Tuesday, June 9, 2015

iPhone Panoramas…Let's Get Vertical

iPhone Vertical Panorama, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Here's a test for you…. Can you tell the difference between an iPhone panorama (using the iPhone panorama feature) and one created by shooting a series of overlapping images and then stitching them together in Photoshop? One of the panoramas below was shot with an iPhone, the other with a DSLR shooting several vertical, overlapping images that were stitched together. See if you can tell the difference.

If you picked the first image as the iPhone panorama and the bottom one as the DSLR image, you picked correctly. If I hadn't shot both images, I couldn't have picked which one was which. In fact, I had to check the EXIF data for the images just to make sure I got it right.

iPhones and other cell phone cameras have changed photography in a lot of ways. No longer do we have to carry a camera with us to capture those fleeting Kodak moments. Who doesn't have a phone in their pocket or purse than can be whipped out and used on a moment's notice? And as cell phone camera technology has grown by leaps and bounds, the image quality of a cell phone image will rival that of a lot of point and shoot digital cameras.

Until recently, I never used my iPhone camera for anything other than the occasional quick shot if I didn't have a DSLR on hand. But with the advent of the panorama feature on my iPhone camera, I find myself using my it to capture panoramas to supplement whatever I'm shooting with my DSLR's.

I mentioned image quality a moment ago. One of the reasons why I hardly ever used my cell phone camera for anything seriously photographic was the small file sizes that didn't lend themselves to reaching print quality, i.e. generating an image size at least 8 1/2 X11 at 300dpi after cropping. That image size is approximately 5MB. iPhone panoramas (with my iPhone 6) generate file sizes that are well over 20MB, easily meeting my threshold for print quality so I no longer hesitate to grab my iPhone when a panorama is in order.

Full frame fisheye shot cropped as a panorama - Nikon D3S, 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens
Did I mention that I loooooovvvvveeee panoramic shots?  I've always been a big fan of any kind of image that depicts more than what a viewer is expecting to see. That's one of the reasons I love my fisheye lens - I dig the super wide angle view it captures with the added curvature that catches peoples' attention. Panoramas fall into the same category and my iPhone makes it oh so easy to create a panoramic image of acceptable quality.

Typical iPhone panorama orientation
But I've seriously digressed. What I really wanted to write about was a new twist I recently discovered by accident while shooting panoramas with my iPhone. Your basic, garden variety panorama is shot horizontally, moving the phone from right to left or left to right, depending on how you have it set. You hold the phone in a vertical orientation, press the shutter button, and move the camera from side to side. When you've reached the end of what you want in the image you just push the shutter button again and voila, a 20-30MB panorama.

The other day, I was all set to shoot a panorama and accidentally hit the shutter button while I was holding the phone in a horizontal orientation. As an image was unknowingly being recorded I moved the phone in an upward direction. When I realized that I had pressed the shutter button, I pressed the shutter button again and saw the image that was generated…you could have knocked me over with a feather - a vertical panorama! Why hadn't I thought to do that before?

That got me thinking. There have been many times when I wanted to fit something tall in a frame but the only way to do it was to shoot my DSLR vertically and hope I had a sufficiently wide lens to get it in the frame. But sometimes I just didn't have a lens that was wide enough. Option 2 was to keep backing up until everything fit in the frame, but sometimes that wasn't possible.

Orientation for shooting a vertical panorama
Enter the vertical iPhone panorama. I can just hold the camera horizontally in panorama mode and move the camera up (or down, depending on where I start the frame) until I've got everything I want in the frame.

The scene in the iPhone image above (final image on the right) was my first, intentional vertical panorama. It was a test to see what would happen with a really tall building as my subject but with stuff (people) in the foreground that I also wanted to include in the image. We were outside the Cathedral in Barcelona where on Sunday mornings people gather and join in a traditional Catalan folk dance called the Sardana. I pulled out my iPhone, set it to panorama mode, held the phone horizontally, pressed the shutter button, and moved the phone upward until I had gotten the people dancing and the entire height of the Cathedral in the frame.Not too shabby, I thought to myself. Then the wheels in my little head really started spinning. What would images look like, say inside a Cathedral, and I moved the phone from ground level all the way up to an overhead orientation? That would capture not only the altar but possibly the gorgeous, unique ceilings that decorate such buildings. La Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona with its Gaudi-gaudy features would be the perfect opportunity to get vertical, so to speak, and by coincidence we were headed there for a visit the next day.

As soon as we arrived at La Sagrada Familia, I made a bee line for a spot directly in front of the altar, just to one side, and shot a vertical panorama that captured the scene until just below the ceiling.It was an interesting image (below) but I wanted to push the envelope.

La Sagrada Familia, floor to below ceiling
Moving over for a side view of the altar, I started the vertical panorama with the altar in view but didn't press the shutter button again until I had moved the phone directly over my head. The image on below is the result, something I had never envisioned, a truly unique image that I would have never gotten had I not accidentally found a way to shoot vertical panoramas with my phone.

Side angle including the ceiling overhead
Not wanting to stop there, I went back to my original position and stood directly in front of the altar. I wanted to try one more experiment, a full 180 degree attempt of the Cathedral's interior that included the scene in front of me, the entire ceiling, and the scene behind me. I started the image directly in front of me, moved the phone all the way up until it was overhead, and then continued to rotate the phone until it was facing the opposite direction of where I started. In other words, a full 180 degrees from start to finish, capturing the entire Cathedral interior from the front wall to the back wall.

This is what it looks like.

Because photos were not allowed to be taken from a spot smack dab in the middle of the Cathedral, I wasn't able to get the center of the ceiling centered in the image - it's off center to the right (or actually, bottom since I've rotated the image from a vertical orientation to horizontal). But my experiment verified that a 180 degree vertical panorama was not only possible, it created an image that has a unique visual effect.

As opportunities present themselves, I plan to continue trying different vertical panoramas as I think I've just scratched the surface in terms of possibilities. For now, I thought I'd pass this technique along in case you think it might be useful to you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have picked which one was which. In fact, I had to check the EXIF data for the images just to make sure I got it right.laptop repair nottingham