I generally do wildlife photography; it’s my main passion for sure. However, the landscape side of things has always had a spot in my heart, it just takes second place to wildlife photos and I don’t quite dedicate the same amount of time to it.
I have been doing more ultra-wide panoramic photos lately. By ultra-wide, I mean wider than the normal 3:1 ratio that is generally accepted as a standard (E.g. 8×24 inch, 10×30 inch and 12×36 inch are some fairly generic panoramic sizes, all 3:1 aspect ratio).
Nasim has a wonderful article on how to do panoramic photography and I refer you to that article for a tutorial on that part of the process.
So here is an example of a new panoramic image of mine. It is a 5:1 ratio and the original processed version is 60 inches x 12 inches at 300 dpi:
I find this kind of image very appealing to me, but there are several problems that arise in trying to create such a photo at both high quality and resolution.
The process generally goes like this:
- Find a beautiful location and setting.
- Setup camera. For this kind of image, I am using a tripod, nodal ninja rotator, I also have my camera setup for the no-parallax point to make stitching easier.
- Usually, the camera is in full manual mode to keep each image exposure the same across the panorama.
- I usually overlap the images 30 to 50% depending on the setting and identifiable features.
- I take many sets of images over the premium time to get the best light and color. E.g. golden hour / blue hour for many of these panoramas.
- Once I have an acceptable set of images, the fun starts. That is the stitching/processing part.
As I’ve pointed out, there are some technical issues with creating such images, so let’s touch on some of those issues and why I would want to create these large panoramas.
Table of Contents
Ultra-Wide Panoramic Photo Issues
The main issues I come across when working on 60×12 inch panoramas are: stitching the images and processing them. Some software has a maximum image pixel width limitation, or cannot handle large file sizes and crashes.
Photoshop also presents me with problems on occasion with the file ending up over 2 Gigabytes, refusing to save the result. So, the core problem with large ultra-wide panoramic workflow is the technical issue due to resolution and file size, in one form or another.
So, why do I want to create these ultra-wide panoramas?
- I would eventually like to print some of them at their full size in a single framed image 60×12 inch or larger.
- I might break the original full image into three multi-panels or some other combination of multi-panel. E.g.: One of the popular multi-panels sets that I often sell is, a three panel set with each image being framed at 14×21 inches.
If I am going to split a 60×12 inch single image into multiple panels, then the image needs to be consistent across the whole photo and it has to be processed as one whole image.
There is always the possibility that the images you took won’t stitch perfectly, but you minimize that by making sure your no-parallax point has been configured for the camera / lens combination you are using.
Even with a perfect setup, your images might not stitch perfectly – there could be a slight misalignment, there could be a shadow effect in areas; there could be a double exposure-like look in the overlapping sections.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to have a full-on tutorial just on the stitching process, but I do see that Photography Life already has some articles covering this process. I personally use PTGui to stitch my images, because I like the workflow, and I also find it extremely accurate in stitching images with very few problems, even for difficult stitches.
I carefully check over the final stitch, every part of the image. I look for things that don’t look right. Some of these are double exposure effect in areas of overlap, misalignment of parts of the image in the overlap area (tree branches don’t line up, etc). I also look for blurring, like an out of place bokeh issue or blurring caused by slight misalignment which causes this blurred effect.
In the above image, you can see two of the problems I sometimes face. In this instance, I had 8 overlapping images with quite a bit of overlap. Once I noticed the problem, I looked at my images and realized I had several images that could possibly be removed, and PTGui would still be able to align the panorama without them. So I removed two images from the set, tried to re-create the panorama one more time and it came out perfect.
I usually take multiple sets of images, in case I need to refer to one set or another to overcome problems. No matter what, if you are going to create panoramas, you will have to find and deal with these issues.
Just make sure, you double/triple check your initial stitched images for problems, before you start processing the image. Don’t spend hours post-processing and perfecting your panoramic photo, to realize there was an issue with the initial stitch, and you didn’t see it, and now you have an imperfect pan and have to start all over again.
