The Tall Picture : How To Shoot Vertorama

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WHAT THE HECK IS VERTORAMA

You have probably heard of panorama, a long and ultra wide photo.

With today’s technology, it is as simple as panning your smartphone with the “panoramic sweep” feature. Or you can go the old school way of taking many photos, and “stitching” them together in Photoshop.

But what happens when you rotate around and take photos vertically? Welcome to a guide on how to shoot vertorama, the cousin of panorama.

Strangely enough, vertorama is not commonly used by many photographers. Still, it is very useful for taking photos of very tall things that you cannot fit into a single frame. In this guide, we shall explore on how to do that exactly.

 💡 After some research, I realized that “vertorama” does not exist in dictionaries and it is not a “legit word”. But rather, it is just an abbreviation of “vertical” and “panorama”.

SHOOTING VERTORAMA ON A SMARTPHONE?

I know, some people are expecting “how to shoot vertorama with a DSLR or mirrorless camera”.

That will be covered later, but my first instinct is to go with the most convenient gadget – smartphone. Sadly, I have not seen an “official app” for taking vertorama on smartphones (at the time of writing).

So my hunch turned to using the usual “panorama sweep” as “vertorama sweep”, and it turned out to work exactly so. Instead of doing a horizontal sweep, we just need to work with a vertical sweep.

You will need some amazing back arching hip strength though.

Smartphone vertorama, with a Sony Xperia Z5

This is verified on my Sony Xperia Z5, so I am not too sure about the other phones. With my curiosity satisfied, let’s move on to the old school way.

RECOMMENDED GEAR

This is the gear consideration for you “serious photographers”, but any decent compact camera or smartphone will work just fine.

Warning : Brace yourselves affiliate links are coming. Read my disclosure message here.

  • A decent camera, DSLR or mirrorless. Compact cameras that allows manual settings will work too.
  • A tripod with a panoramic pan head is recommended, one that you can pan around easily. [Get one from eBay]
  • Remote shutter release triggers are recommended. [Nikon] [Canon] [Sony]
  • A copy of Photoshop, or a free alternative.

1) THE SETUP

The overall game plan is to take at least 2-3 shots, one for the bottom, one for the middle, and a last one for the top. We then stitch them together into a vertorama in Photoshop.

Saint-Séverin Vertorama
Photo by S.J. Pettersson

The first thing you have to consider for the setup and composition is, are you going to use a horizontal or vertical stack?

In another words, are you stitching together a series of landscape or portrait photos?

Both way works, but similar to panorama, the horizontal stack will probably give you more frame space to work with in post process. But as a lazy person, I prefer vertical stacks as you probably only need 2 photos.

Now, if you have those “angle brackets” for shooting panorama / vertorama, good for you. If not, just use your tripod the “usual way” and tilt the head accordingly.

For the rest who are on hand-held, get ready with your warm up exercises. You might need a little kung fu with steady hands, and yoga back arching.

 💡 Don’t break your back! If you have to arch backwards, use a chair, railing, or something to support your back.

2) COMPOSITION CONSIDERATIONS

I guess the most difficult part about composition for a vertorama is that, the frame size is does not fit into a “standard” category. So how do we compose for a frame that can potentially span up to 360 degrees?

I figure that some of the composition rules, such as the rule of thirds may not really apply to vertorama. But down to the roots, vertorama is still a photo and all the basic composition blocks still apply – Colors, lines and shapes.

Vertorama might be a little different, but you can’t go wrong the usual basics. Keep your eyes open for interesting subjects, place them in your frame, then balance out your elements.

Lead lines in vertorama
 💡 I personally find that depth is very easily pronounced in vertorama. Use diagonal lead lines to your best advantage.

3) THE SETTINGS

As with the old school goodness, you need to set your camera to manual exposure. This is to prevent a sudden change in the exposure values, and you end up with an oddly stitched vertorama.

Over exposed sky and under exposed ground

If you are not good at estimating exposure settings, this is one of my tricks.

