360 Photography Bootcamp: How to Set Up Your Camera for Panoramic Shooting

28 Nov , 2017 VR Tutorials Dimona Dougherty

360 Photography Bootcamp: How to Set Up Your Camera for Panoramic Shooting

In this tutorial we packed 10 tips for setting up your panoramic equipment, including attaching your camera to a tripod and panohead, change your camera settings to optimize your results; a whole process for taking 360-degree images; and finally if you're ready to edit your panoramas, a series of tutorials on various software for you to choose from.

Let's get started!

Pro Tip #1: Always use a tripod and panohead.

In order to set up your camera to enable HDR imaging you need to go through a number of steps, first however, remember to always use a tripod (to reduce camera shake). You really need the pictures to be crisp in order to stitch them together nicely. Shooting at aperture 11 will generally make the images quite dark and you will need a longer shutter speed to make up for it making a steady tripod a required piece of equipment. 

An important notion here is the ‘parallax effect’. Basically, if you don’t pivot your camera around the optical center of the lens you can end up with stitches that don’t line up perfectly due to shots having different perspectives. Use a panohead to eliminate this effect.

Here's a video on how to set up a tripod by Adria Richards. You can also follow the steps in Wikihow to attach your camera to a tripod.

This video by Andy Bryant shows you how to align a panohead. What's helpful is that although the recording is fuzzy with the wind, the creator of this video marked out every step in text.

Pro Tip #2: Align your eye level with your camera's perspective.

Shoot your panorama from eye level. You want the person to feel like they are in the photo. If you notice my example of Sherman falls (first Photosynth in post), I shot from a crouched position which makes it feel like you’re looking from the eyes of dog.

Ted Forbes from the Art of Photography explained different camera angles perfectly in the video below: 

Pro Tip #3: Use a higher aperture mode.

Use a higher aperture mode. F11 or higher works nicely to keep everything in focus. This is only for shooting when you want to keep both the foreground and background in focus.

This highly popular video by Tek Syndicate breaks down the 3 basics for photography: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. You can apply the tips offered here onward as you read about tips for setting the ISO and shutter speed.

Pro Tip #4: Choose the right hours and lighting conditions to shoot.

Don’t shoot at mid day with no clouds in the sky. Your photos will probably be overexposed and you will lose a lot of detail. Try shooting in the golden hours (sunrise/sunset). To shoot a blurred stream effect you need to need to have a slow shutter speed. Ideally, I would have been shooting at an even slower shutter speed to get an even better blurred stream effect, but this would have required shooting in better lighting conditions.  You can also purchase a Neutral Density filter for your camera, which reduces the light coming into the lens which a lot of people recommend for that blurred stream effect.

Pro Tip #5: Choose a prime lens instead of a zoom lens.

If you do not have a prime/fixed lens, be sure you do NOT zoom in/out as you are moving the camera around while taking pictures.

Howcast made this comparison video on prime lenses and zoom lenses:

Pro Tip #6: Set your ISO low.

For composite images, one requires the ISO level to be set as low as possible so that there is no ‘noise’ in your captured data. If too dark, one can go to ISO 400 with a good quality sensor system in place. Generally, a higher ISO setting equals more grain in the photos. Do not alter the ISO setting whilst in data capture mode, as this would ruin your capture.

Here's your ultimate guide to ISO by Tony & Chelsea Northrup, excuse the low frame rate.

Pro Tip #7: Meter the shot.

This finds the average shutter speed required for the 360 data capture. Find AV Mode and set your camera aperture to 11, so both the foreground and background will be in focus. Take some pictures where you want to do the panorama in both the bright and dark areas. Take down the shutter speed on each shot, and calculate the average for the shots.

Pro Tip #8: Set your camera to manual mode, change the aperture and shutter speed.

Set your camera to manual ‘M’ mode. Change the aperture to 11 and set the shutter speed to the average speed you've calculated previously.

Watch this video that's also by Tony & Chelsea on how to use manual mode on a DSLR camera.

Pro Tip #9: Disable Automatic focus on the lens.

Pro Tip #10: Set and lock the white balance.

Set the white balance for the condition one is in. Don’t alter the white balance settings between shots.

This video by Moose Winans from "Shoot from the Hip" can help you understand white balance.

Start shooting: 360 photography workflow

1. Start with the camera pointing completely to the ground and take your first picture. Now tilt the camera up vertically a small amount keeping at least 1/3 of the picture in overlap and take another picture.  Keep doing this until you have the camera shooting completely up in sky.

2. Now rotate the camera horizontally a little overlapping each image by at least a third, and start shooting as you change the vertical angle of the camera from pointing to the sky back to the ground.

3. Keep repeating steps 1 and 2 until you’ve done a complete 360.

4. Finally, if you don’t want the tripod base in your picture, take the camera off the tripod and shoot completely down in the exact position you had the camera when it was attached to the tripod This is known as the nadir of the shot.

This video by PhotoPlusMag can give you a quick recap on the entire workflow for shooting panoramas.

Ready for editing

Now that you’ve taken your 100+, 200+ or 400+ images take your photos in RAW format and adjust the white balance as you see fit using editing software. Make sure identical settings are used across all photos of the series.

Want to edit your images? If you're using PTGui, Hugin, Microsoft ICE or Pano2VR, we have designated tutorials covering these software, check them out!

Dimona Dougherty
Dimona is a VR evangelist and spherical content creator based in London, UK. They have been experimenting within this arena since discovering VR as empathy machines whilst studying psychology at university. Dimona can be reached at Dimonauk@360camerasandfilm.co.uk or on social media by searching for dimonauk.

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