Contents of guide to panoramic photography
Generalities about panoramic photography
Framing and panoramic composition


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Updated on March 07, 2019

"The framing must allow one to express the composition choices of the picture."

Framing and composition are the keys to a good photograph. Well to a good panorama too. Now I guess that panoramas remain easy to comprehend when you like and feel this wide format, certain pitfalls must be avoided for those who discover this peculiar format...

In panoramic photography, a whole scene or landscape can be included in one single image. The possibilities of panoramic framings are thus narrower since you don't get to choose to eliminate a particular item with a tighter framing, for instance.
The natural or city landscape needs to have in its whole all the aesthetic qualities required to realize a nice panorama and inspire emotion. You can only choose to center a bit more on the right or on the left, and a bit higher or lower... !
The judicious positioning of the skyline and the strong elements of the image will permit the realization of a good composition.



Two framing scenarios...

  • The reframing of a classic picture (rectangular) at a ratio of at least 1/3 as did a Fuji 617 or the Xpan Hasselblad, a direct reframing of the digital file or the choice of a straight rendering (rectilinear) with the method of photo stitching.
  • As when rotary panoramic film-based cameras were used, the choice of a curved projection mode (cylindrical, spherical or Mercator) with the stitching method.

Examples of pictures:

Panoramic framing

The top picture is is a geometric rectilinear projection. The lines remain straight don't look like the lines in the bottom picture, in a curved geometric projection. The position of horizontal lines then becomes strategic.


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Framing in curved geometry

With this geometric projection, as with panoramic cameras known as rotary (Noblex, Roundshot,...), framing can't be thought without taking into account the distortions induced by the rotation of the lens. Like with a fisheye, they're immediately identifiable because they're both specific and sometimes, very pronounced.

Horizontal framing

If the camera is steadily set, all vertical lines will remain so, as with a regular camera. The skyline will be flat and centered. However, all of the horizontal lines below and above this axis will curve. If you shoot slightly upward to simulate an upward shift - as if you'd used a shift lens in film-based photography - vertical lines will remain so but horizontal lines, apart from the skyline, will be even more curved. This can be a problem with a city landscape.


Ligne d'horizon centrée/décentrée

You need to be mindful of this effect because, as any effect, it can be gorgeous from time to time but boring when used systematically. All the more since it's not a natural effect. With a bit of practice, you'll get to know it, and thus anticipate it. It then becomes a choice. The only way to shoot high or low-angle without curving the skyline is thus to shift. It is now not only possible, but even easy without a particular lens.

However, there's a certain number of cases when the effect is very soft: if there are fem long horizontal lines - in a landscape or in a city when the streets are narrow - or if you're taking a strong high or low-angle shot, as you can see in these two pictures.


Photos panoramiques avec une forte plongée ou contre-plongée


All horizontal lines will indeed be cut by the lower edge of the frame. In this case, the photograph comes closer to a classic low-angle shot with a strong convergence of the vertical lines. Note: the problem is the same with vertical lines.


Distortions, focals and geometries

In panoramic photography by stitching, when you're shooting over 100°, the geometric projection coming naturally is the curved projection. The typical deformation of the pictures depends a lot, however, on the focal used and the geometric projection mode chosen in the panorama software: cylindrical, spherical or mercator. It's important to choose it wisely so as not to typify the picture too much, except if it's an aesthetic choice.

Assemblage courbe sphérique
Observe carefully the bottom of the picture, the buildings look more compacted than in the picture on top of the page. (Spherical projection).

Learn more: Geometric projections in panoramic photographysuivre




Framing in rectilinear geometry (straight)

Since it's a geometric projection we're used to, framing in rectilinear geometry is close to classic wide-angle photography. No more curving of the straight lines, but only high or low-angle effects, with above all a very pronounced stretching of the geometric elements at the edges and in the corners of the panorama.


Photo rectilinéaire

The distortions of the columns at the edges of the picture are typical of a shot taken with an ultra wide-angle lens, hence in rectilinear stitching with a field of view of at least 90-100°.


Panorama by reframing

In any case, it's the reframing of a part of a classic photo, thus in a rectangular format (18x24, 24x36, 36x45, etc.). By reframing the digital file, you bring it back to a panoramic format, so at least a 1/2 ratio.
A 24x36 becomes 12x36 with angles varying from 110° to 70° (15 mm to 28 mm).
A 36x47mm becomes a 16x47mm with an angle varying from 94° to 35° (28 mm to 90 mm) in the case of medium format digital bodies for instance.
Please note that in film-based photography, the Fuji 617 produced no more no less than a large format 5x7 inches reframed in 60andx170 on a medium format film. The geometric projections were thus identical, but less film was wasted.
So the fields of view are still those of a classic wide-angle shot from which you cut off the top and the bottom. (Reminder: in large format - 5x7 inches - a 90mm is the equivalent in field of view of a 21 mm in 24x36).

photo 24x36 recadree en panoramique

A 24x36 digital file can be reframed very easily to a panoramic format. The edges of the picture show the same stretching as if the picture had been taken via stitching, and of course the same as the original picture.

Once again, I'd like to emphasize this point, stitching or not, the visual signature, thus the geometric distortions of the picture, is given by the field of view and the type of geometric projection picked in the panorama software.

In this way, in both cases, rectilinear or curved projection, you get "typified" pictures. One graphic element at least signs the picture:

  • In rectilinear projection, straight lines stay straight but to the detriment of the stretching of the edges of the picture, visible in a city landscape. Low-angle shots can also be very typified.
  • In curved projection, the edges of the picture become harmonious again but horizontal lines get curved, sometimes in a very obvious way with short focals or strong tilt of the body during the shot.




