In this video wildlife and nature photographer Steve Perry (from backcountrygallery) shares some tips on shooting panoramas of moving subjects in the wild.
Panoramas for moving targets
We have to admit that as avid bird photographers the idea of combining shots of moving subjects that are too big to fit in a single frame is one that never crossed our minds. Typically we struggle to make a bird big enough in the frame to see it in clear enough details and want every extra mm of focal length.
However, there might be situations when you do encounter relatively large animals closer than you might expect and can’t move backwords (as movement typically scare animals) and don’t have a zoom lens. In these, admittedly, fairly rare occisions – the technique that Perry demonstrates in this video – might be relevant.
Making handheld stitching panorama shots is nothing new of course and Photoshop and other image editing software can do a pretty good job stitching static subjects, landscapes, etc. even handheld as long as you have enough overlap and each image is individually good technically without motion blur and big differences in illumination.
Doing the same for moving targets and especially wildlife which is something you can’t predict too much or control is a different story and why we find this video and Perry’s experience so interesting.
Tips for moving subject panoramas
Perry completely accepts the fact that using this technique will not work every time and that nailing these types of shots is not only rare but also is often the result of a pretty surprising encounter. However, he does have some tips on what to do when this encounter does happen.
First, try and shoot in manual mode (shooting RAW is essential for maximum control in post).
The first shot is going to be the main one where the focus should be on the animal’s eye. The next shot (or if you must – shots, Perry claimed to have composed an animal image out of up to six images which is quite remarkable) needs to happen very quickly afterward to prevent the animal from moving as much as possible.
Now comes one of his biggest tips. After you focus on the animal eye on the first image don’t let your camera re-focus on the next shot/s. To do this you will need to use back button focus and eliminate the option to focus with half a shutter press.
If you have a tripod or monopod and especially if you are using a gimbal that can really help to make sure that your second (third, fourth etc.) shots will align with the first one. This can be done handheld but you need to be very mindful of how you move your camera after the first shot (try image overlap of between 30%-50% to be on the safe side).
Perry explains how to do this in Lightroom (starting from around 06:00 in the video). Since we use Photoshop and the process is fairly similar we will talk about that option.
Creating a panorama in Photoshop is very simple – go to File>automate>photomarge.
Here we typically choose the “auto” layout and you can choose if you want to fill transparent areas with content-aware or not as well as fix issues such as vignette (Lightroom is a bit different in these options but the general idea is fairly similar).
The rest of the video deals with how to solve all sorts of issues that the automatic panorama stitching software might produce such as differently exposed images (hence the importance of shooting in full manual) but these are just your normal image editing basics. Perry also demonstrates how he manually merge images although in our view this will not be necessary in most cases.