Creating panoramas in Wildlife Photography is not something that jumps to mind for many photographers when out in the field.
Panoramas have largely been associated with landscape photographers, using it to create breathtaking images of spectacular scenes.
I have however, during the past couple of years, thoroughly enjoyed creating panoramas whilst photographing wildlife, with some incredible results and I would like to take you through the process of creating these images.
Why Create Panoramas in Wildlife Photography?
When photographing wildlife one is usually limited to the amount of camera gear you can take with you. It is not like landscape where you know what you are going to photograph and roughly the distances or focal lengths that you will be using. For instance in most cases you would probably have one or two wide angle lenses with you, thats it. When it comes to wildlife you never really know how far your subject will be from you. From experience you would have a good idea what lenses work best for certain destinations, but when dealing with wildlife it is never really a given.
Over the past few years I have almost always made use of a prime lens (fixed focal length) when on safari. The image quality is ridiculously good, but on the down side you do not have the luxury of zooming in or out when required. In some Parks you have breathtaking scenery and would like to include your subject in this scenery. This is when the use of 'pano's' come in handy...
If you are looking to print large prints in your house or to use it for commercial printing and sales, panoramas are perfect! With most of the modern cameras having decent file sizes, imagine the effect of combining 4, 5, 6 even 8 or 10 images together? You will now have a massive file that if you decide to print it, can pretty much be as big as you would like it to be.
It is important to understand that to achieve your best results when it comes to pano's in wildlife photography that your subject is stationery. When your subject is moving there are a lot of elements that can count against you such as the body position of your subject which will change every second, making the stitching process a difficult one.
When to Create Panoramas in Wildlife Photography?
Have you ever come across a scene where you have spectacular landscape, a beautiful subject, yet you are not sure how to go about combining the two?
If you shoot really wide your subject becomes so small it is often lost in the frame? If you go too close then you do not have the entire landscape or scenery you so desperately want?
Sometimes you might just be faced with a leopard in a tree and with your fixed focal lens you end up chopping of the tail or the ears?
This is when creating panoramas become absolutely golden!
Imagine this scenario below... We were sitting in Ndutu with a Lioness who had just been chased up a tree by a herd of Elephants. With the widest lens I had with me being a 100-400mm, this was the best I could get...
The scenery was breathtaking! The lioness was in a beautiful tree, there was a storm brewing in the background and there was amazing interaction between two of Africa's most iconic animals. I desperately wanted to showcase the entire scene.
Now as I mentioned, if I had to use a very wide angle lens such as a 16-35mm, the lioness and elephants for that matter would appear very small in the frame and almost become lost. By creating a Panorama of 4-8 images I was able to get this...
Another possible scenario... Imagine you have big thunderstorms building up on the horizon (as they often do in East Africa) and you have an iconic subject in the foreground... By only capturing one or the other, is it really showcasing the entire scene?
With the Elephant being stationary and causally grazing, it was the perfect opportunity to create a quick panorama of 4-6 images to be stitched together.
Doesn't this showcase the scene better?
How to Create Panoramas in Wildlife Photography?
Creating panoramas is actually a lot easier that what is seems. Here are a few points that will help you create that moment of magic:
- Use back button focus (AF on Button). This allows to to focus on your subject and then move your camera to recompose. Take your finger off the AF ON button (your subject will stay in focus).
- Shoot in portrait orientation. By shooting in portrait it gives you more height in your image. Remember you are going to be stitching the images next to each other so this will give you more "image" if that makes sense? If you shoot in landscape orientation you could end up with a very narrow image.
- After focussing on your subject, move all the way to the left where you would like your panorama image to start.
- Start pressing the shutter as you move to the right, including about a third of your previous frame to ensure the stitching process will be smooth.
- A useful tip (only if you have time) is to take an image of your hand or the ground before and after your panorama images. This just helps the sorting process in Lightroom and makes it a bit easier.
- When in Lightroom, simply select your images, right click, go to photo merge, and then to Panorama. It will give you a few projections as well as the auto crop option, or you could simply use the boundary wrap tool to remove the unwanted parts of the frame.
Feel free to look at the video below to show how to stitch a panorama together in Lightroom.
So next time when you are out in the field, don't forget to consider creating panoramas to showcase the beautiful scene in front of you.