Really Right Panoramics

Photographers using Arca-style ballheads rely on camera and lens plates to mate their equipment onto the head, and no company makes better camera support systems than Really Right Stuff®. Browsing their current product catalog reveals a staggering lineup of camera body mounting plates, lens plates, L-brackets, flash brackets, camera bars for stereography, quick-release clamps for ballheads…and yes, they also manufacture ballheads.

When I’ve purchased a new camera body or lens, I’ve ordered the appropriate RRS item for it and never been dissatisfied. The machining is flawless and the products are both durable and aesthetically engineered. Their customer service actually serves and is friendly. If there’s an exception I’ve never heard of it. They make a sincere effort to educate (not pontificate) about how to properly use their products, and nowhere is that help more appreciated than when using an item from their selection of panoramic equipment.

For argument’s sake I’m going to say the normal panoramic ratio (width-to-height) is 3:1 for horizontals. Other formats are popular, too, but this ratio is the most common. Several years ago I rented a Fuji G617 for a summer wheat harvesting shoot, a fine camera that uses 120 film and yields four shots per roll (!!) at approximately 2.25 X 7 inches. Shooting a digital 35mm now, I again wanted to make 3:1 panoramas, and as with most things digital a computer is part of the equation.

Stitching is the method where two or more photos are assembled into one final frame using software. So, put the camera to your eye, shoot a few shots in succession and voila!, nothing to it. Well, I didn’t think it was that easy, either, and as I learned more about the techniques found that successfully blending photos together required a bit of the right knowledge and the right equipment.

First, I purchased the Pano Elements Package from RRS (see photo). I won’t bore you with a poor explanation of parallax and nodal points: you can go to the their Web site and learn about those concepts. What I will mention and accentuate in colored type is the importance of leveling your camera/lens while shooting photos that will be stitched into a pan. When you take a sequence of photos and your support is level…the stitching is almost foolproof.

Almost. That’s where that bit of knowledge comes in, and here’s what I know. In Photoshop, I open three photos to be stitched. I go to File>Automate and select Photomerge. CS2 asks me if I want to use the Open Files, and I agree (be sure other CS2 files are closed). After a few moments of work (I assume the computer is actually doing some work!) my new pan appears in a window and I have the chance to make settings for the final version. For a time I had butted heads with the program because I was selecting Save As Layers and then trying to tweak the results before the frames were stitched. A nudge up or down, and not working the way I wanted it to.

Then I opened one of Katrin Eismann’s excellent books, Photoshop Masking & Compositing, to see what a real expert might do. And there it was, on Page 508, and I quote: In the Photomerge interface, I recommend keeping Advanced Blending enabled because it uses a sophisticated color matching process to blend the images, which cannot be duplicated with layer masks. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, make sure the Keep as Layers option remains deselected because maintaining the layers will defeat the advanced color matching blending that is built into Photomerge.

Making that one adjustment in Photomerge made all the difference. Now the leveled shots I take using the RRS gear are assembled quickly and accurately, and I spend my time seeking scenes that lend themselves to the panoramic format instead of fighting with computer software.

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