#253. 7 Ways to Create Stunning Photo Panoramas: 1/3

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jul 09

Part 2 is here / Part 3 is here.

Photo panoramas can be gorgeous on a wall because they create a much more palpable sense of dynamism than other formats do.

The 3:2 aspect ratio most of us use in APS or 24×36 is a convenience legacy from the very beginnings of 35mm film rolls that has been carried on by inertia more than aesthetic or technical value. And many, myself included, far prefer the more relaxed elegance of the 4:3 format found MFT (micro 4/3) and 645 medium format cameras.

Negatives, sensors and prints come in all sorts of proportions. The square format imposes a rigor and  composition that not all photographers can master but translates into superb formality when properly executed. At the other end of the spectrum,  panoramas convey movement and dynamism and are an easy to harness compositional tool for all photographers.


The IJ waterfron in Amsterdam in a photo panorama format

The IJ waterfront in Amsterdam


Even a very mundane scene such as the one above is easily transformed by the panoramic proportions. As your eyes are forced to move laterally to view the whole frame, they make the movement of the boats and clouds more realistic.

But ease of composition doesn’t necessarily mean ease of production. So here are 7 ways you can create panoramas for yourself, each varying in complexity, quality, fun and cost. They are grouped into 3 rough categories: photo panorama techniques using cropping of a single frame, stitching techniques and more “esoteric” approaches.


1) Cropping to a photo panorama format

Cropping one of your existing photographs to give it panoramic proportions is no doubt the easiest way to dip your feet into this artistic foray.

All you require is photo editing software with a crop tool, many of which are free.

The IJ waterfront picture above was made in that way and so is these panoramas of Galata Bridge and of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.


Istanbul details from Galata bridge - Sony A7r & Zeiss FE 35/2.8 ZA

Istanbul abuzz

The Bosphorus, Beyoğlu and a ferry boat with smoke viewed from the dock near Galata bridge in Istanbul

Bosphorus and ferry in Istanbul


In my opinion, it is also the best way to create panoramas.

  • First, because you can choose your framing in post processing.
  • Secondly, because since you are using a single frame from a single lens, there are no weird alignment problems to worry about between individual frames.
  • Thirdly, because using common lenses keeps you safe from the extreme panoramas that other techniques can lead you to and almost never translate into interesting photographs. What you are doing in this technique is recognizing the interesting horizontal or vertical quality in a scene and removing any extraneous areas that deter from the original idea. That is sound photographic practise, particularly for one learning the basics.

This simplest of solutions is not necessarily the cheapest as good wide-angle lenses cost money. My Leica Elmarit-R 19/2.8 II is a particular favorite for this but cheaper alternatives are available on fleabay. The 19mm Sigma (APS format) is a great & cheap lens with a more or less 28mm perspective similar to the one in the Nyhavn (Copenhagen) panorama below.


2) The panoramic camera or back

Similar to technique 1 in that is uses a single frame, but on an elongated film surface, this also creates a simple workflow and no weird post-processing artefacts to worry about.


A photo panorama of Nyhavn at nigh, Copehnhagen

Nyhavn at nigh, Copehnhagen


The main difference with technique 1) is that you use a dedicated camera rather than crop a “standard” frame. That’s where the fun factor comes into play.

In the bad ol’ days of films, panoramic cameras abounded in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes:

  • Rotating cameras that let you capture 360° vistas, once you mastered the subtle art of perfect alignment and film flatness. Probably useful for some businesses, but I have yet to see a visually interesting photo made with one of these. That said, the movement of the head opened the way for experimentation of kinds (you could move about with the camera head or in the opposite direction to disappear or elongate your image). Forget about those. Buy a Google Nexus to make photospheres instead and use the Smartphone as a handy side benefit 😉
  • Film panoramic cameras. Think Hasselblad X-Pan, Fuji TX 1 or G617 and Linhof 617s
  • Panoramic backs for large format cameras that let you use roll film on a 4×5″ or larger view camera.

