One of the features of the new iPhone 5S that contributed to my decision to upgrade was the enhanced exposure while taking panoramic photos. Panoramic photos are just plain fun. They give you the option of capturing a scene that is far wider than your lens. And, they let you bend reality into a half circle.
The problem with the iPhone 5S predecessors that support panoramic photos is that the exposure is set by the brightness of the area where you start your photo and then the same exposure is applied throughout the entire shot, even if the brightness of the scene changes dramatically by the time you get to the end of the shot. This results in images like this one, taken using the iPhone 4S:
iPhone 4S version of panoramic with changing brightness as I panned
Notice how my husband and dog in front of the stone building (all in the shade) are properly exposed, but everything in the bright sun is overexposed.
What changed in the iPhone 5S is that the exposure now adjusts as you move through the process of capturing a panoramic. The actual steps to capture a panoramic haven’t changed significantly–the only difference is that you now swipe to change modes from “regular” photos to panoramic (or square or video). For detailed instructions on how to create a panoramic with an iPhone 4S, see Lesson 27.
The fact that the exposure now adjusts allows for panoramic photos with dramatic differences in brightness from beginning to end like this one, shot with the iPhone 5S:
iPhone 5S Panoramic with changing brightness as I panned
Notice how even with the sun in one side of the image, the exposure is pretty decent throughout. Of course, this isn’t quite a fair comparison–the 4S example was shot in the middle of the day.
If you’re shooting with a predecessor to the iPhone 5S, you’re best option is to try to start your panoramic in a part of the scene that is about halfway between the darkest and brightest areas of the scene, even if it means you have to crop part of the image away later.
Your Assignment: Experiment with Panoramic photos. What kinds of settings work best as panoramic images? How far away do you have to be from the objects in the scene to avoid bending them into a giant U? Can you find a way to get a decent exposure with a predecessor to the iPhone 5S?
Sometimes a scene presents itself that is so wide, a single frame isn’t enough to capture it. This is when the Panoramic feature of the iPhone default camera app comes in handy.
When you launch the camera app that comes with the iPhone, you will see an “Options” button at the top of the screen. Tap that and the “Panorama” option becomes selectable:
When you select it, a guide appears that will help you keep the phone on course while turning. There are several tricks to making this work well.
First, you have to move the phone left to right. If the thing you want the most in the photo happens to have some really unattractive stuff to its right, you have to guess at where to start the photo so that you can get what you want in the photo and end up with the thing you want the most at the far right.
Second, you have to hold the phone vertically, which I find more difficult than holding the phone horizontally. Check out Lesson 6 on how to hold the phone securely to help you hold it steady. The biggest challenge I have with holding the phone during a panoramic shot is not getting my fingers over the lens. Here’s an example where my finger got in the way:
Oops–that’s my finger
To avoid this mishap, try putting your right middle finger on the upper right corner, your thumb on the lower right corner, and extending your remaining fingers to keep them out of the way.
Third, you have to position the phone at the far left of the scene you want to create, touch the camera button or push the volume up button. I find it impossible to use the volume up button in this position, but perhaps your fingers are more nimble than mine. Tapping the camera button can cause the phone to shift dramatically, so it requires some finger yoga in any case.
Fourth, if your scene has a lot of bright and dark areas, getting a good exposure can be tricky. This is particularly true if the left side of the scene is significantly lighter or darker than the right. You can set the exposure at the beginning, but end up with over or under exposed areas by the time you get to the end of the scene. Here is an example where my sky got overexposed because the building I started with was significantly darker:
By setting the exposure on the building, the brighter areas to the right got over exposed
Finally, keeping the phone in the same plane as you turn can be tricky. I find it helps to practice. Plan to take multiple photos of the same scene to get what you want. When you figure out where to start your photo, stand facing what will be the center with your feet pointing that direction. Then, turn your upper body to the left without moving your lower body. Start the photo and then twist around as you move the phone across the scene to minimize getting off track. The iPhone will show you when you’re getting too far off course–watch the arrow and try to keep it on the center line.
Now that you’ve mastered the basic techniques, some other things to consider are the effects on the scene itself. I personally, being easily amused, enjoy bending railings and other straight lines. For example, by including the railing on a bridge in both the left and right sides of the photo, the bridge gets bent into a giant “U” shape:
A straight bridge becomes a U
Similarly, standing out on a small peninsula and taking a panoramic of the relatively straight shore line, the Riviera becomes U shaped as well:
This also works at overlooks:
The overlook rail as a U
In general, bear in mind that you are taking a picture in a half circle in a 3-dimensional space. Those 3 dimensions become 2 in the photo and it can create some interesting distortions.
Your Assignment: Try taking a panoramic photo of things you wouldn’t normally think of as calling for panoramic treatment. Maybe a panoramic of your street will create new next door neighbors. Maybe a tall tree panned vertically will have a new twist. Or maybe you can just take a panoramic of the sky. If you have the opportunity, also try this technique in a wide-open scene like a view from an overlook, the top of a mountain, or some other high place that provides vast visibility. Did you get anything really fun?