  • Change to the aperture mode, and set it to your desire f-stop… set your ISO as well.
  • Now frame the “bottom piece” of your vertorama, and take note of the base shutter speed.
  • Tilt the camera up into your “center and top pieces”, and note the shutter speed.
  • Change to manual exposure, and average out the metered shutter speed. E.g. Bottom reads 1/200, top reads 1/500. You should be shooting at around 1/320.
  • Trial-and-error. Test out the settings and adjust as you see fit.

If you are shooting with a DSLR and tripod, you might want to use the mirror up mode and a remote trigger for tack sharp photos. For those who are on hand-held, take note of your shutter speed and turn on that anti-shake.

 💡 If a single spot is way too bright, you can deal with it in a couple of ways.

  • Ignore and let it be over-exposed, go with a silhouette if possible.
  • Shoot in RAW. Let it be over-exposed a little, and attempt to recover in Photoshop.
  • Use a graduated ND filter, but use it only in 1 frame, covering only the over-exposed spot.

4) HOW TO SHOOT : NINJA MOVES

Gravity defying back arching is not the only way to shoot vertorama. There are actually 3 ways to go about shooting the frames.

Ninja movements
Ninja movements for taking vertorama
  • Tilt the camera on a fixed spot, this will most probably be on a tripod or hand-held.
  • Tilt the camera around a fixed spot, on a tripod or hand-held.
  • Boom the camera upwards, which is probably very difficult. Unless you have a very long pole or drone.

5) OVERLAP THE PHOTOS

While you are taking photos for your vertorama, remember to keep some overlap in between each frame… Or you are going to have a lot of trouble trying to stitch them together.

How much to overlap?

I will say at least 1/4 of the frame. But I usually go for 1/3 of the frame, better safe than sorry.

Make sure there is overlap in your frames

6) STITCHING IN PHOTOSHOP 

The final step involves stitching, which works pretty much the same as panorama. If you are already familiar with it, this should be a breeze.

  • File -> Automate -> Photomerge -> Browse and select the files.
  • Keep the “blend images together” checked. Vignette removal might be good if your lens vignettes quite a bit.
Photomerge magic in Photoshop

When Photoshop is done, you might want to save this image as a separate PSD file. The following processing is going to be a little bit “destructive”, and you cannot “undo”.

  • Merge all the layers (select all layers, Layers -> Merge Layers)
  • Crop to an acceptable frame and try to straighten the horizon (it is OK to have some “empty spots”)
  • Use the lasso tool to select the “empty spots” or “places that feel wrong”, content aware fill (Edit -> Fill -> Make sure it is Contents : Content Aware)
Crop the image to an acceptable size

Final part, clean up and adjust your image.

  • Clean up the image, remove dust spots using the spot healing brush
  • Filter -> Camera Raw -> Do your own adjustments
  • We are done, resize the image and save a copy for social media if you want
Boring photo? Photoshop magic to the rescue.
The final composite. Click for larger image.

NO PHOTOSHOP? HERE ARE SOME ALTERNATIVES.

If you do not have a copy of Photoshop, I will recommend a free alternative called GIMP. You will also need the Panorama plugin for GIMP. I have not tried the GIMP plugin on a vertorama, but I am guessing it will work just the same.

Alternatively, there is an independent application called Hugin that stitches panorama. Again, I have not tried with a vertorama, but guessing it will work just fine. In the worst case scenario, you will have to manually stitch all the photos together in GIMP.

NO MORE READING. GO OUT AND SHOOT.

Congrats on surviving this long tutorial, and this concludes my sharing on the vertorama ninja technique.

If you are still confused over this ninja scroll, please do drop questions in the comments below, and I will try to answer them.

No training is complete without practical action – practice makes perfect.

So go out now, shoot, try out your new found ninja skill and have some fun!

RECOMMENDATIONS

Don't have a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom yet? Click on the banner below to check out an offer.

Also check out this set of very cool Photoshop tutorials that contributed to my *ahem* awesome skills.

A short disclaimer : Those are affiliate links above. Which means I will make a small commission if you purchase through those links, and it really helps to keep this blog going. 😉



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