Adobe Photoshop CC or PTGui. The most common way to get a quality 360 is to shoot with a DSLR and fisheye lens on a panoramic head – using a panohead or a tripod makes post-processing a lot easier.
With vertical panoramas you can fit the sky, buildings and pavements in one epic image! Sure, you might stretch your back muscles a bit and strain your neck chasing the lines, but it will worth your while. This special kind of panorama brings front certain architectural structures making a vertical facade seem dominant and impressive. Not to mention the commercial benefit: for whatever reason, vertical shoots seem to be more appealing to potential home buyers and get more buzz than horizontal compositions. Try to mix them up and shoot vertically as often as horizontally, at least for the photo gallery or portfolio, if not for the actual virtual tour.
With panoramic photography, like everything else, you have to be creative and think outside the box! Try to bring new elements into your shots, experiment with filters and light, go vertical then plunge into the abyss and jump back again, and never allow yourself to become just another piece of furniture in a real estate property.
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