It's through balance and harmony that a photograph will succeed in creating an emotion, by offering a reading direction of the picture, lines of rhythm and by choosing the intensity of the colors or greyscales.
Because you can't easily eliminate an undesirable part through framing - by zooming in for instance -, I believe that in panoramic photography, the quality of the light, the harmony of colors or greyscales is maybe even more important. You really need to wait until they're ideal...

Relative size of the subject / photo

The main pitfall in panoramic photography is and remains the proportions of each element of the scene shot. Very often, a novice panoramic photographer, seduced by the panorama in front of him, forgets that, for instance, the sun will be far too small on his final picture! If you want the photographed elements to be big enough on the panorama, you need to get closer or use a longer focal. In the collective unconscious of photographers, : panorama = wide-angle. However, you shouldn't fear using a 50mm or more to shoot a panorama rather than the hard-earned 17 mm! So in panoramic photography, a sunset can make a very ugly picture!


Composition en panoramic photography

On this panorama shot with a 35mm, the interesting part of the picture is too small. If the trees allow to "shut" the picture, the street in the forefront is too prevalent and lacks interest. As a result, Notre-Dame de Paris looks very small in this picture.

Proportions - rule of thirds

About the proportions, it's interesting to remark that a panoramic composition where the famous rule of thirds will be applied, will always be a "well"-composed picture. With all the usual reservations, of course...


Rè;gle des tiers en panoramic photography

Hover your mouse to display a grid respecting the rule of thirds. We can see clearly that the apse of Notre-Dame de Paris as well as the tower Saint-Jacques are symmetric and on two "interesting" strong lines.

In 360° photography, the problem is maybe even more complicated. That's why I don't use it much. It's almost a specialty of its own. Franck Charel is, from my point of view, a reference.


Suggested reading...

In addition to this tutorial, you can read this excellent post written by Herve©SENTUCQ on "". Hervé, specialist of 617 Fuji, details in this post composition with this camera or type of camera. Anyone creating panoramas by stitching will find valuable pieces of advice in it.

Photo Herve Sentucq

© Photo by Hervé©Sentucq - Village of Gourdon - Here is a truly beautiful composition in rectilinear format with a 1/3 ratio, format Hervé has come to master.

www.panoram' suivre



Work of identification in panoramic photography

Is work of identification necessary? I obviously can't answer this question on behalf of all photographers. There are as many as ways to operate. As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't seem accurate in photo journalism, it doesn't seem completely useless in landscapes panoramic photography, urban or natural! I will thus, in the following lines, present my way of doing.
As many photographers, I'm always looking around me, with or without a camera and that's where the work of identification starts. I take my two separated finders with me very often when I'm having a walk. I then take notes about possible framings, ambients I like and I try to feel what kind of light - morning or evening, winter or fall, etc... - could produce a nice photo. And it's not always so easy to prettily fill an angle of view of 140°, especially in city landscapes because with this angle of view, you "pick up" lots of ugly stuff...
Here's why, unlike classic photography, I find it difficult to do work of identification on maps even very detailed. However, I now use very often the app LightTrac® on Iphone et Ipad. It allows me to know not only the hours of sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset but above all to know, on a Google map, by projection, where they are at a given time.


Appli Lighttrac for Iphone - Ipad

This app is available at the price of 3.99 euros (IOS and Android).
To know when, during the year, the sun will light one side of a building or one monument a certain way, this app is essential. To know where the moon will rise when I want to make a series: the work of identification via Google map/satellite allows me to know at what time of the year it will rise along the axis I want.

Copie ecran Lighttrac

© Lighttrac - Apple - The yellow line indicates the precise axis of sunrise; the red line its current position and the cyan one, its position at sunset. It's possible to go back and forward in time, for the moon and for the sun. It's handier to prepare a coverage on an Ipad it's so much more convenient on an Iphone once in the field!

Please note that this app also allows to access Google Maps at any time... except when there's no coverage!


In panoramic photography, I'll say it again, the angle of view is so wide that most of the work of identification via the app presented over here, though the final work of identification can only be done in the field. How indeed, foresee that the sun will, at a given time of the year, leave a particularly aesthetic shadow on a façade? The work of identification on a map only enables me to evaluate during what season will the situation be the more favorable. Anyway, there are always last minute surprises. Think about it, 140° in a city landscape! Either it's perfect on that very day, either it's a little early and you have to wait or it's already too late... and you have to come back six months or a year later.


Le Pont des Arts et le lever de lune

Rising full moon from pont des Arts, Paris. This photo can be taken only during the month of August.

In the example of the moonrise over Paris from the Pont des Arts, it happens only twice a year along the axis I chose. And the weather must be clear this day!


To be remembered...

A panorama is defined by its proportions: the height/length ratio must be at least 1/2 but more often above.

A panorama is often characterized by a field of view known as "panoramic" hence very wide: over 100°.

There are two main panoramic "renderings": the straight geometric projection known as "rectilinear" and the curve projection.

Each projection "typifies" or marks the picture. It's up to you to decide whether you prefer a curved panorama, very wide and undistorted at the edges or a very straight image with a narrower field of view and distorting the edges of the picture by stretching them.

Main pitfall: make sure that the elements on your panorama don't look too small on the final picture.

The composition rule of thirds also works very well in panoramic photography and is always a good starting point!

On the next page, we'll now evoke the topic of geometric projections Suivre

Next page : geometric projections



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