Leaving out the first and 3rd options as too “niche” for this article, I’d like to convince you that the second is a very viable one for great fun and great quality.

Why? First of all because seeing through the viewfinder in panorama in enlightening. As much as technique 1) is safe and great, it also takes some visualization that doesn’t always come spontaneously. It’s like when some websites and / software chops your images into squares or elongated shapes without asking for permission and some just make you go WOW because you’d never thought of cropping them in that way. A panoramic viewfinder does exactly the same.

Secondly, because these are great cameras to use. They handle beautifully, make little noise and come with great lenses.  The Fuji TX1 and X-Pan are virtually identical and the price tag on the Fuji is a lot more attractive ($2500+ for the X-pan, $1500 for the TX 1). Check this page for a nice review. Fuji also wins the price battle, by a much more significant margin, in the 6×17 department. The G617 can be found for as little as $2000, while th Linhof will stretch your finances fourfold.

The Linhof 617 S III (c) Linhof cameras

The Linhof 617 S III (c) Linhof cameras


I’ve been down the film road recently, with a second Mamiya 7 purchase a couple of years ago. But the price and complexity of handling film were too much for me and a D800e took the Mamiya’s place. For a panoramic camera, prospects might look brighter, as you wouldn’t be using the camera as an everyday tool. Costs would be high, particularly with a 6×17 monster (at least 3$ a frame) but the joy of looking at a large format transparency has to be experienced to be believed.

In B&W, you could happily contact print your negatives for *mind-blowing finesse and quality* (7″ prints). If any of you do so, please, please send samples our way (or write a feature on DS).

Scanning negatives for large prints can be very expensive, with drum scans easily reaching 3 digits. But no such technology is necessary for 20″ prints for instance. Since you would only be enlarging the negative 3 times, a 360dpi print would require 1080 dpi scan than many cheap scanners can do very well.

A review of the Fuji G617 can be found here and sample shots on this blog.  A quick overview of the Linhof 617 S III is available on Danny Burke’s website. Apart from the fact the Linhof is still available new and maintained, and the availability of a handy vertical shift adapter for perpective control, I can find no compelling reason to buy this much more expensive camera. But you will love it if you do. I owned an cherished a Master Teckina 4×5 for years and build&finish are superb. Great panoramas made using either cameras are also available on that site. More (stunning examples using the Linhof 617) can be found on Markus Renner’s website.


The Amstel river in Amsterdam, photographed early in the morning and in panoramic format

Early morning Amstel


Technique 1) is the easy method. Technique 2) much more involving. The difference in tonal rendition is your reward, unless you are using a 60MPix+ medium format back. I’d really love to try contact prints of those large negatives in B&W ! I’d love to compare them to an IQ260 Achromatic cropped to the same proportions, even more 🙂

More to come very soon on 3 stitching methods that can achieve similar quality with a little more work !


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  • rick peterson says:

    i first tried panoramas when i received my 28mm schneider super angulon with shift function. it has a nikon f flange, and mounts via novoflex adapter on my sony A7. for me, the ”easy” panorama with a shift lens involves taking 3 photos – one shifted left the full 11mm, the second one centered without shift, and the third with 11mm shift to the right. stitching in PS CS6 was easy, and the result positive = encouraging. please note that i shifted the lens while the camera remained stationary.

    on the web, you’ll find panoramas using this lens where the front of the lens was held firmly, and the camera (sensor) shifted left, center and right. i understand this would reduce alignment errors and improve the quality, but haven’t tried it.

    greetings from hamburg

  • philberphoto says:

    Very interesting; I have long been interested in panoramas, not only for the proportion, but also for this sort of MF look-and-feel. However, lazyness has had the upper hand until now. Your article may be just what I needed to kick myself into action. I am thinking, either a 6-shot square, or a 4-shot 3:2, and well over 100Mp. Should be interesting, and it will all be your fault!

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