Landscape and HDR Panorama

How to do an HDR Panorama or when does HDR Panorama can save the shot?  This post covers a real scenario where this technique saved the shot.  Read along to find out about that story.


Preparation for a good HDR Panorama

When I planned this photo session, I knew I would have multiple challenges.  Noon hour is not a good time and more so to take a picture of a waterfall.  I had to think about both, High Dynamic Range and Reducing the light for a nice soft look of the falling water.

So I brought with me the needed tools:  A sturdy tripod and a B&W ND1000 Neutral Density Filter.

Technique in creating an HDR Panorama

Here I am at the « Chute aux Rats » or the Rats’ Waterfall.  This is such a beautiful place to make a picture.  This waterfall goes down a rocky slope of 17 meters (50 feet).  The sky today is beautiful.  Only problem, the scene is so wide from top to bottom.  Even with a focal length of 17mm on a full frame camera, I cannot embrace the entire scene.

The challenge is daunting. Here is the process/decisions heading in to the shot:

  • The distance between the foreground and the background is rather important.  An aperture of f/16 is needed;
  • 7 pictures one stop apart from each other will be necessary given the dynamic range of the scene;
  • The brightest picture need be taken at a shutter speed of 30 seconds to create a silky look on the falling water,  which gives: 30s, 15s, 8 s, 4s, 2s, 1s, 1/2s;
  • This is turns means a sensitivity of ISO 800, given the 10 stops of light loss due to the filter.
  • The initial exposure is therefore 4 seconds at f/16 and ISO 800 in manual mode;
  • 4 sets of pictures are required to create a stitched panorama.  The camera is in portrait orientation to maximize the viewing angle.
  • A grid of 2 x 2 pictures is needed to cover the whole scene;
  • A test shot is then made to ensure that focusing a third into the scene allows for a sharp picture from foreground to background.  Focusing is then set to manual;
  • Changing to live-view, before taking the picture, eliminates the vibration from the mirror bouncing up in the camera;
  • Finally, the two seconds self-timer help avoid blur associated with pressing the trigger.

Another challenge, the only place for the tripod is on a wooden platform for passer-by.  The pictures are then taken in between the visitors to avoid that vibration ruin the shot.  Hanging the camera bag at the bottom of the center column of the tripod ensure a greater stability.

Post-processing an HDR Panorama

  • Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop combine the 7 pictures of each of the 4 series taken.  The 32-bit processing is preferred since it allow to make the final adjustments in Lightroom afterwards;
  • Back in Lightroom, the final adjustments are made to the most important picture in the group.  These changes are then copied on the other 3 pictures created in the previous step;
  • Photoshop then to create the stitched panorama base on the four resulting pictures;
  • Back in lightroom again, selective sharpening are applied to the details and selective noise reduction to the areas without details, like the sky.

At this point, the picture.tif file created is 8,700 by 5,700 pixels.  The final picture looks a bit weird.  The very wide angle of view makes the tree on the left lean dangerously on the left in an unnatural way.  Using manual lens correction in Lightroom saves the shot.

You are seeing here the final picture.

Should I take this picture again, would I do it differently?  I would:

  • Be there very early in the morning;
    • No filter would be needed;
    • No HDR processing required either;
    • The sky might be more interesting also;
  • Use a 14mm lens.  This would do the trick instead of resorting to a stitched panorama;

Final Word

I love challenges.  They urge me to try harder to make the shot.  Doing so, I am exploring techniques that I know exist but did not use that much before.  This in turns help me become a better photographer.

I am also used to ask myself: “What would I do differently?”  This is a crucial step in learning.  This scene deserved a better planning.  As far as techniques goes, I did a 2×2 stitched panorama for the first time.  I pushed the boundaries a little bit.

How about yourself now:  When looking back at your past picture, do you ask yourself if you could do better?  Show us one of your HDR Panorama.  I will tell you what I think.