Get Wide-Angle Shots Without Using a Wide-Angle Lens
You see a fantastic wide-angle shot present itself, and it dawns on you that you don’t have the right lens with you. Or it’s really rainy or windy and the last thing you want to be doing is changing lenses. Assuming it’s not a moving target, the answer to your problem is the panorama.
Super wide angle shot (using Zoner Photo Studio)
With tools like Lightroom or Zoner Photo Studio, you can get fantastic panoramas, even if you don’t have a tripod. The modern editors are so smart that they can combine hand-held shots even when there are uneven overlaps or shots with slight rotations.
You will often find that panoramas can be much sharper than using a wide angle lens. The central portion of almost any lens is sharper than its edges, and making a panorama will use primarily the middle portion of each individual shot.
It nearly always works out better to take your overlapped photos in portrait mode, so that the panorama will be taller. I always use a battery grip on my cameras, which makes for much more comfortable vertical-format shooting when not using a tripod (I typically don’t use a tripod to shoot panoramas).
It’s even possible to combine multiple rows of shots, when vertical-format photos still don’t give you the coverage you want. I usually try to get about a 30% overlap in my shots; digital is cheap. You can get any height-to-width ratio that suits you with this technique. Not all photo editors can accomplish multi-row panoramas, but Lightroom can.
In this article, I’ll concentrate on showing you how to make panoramas with both Lightroom and Zoner Photo Studio.
Here are the basic steps to make a panorama in Lightroom.
Library Module OR Develop Module
Select shots to combine
Photo | Photo Merge | Panorama
Auto Crop checked
In the following example, I had two rows of shots and let Lightroom figure out how to combine them. It creates a DNG output photo that you can edit further or export it to another file format.
Lightroom Photo Merge to Panorama
I selected 8 photos to merge into a panorama, divided into two rows of four shots each. These shots were made handheld, to show how good Lightroom can be at combining shots. It figures out how the shots are combined, even without being told if there are multiple rows.
I chose a demonstration subject that has lots of straight lines in it, so that the manipulations to the final panorama are clearer. Each of the vertical-format shots were made at 70mm.
Projection choice: cylindrical
The panorama preview above shows “cylindrical projection”. It’s most accurate showing distance from the camera, but the straight horizontal lines look very curved.
Projection choice: perspective
Switching to “perspective projection”, the curved horizontal lines are nicely straightened. Since the shots were made hand-held, there’s a large amount of horizontal distortion remaining after crude manual alignment.
The shot above shows the merged shots. There’s still un-corrected horizontal perspective distortion. But don’t give up on this shot just yet…
Horizontal perspective repair effort
Using the horizontal perspective slider, I did a quick fix to get the lower wall parallel to the edge of the frame. Remember to check the “Constrain Crop” box before you’re done. Voila, the walls don’t have that awful tilt to them.
Final “wide-angle” shot from 70mm lens
The final Lighroom shot gives no clues that it was made from multiple shots, and even from multiple rows. Since it’s made from the central portion of the individual shots, it’s sharper edge-to-edge than most wide-angle lenses could produce.
Zoner Photo Studio Panoramas:
Go to the “Manager”
Navigate to where your photo files are located
Select the range of photos to combine (Ctrl-click)
Select Create | Panorama
Verify the selected shots in the Panorama dialog
Verify the order of the photos is correct
Accept the defaults to crop into a best-fit rectangle
You can edit further, and then save it as Tif format.
The Zoner program is a bit more complicated and a bit less capable than Lightroom for making panoramas. One of the more major Zoner limitations, at least in my version 15, is the inability to make panoramas out of multiple rows of photos.
Using the same 8 shots (2 rows) in Zoner Photo Studio
Note the disaster above when Zoner tries to join the two rows of shots together. Just stick with a single row of shots instead, and it makes perfectly fine panoramas.
The infrared panorama at the top of this article was made using Zoner. It was comprised of 7 portrait-mode shots in a single row.
Yes, it’s more effort to get wide-angle shots using panorama techniques, but it’s better to “get the shot” than not.
As an added benefit, your final shot is usually sharper and has more pixels to work with than a wide angle lens can provide.