I love to take panoramic images and when I’ve planned a specific shot I will carry all of the gear: a heavy tripod, leveling base, panorama head with nodal slide, etc. However, many times, especially when traveling in foreign countries, bringing all of this equipment is infeasible because it weighs too much or takes up too much space (or you left it at your place of lodging).
If you are caught without your panning gear, it’s still possible to create high quality panoramas if the conditions are good. For example, the above panorama of Punakha Dzong in Bhutan was created from 8 handheld shots. Using AutoPano Pro, I combined the images to produce the final panorama. It turns out the hard part was not dealing with mis-alignments caused by hand holding but rather the cable with the pigeon was moving in the wind causing a break in the stitched picture. This would have a caused a problem even with a full panning setup and I dealt with it by manually cloning portions of the image to get the cable to line up.
To maximize the chance of getting a successful stitch:
- Use proper camera holding technique.
- If you are using image stabilization, make sure to wait half a second for it to settle before moving on to the next picture in the series.
- If you have grid lines in the view finder, it helps to line them up with the horizon or another feature that you know is perfectly horizontal.
- Try to rotate around the nodal point as much as possible (basically rotate around the middle of the lens).
Generally hand held panoramas work best with the following conditions:
- There is bright light yielding fast shutter speeds.
- The subject is far away to minimize the impact of parallax errors.
- The photo is taken with a longer focal length lens.
Sometimes when I shoot handheld, Autopano Pro will fail to produce a good stitch of the image no matter how much I play with the program. To deal with this, I try to shoot the same scene several times so that at least one version will stitch cleanly without artifacts. For example, with the panorama of the Reichstagg shown below, I shot this same scene five times and three of the series had errors in stitching.