The main problem I have is, with certain software I like to use, it doesn’t want to handle images larger than 15,000 pixels in width or some post-processing plugins crashing when trying to process a full ultra-wide panoramic image.
I have a solution for that problem, but it’s not an easy one and it requires me to break the image into two smaller sections, a left and a right with the overlapping area.
Let’s take an example and go through the process:
- My original un-processed final cropped (60×12 inch) pan is 18,000 x 3,600 pixels at 300 dpi.
- To work on this file, I split it into a left and right image and I work on the left and right side individually. In this case, I insert a guideline at 20 inches in Photoshop and one at 40 inches. I then crop the left and right, saving each side to separate files.
- After I process each step of both left and right files, I have to bring them back into Photoshop and rejoin the two halves, using the 20 inches of overlap to blend the two halves seamlessly.
Let’s look at that visually:
You are looking at a 12×60 panorama final file. There are two guides, the top part of this image represents where I crop for the left working file. The bottom half shows where I crop for the right working file. After saving, I now have two files, both 12×40 inches – a left, and a right.
The above image shows the left and right crop, these two files are now small enough for any software I have, not to crash or refuse to process or work. But like I said, it comes at a cost – I now have to process left and right individually, bring both left and right-processed images into Photoshop as two layers, re-align them perfectly, then create a mask on the overlapping area to make sure the join blends perfectly and nobody can tell they were processed as two halves and re-joined.
Let’s get a visual of how that works:
As you can see by the image above, I have two layers, perfectly aligned to the pixel; I have the Photoshop file in 16-bit mode for smoother gradients and less chance of banding issues from brush strokes. Once I am happy with the mask, I make both layers visible, then “copy merged” and create a new layer with the re-joined image pasted on the new layer. Once that is done and I am happy, I can just flatten the image.
This is basically the process I use for each of the manipulations I might do – E.g. some HDR processing, noise reduction, or any other post-processing procedure that can’t handle the larger files. Yes, it’s tedious and a pain in the butt, but right now, it’s the only way I have figured out how to use my favorite software and manage these larger files.
Now it’s just a matter of bringing in each final joined post-processed layer and blending and or whatever other processes I want to do to complete the final image composition.
The other thing you have to watch out for is the 2 GB limit for Photoshop. I know there are 64-bit workarounds, but I just try keeping mine under 2 GB and if I have to, I will just save a second revision to a new file with fewer layers than the first file and so on.
Below is the final image. It’s a beautiful photo of the Kancamagus Range in Lincoln, NH just prior to sunset. The original image was composed of 8 elevated photos taken with a 50mm lens.
So I had to do this over-complex post-processing method to overcome software limitations. But, now I have a fully processed final file that has consistent lighting and processing across the image. This allows me to now do one of two things:
- Print the full 60×12 as a single image to frame and sell.
- Crop this 60×12 inch image into whatever sizes I want. Eg: crop it to 30×10 inch, also crop into three 14×21 for a multi-frame image, and have a consistent look across the various cropped finals. We could have a three-frame multi-panel hanging at a show, and also the 10×30 inch version, they need to look consistent.
I can also revert back to this 60×12 inch file and crop later at any new multi-panel or crops I desire. I don’t do 12×60 files often, because they are a pain. I don’t often find landscape scenes worthy of such a wide panoramic photo, and not all panoramas’ can be split into multi panels.
This could be for aesthetic reasons, or the split line for a multi-panel is in a critical place in the photo, like the middle of the sun or an iconic item in the photo, that shouldn’t be split there.
There are many times, we just stick with the usual 3:1 ratio standard pan size. Whatever your desire is, this article was mainly aimed at opening your eyes to wider pans, some possible issues, solutions to those issues, and ideas for cropping into multi panels.
I will leave you with this final 60×12 inch panorama in my portfolio:
This is the presidential range in New Hampshire, which includes the famous Mt. Washington weather station and cog railway. It is called “First Snow” and was taken during the foliage season.