Technology

How to take panoramic photos with your phone

A panoramic photo of the Pismo Beach Pier, taken with an iPhone.
A panoramic photo of the Pismo Beach Pier, taken with an iPhone. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

PANORAMAS: Click here to see more examples of panoramas shot by Tribune staff members »

It has never been easier to capture high-quality, immersive images of the memorable places we visit, thanks to the advanced technology of panoramic photo apps.

If you have an iPhone 4S or later, the panorama mode is a standard camera function, allowing you to sweep your device across a 180-degree view. Other apps allow even greater visual storytelling capabilities, enabling you to turn completely in place to capture full 360s.

Yes, this may not be a perk we need every day, although a full view around the office from your desk can be a nifty bit of history in its own right.

But if you’re off to the great outdoors or headed anywhere with a lofty view of the surroundings, playing around with panorama mode can be fun.

To help get you started, here are some tips to ensure many degrees of success:

  • Hold the phone as level as possible when panning. The more you shift up and down, the more erratic your results will be.
  • Oftentimes, shooting in even light works best, when the sun is high or the sky is overcast. Ironically, this goes against a common photography tip, which is to shoot in the morning or late afternoon to capture the golden light of the rising or setting sun. Low sun creates a bright spot that throws off the exposure. To compensate, on the iPhone, you can lock the exposure and focus by tapping and holding the screen until the “AE/AF LOCK” alert appears, but the difference in the light level still may create uneven results across the panorama.
  • The iPhone panorama function moves left to right by default. If you want to set the exposure off the right side, tap the arrow and it will switch directions. Then pan right to left.
  • When panning, keep your feet in one location and pivot. With the iPhone, you can create level panoramas as well as high or low angles. Angled shots will have some distortion. The 360-degree panorama apps may require you to hold the camera perfectly vertical, so as to produce the most consistent results.
  • Some 360-degree apps snap and stitch individual images, as opposed to the iPhone’s app, which captures one complete 180-degree sweep. When using one of these other apps, watch out that you don’t place a person along one of the stitch lines. The result will be ghost images where the person only partially appears. In this case, move the person a bit to either side to get them in the middle of a frame capture.
  • The best panoramas often have both near and far elements, so look for images that have something in the foreground as well as distant scenery. In the 360-degree images, it’s fun to scatter people evenly around you so that as you review the image, you’re never sweeping very far before coming upon a person in the foreground.
  • A focal point with some compositional weight or a repeating pattern can help lead the eye through a photo. Also, with such a wide scope, look out for busy jumbles that don’t help tell a story.
  • If you really want to get clever, you can move your subjects around as you take the panorama. Once you’ve passed them, pause and have them move to the other side and do a new pose. Or have them move from a more distant position on the left to a closer spot on the right.
  • Panoramas can also work in vertical form. Want to take a dramatic photo of a redwood tree or a skyscraper or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Turn your iPhone horizontal and pan up and over your head.
  • Just like regular photos, panoramas can be uploaded to sites like Facebook or viewed on your TV. Ours automatically recognizes the photo as a panorama and presents it full-screen, scanning across from one side to the other.
  • Some people think that the definition of “panorama” can include images of less than 180 degrees. Indeed, you can prematurely end your pano at something less than a full scan — like 90 or 120 — but the smaller you go, the more it looks like a cropped wide-angle photo that could have come from a regular camera. You also won’t get that cool flattening of the rotation that comes with a true panorama.
  • The hardest thing about taking panoramas might be simply remembering that your phone has such a function. So before you forget, plan a hike to the top of Bishop Peak and practice your new skills.

    Here are a few panoramic photos taken by Tribune staffers around San Luis Obispo County and beyond. (Drag your mouse across the photo to pan around the image; panning function may not work on mobile devices.) Have you taken a great panorama in San Luis Obispo County with your smartphone? Send your hi-res panoramic photos of SLO County scenery to webteam@thetribunenews.com.

    Maligne Canyon

    A 180-degree shot in panoramic mode captures a full bend in the river at Maligne Canyon, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Tarica

    Pismo Beach

    Use the function to create striking patterns, like the mind-bending results in this photo from beneath the Pismo Beach Pier. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Johnston

    Meteor Crater, Ariz.

    Cloudy skies soften the light and make for a dramatic backdrop in this panoramic photo of Meteor Crater, between Flagstaff and Winslow, Ariz. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Beth Anderson

    Atascadero

    The fountain in the foreground and City Administration Building in the background provide contrasting depth in this photo from Atascadero. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Johnston

    Petrified Forest National Park, Ariz.

    For a fun effect, try moving a subject to multiple spots in a photo, as in this shot from Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Beth Anderson

    Morro Bay

    A photo of Morro Bay shows how the exposure can be affected by the sun when it’s closer to the horizon. High sun provides more even skies. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by David Middlecamp

    San Luis Obispo

    A look around Mission San Luis Obispo. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by David Middlecamp

    Mammoth Mountain

    The peak of Mammoth Mountain. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Tarica

    Big Sur

    This panorama captures a man taking a photo at Sand Dollar Beach in Big Sur. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Johnston

    Akumal, Mexico

    Here's a 360-degree panorama shot of Akumal, Mexico. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Tarica

    San Luis Obispo

    The gardens at Mission San Luis Obispo. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by David Middlecamp

    Atascadero

    A photo captures what remains of Atascadero Lake. See the full photo » | Tribune photo by Joe Johnston

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