Return To Blog 17 June 2016

Rob Dickinson: How to Shoot and Stitch an Astro Panoramic

Rob Dickinson - Landscape Photographer  

I'm crazy about landscape photography, it started as a hobby when I moved to New Zealand 12 years ago. So many stunning locations, and like a lot of people I bought a camera, started taking landscape pictures, the whole thing snowballed, now I'm part of an awesome group - One of a Kind Photography adventures, I've given talks on Astro photography, run many workshops around New Zealand. But it all comes back to passion for the beauty of nature, being out in this amazing country, in crazy weather, alone or with a group of equally crazy people. I'm not sure if New Zealanders realise quite how special this place is I spend as much time as I can out making photographs, it’s always an evolving thing, trying to capture new places, and old places in new ways. As a techie I love all the new gear we get to play with, it's a golden age for photography, but the important part is what you bring to the shot from inside.

 RobDickinson by Jordan

 

Rob Dickinson’s Guide on How to Shoot and Stitch an Astro Panoramic

I'll be basing this guide around a 360 degree image I took whilst on a night out above Queenstown with Jordan McInally, he pointed me to a great spot half way up the Remarkables (near the trig).

You can shoot a panoramic with nothing but camera and tripod, but this often gives you issues when shooting or stitching. Because of those issues I always try and use a panoramic head when possible. For this trip I was shooting with my Novoflex VR Slim panoramic head, a Canon 6D and a stunning new lens, the Canon 35mmf1.4L MKII kindly loaned to me by Canon NZ.

 

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I'd determined that with the 35mm in portrait I needed 16 shots in a circle to produce a 360 degree panoramic, and I'd also worked out the nodal point beforehand too (needed if you have things close by).

Like with any landscape I walked around and found my composition and setup my tripod and camera and made sure the whole setup was stable and level. I also use a cable release for astro so I am not touching the camera for exposures, a 2 second self-timer will also do.

I'd decided on an exposure of 15 seconds (minimal star trailing), f3.5 for depth of field for the foreground rock, and ISO 6400. I am shooting RAW images for processing later.

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I start shooting with the lowest row of images and pointing at an identifiable landmark (the foreground rock) this saves me from having to count to 16 every row. Once a shot is completed I rotate the camera to the next indexed location for the row, then I tilt the camera up (30 degrees for this) and shoot the middle row, then the top row. I am careful not to knock the camera, and I review the images quickly as I go so I know I have shot the whole image as I want it. Generally with panoramics you are far better off with more images than less so shoot extra frames if you have the time, the downside with astro is this takes longer and the stars move.

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Next I load the files onto my computer, I use Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, PTGui for stitching and Adobe Photoshop. All images are opened at once into camera raw where I make my initial adjustments for white balance, levels and colour. I then apply lens correction mostly to correct any vignetting, I often find this too aggressive so pull it back a little. I then export all these images as 16bit tiff files and drag them over to PTGui for stitching.

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This is the key point in my workflow that saves heaps of trouble. Because I have shot this in a fixed spacing grid I can tell PTGui roughly where all the images should be, this helps heaps with the alignment of them. I set 3 rows of 16 images (48 total) and that it’s a 360 degree panoramic.

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I then tell PTGui to align the images and check the panorama editor to make sure they are all where they need to be, and make any changes required (this stitched just fine), for a 360 I also set the mid-point for where I want my centre to be.

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Once I am happy with it I export the panoramic as a Photoshop large document at full size, which I load into Adobe Photoshop for editing. I will crop the image (360 images need top and bottom cropping usually), and make a few adjustments, usually curves, colour and a little selective edits to bring out some features.

 

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