This spotted gentian (Gentiana punctata) was positioned on a slope in such a way that, with the help of a tripod, a panorama could be taken that showed the plant in its surroundings. Information: OM-2 from Olympus with Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5/50mm | 1/250 sec with aperture 5.6 | Manual focus | Tripod with panoramic head | Composed using three portrait shots.
Large flowers and other subjects that rise up from the surrounding grass are particularly suited to photographs taken using the normal view, which capture them in their environment. In such images, the plant forms the foreground of a landscape that is set far behind it. Particularly suitable for working with small plants are macro lenses with short focal lengths. When working with larger plants, however, panorama lenses can also be used. The telephoto lens generally has the problem that the background is too blurry. Whilst you can achieve a unique effect by showing plants together with their environment, a shot of a plant that has grown particularly tall can also be interesting in panorama format. This type of photograph has become increasingly popular over recent years, supported by the spread of affordable software that allows a panorama to be created from multiple individual pictures.
A panoramic head enables a camera to be rotated whilst the entrance pupil of the lens sits exactly on the rotation axis. This particular model allows the camera to be set up horizontally, meaning it can be used in both portrait and landscape format. (Image: Novoflex).
In addition to a camera with a macro lens, to take a macro panorama you will also need a tripod with a panoramic head. There are two different options available: You can either use a panoramic head that only allows you to rotate the camera on a vertical axis (for horizontal panoramas), or one that allows rotation on a vertical or horizontal axis (for either horizontal or vertical panoramas). The common feature of both types of panoramic head is that the entrance pupil of the lens can be positioned directly on the rotation axis. This is particularly important because it prevents parallax errors between the individual pictures of a panorama. With panoramas that stretch back into the distance such errors are usually only small, but with panoramas taken close up they are often so big that it is not possible to put the pictures together.
Setting up the camera
A camera correctly positioned on the rotation axis, from the front.
The fundamental requirement for taking a panorama is that the panorama rotation plate is completely level, even if you want to shoot a vertical panorama. Otherwise, the photo series will lean to one side. You can normally check this using a built-in, or attachable, spirit level. The optimum set-up of the camera is very important because it ensures the panorama is not inadvertently shot at an angle. Now mount the camera on the panoramic head. Position the camera in the centre, on the rotation axis, so that you form an L-shaped angle. You can check this easily by holding a plumb line to the lens – I use a piece of string with a metal weight (such as a nail), which I attach to the highest point of the front of the lens using tape. Now slide the camera forwards or backwards until the entrance pupil of the lens is directly on the rotation axis. This process must be done with extreme precision! Most panoramic heads have a sliding plate. Once you know the settings of the panoramic head you should write them down or mark them on the head itself. Then, when you are on location, you will just need to mount the camera.
This procedure should be done using the magnification that will be used later on, because the focal length of the lens changes when focusing. For lenses whose overall length alters when focusing the changes in the settings are generally more substantial.
The optimum setting is one in which two vertical subjects (two nails, for example), one positioned a few centimetres in front of the other, remain in line with one another when you rotate the camera. The nails should not be next to one another but, from the perspective of the camera, in line with one another. Begin by moving the camera so that the two nails can be seen on the left side of the image. Now line up the nails so that one is directly in front of the other, covering it (top left). You should then rotate the camera until the nails can be seen on the other side of the image (bottom left). After the first attempt (top right) the position of the nails relative to one another has changed – they are no longer in line. Now slide the camera forwards and backwards until the nails are in line again (below left). This process is then repeated once you have rotated the camera back in the other direction, until the position of the nails relative to one another no longer changes when the camera is rotated (bottom right). Make note of the settings, or mark them on the panoramic head.
Once you have mounted and set up the camera on location, you should then determine the average exposure for the scene. To do this, rotate the camera as if taking the individual photos for the panorama but, while doing so, look at the light meter. For close-up and macro photos, the differences in exposure are generally very small, which means you can simply select the average of the light values that you see. To do this, select the manual mode M on the camera and then select the aperture stops and the exposure time. You will only need to select a particular exposure in exceptional circumstances. This is the case if there is a particularly bright source of light that can be seen, for example, such as the sun. These images should not be used for determining the average. When taking each photo it may be helpful to shoot the picture three times, using a different exposure each time. The three panoramas that result from this can then be brought together using the DRI technique. Once you have determined the correct exposure you can shoot the pictures, ensuring there is an overlap of around 10% on each side. Depending on the direction of the panorama, either the rotating plate or the arm will be moved along the row (see point 2, "Setting up the camera").
For a banner in a vertical panorama format I needed a very large shot of tulips, which would then be printed in a size of 2 metres. Since viewers should be able to come close to the picture, the full resolution of the image was needed, even on close examination. I therefore decided to shoot a vertical panorama, the individual photos for which would be taken in landscape format – thereby enabling a particularly high resolution.
1. Putting the pictures together
The photos can be put together using special software such as Autopano Pro (www.autopano.net) or the freeware Hugin (https://hugin.sourceforge.net). These are both high quality programs and should be your first choice if you want to create panoramas on a regular basis. In simple cases you can put the individual shots together using the photomerge function in Adobe Photoshop CS5. To do this, you will need to start photomerge by going to File > Automate > Photomerge. In the window that appears you should then select the panorama photo series by clicking on search. Start the process by clicking on the “OK” button. Photoshop will now open the pictures, placing them together in one document on multiple layers.
2. Optimising the picture
The finished picture in this example is comprised of four layers, because the panorama consists of four pictures. You can now correct the colour and lighting of each individual layer. This shouldn’t be necessary, however, if you have taken all pictures with the same exposure. Now merge the layers onto the background layer. To do this, click on the top right corner of the layer palette to bring up its context menu, then select "Flatten all layers 2." You can finish by optimising the image using the crop tool – then your first macro panorama is finished.
This panorama was created by following the process described above, using four individual photos. Information: Nikon D3x with AF micro NIKKOR 60 mm 1:2.8D | 1/500 sec with aperture 4 | Manual focus | Tripod with panoramic head VR System PRO II from Novoflex | Magnification 1:10
The Jumbo-MBS holder allows parallax-free shifting, making it possible to take quick and effective macro panoramas with suitable tilt-shift lenses.
Many sources advise simply using an adjustable platform to take panoramas close-up or in macro, thereby allowing the camera to be moved along parallel to the subject. This technique only works with two-dimensional scenes, however, in which there is no third dimension visible and the subject therefore has no overlapping parts. If there are three dimensional elements – as in the example above – any movement of the camera leads to a change in the relative position of the subject in relation to the entrance pupil. This produces a parallax effect, and the individual pictures are no longer congruent. This technique is not generally applicable! There is a simple way of producing a macro panorama, however: using a lens with a tilt-shift function. The individual pictures are produced using the shift function, with two or three overlapping shots taken. The lens has to remain still and must not move – this would produce the parallax effect and render the pictures useless! There are holders available for tilt-shift lenses, which keep the lens in place while the camera is »moved«.
Daisies in front of a mountain scene
This panorama was created following the method described in this workshop, using three individual photos. Information: Olympus OM2 with Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:2/50 mm 1/125 sec with aperture 8 | Manual focus | Tripod with panoramic head
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