VERTORAMA, THE LESS KNOWN COUSIN
Welcome to a guide on how to shoot vertorama photography. You have probably heard of panorama, a long and ultra wide photo. But what happens when you rotate around and take a tall vertical photo? You will get a vertorama, the cousin of panorama.
Strangely though, vertorama is not commonly used by many photographers. Which is what we will explore in this guide – To give some love to vertorama and understand how it is created by the stitching method in Photoshop.
P.S. The word “Vertorama” does not exist in dictionaries and it is not a “legit word”. But rather, it is just an abbreviation of “vertical” and “panorama”.
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
What You Need
WHAT YOU NEED
You can take a vertorama with any decent compact camera or smartphone, but that is not what we are going to do in this guide. So for you “serious photographers”, we need some proper equipment to get started.
At the bare minimum, you will need :
- A decent camera
DSLR or mirrorless camera. Compact cameras will work too, if they allow manual settings.
- A decent tripod
I highly recommend you use a sturdy tripod for panorama. [Selens] offer decent tripods at an affordable price, if not, go for the old reliable [Manfrotto]
- A copy of Photoshop
We will be using Photoshop to do the stitching in this guide. If you do not have a copy yet, click on the banner below to get an offer.
NO PHOTOSHOP? HERE ARE SOME ALTERNATIVES.
If you do not want to go with 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 it should work. In the worst case scenario, you will have to manually stitch all the photos together in GIMP.
Having the following gear will make your photos better:
- Remote shutter release
Hands off your camera, reduce the camera shake. [Nikon] [Canon] [Sony]
- Bubble spirit level
These simple gadgets can save you from unwanted slanted horizons. If you are too lazy to fumble around to get the camera’s virtual horizon. [Bubble spirit level]
THE SETUP AND COMPOSITION
Every photo starts with planning and composing the frame. There is no difference when you take a vertorama, but here are a few things that you need to take note.
THE BASIC IDEA
The basic game plan is simple, take at least 2-3 shots vertically. 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.
PORTRAIT OR LANDSCAPE?
The first thing you have to consider for the setup and composition is, are you going to shoot in landscape or portrait? Both ways work, but a stack of landscape photos will give you more frame space to work with in post process. If you are lazy, the easier way is to shoot in portrait as you will probably only need 2 photos to cover everything.
Now, if you have those “angle brackets” for shooting panorama/vertorama, good for you. If not, you will have to use your tripod the “usual way” by tilting the head accordingly. For the rest who are on hand-held, get ready with your warm-up exercises on kung fu steady hands and yoga back arching.
Gravity-defying back arching is not the only way to shoot vertorama. There are actually 3 ways to go about shooting the frames. There is no right or wrong to each method, just experiment and see which one works for you.
- 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.
I guess the most difficult part about composition for a vertorama is that, the frame size 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.
HOW TO SHOOT
Snap, tilt, and snap again – that how to shoot in a nutshell, but there are a few more things that you need to take care of. You will need to set your camera to manual exposure. People who are new to photography, you might struggle with this one, but here are a few tricks.
THE CAMERA SETTINGS
So why use manual exposure? Because if the sky is too bright, and the ground is too dark, you are going to have unevenly exposed photos with the auto mode. When you combine them together in Photoshop, you end up with an oddly stitched vertorama. If you are not good at estimating manual exposure settings, this is one trick to try out:
- Change to the aperture mode and set your desired f-stop and ISO.
- Now frame the “bottom piece” of your vertorama, and take note of the shutter speed.
- Tilt the camera up to the “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.
- Finally, take a few test shots and adjust the settings as you see fit.
OVERLAP THE PHOTOS
Start taking photos with the “bottom piece” and make your way up. While you are taking photos for your vertorama, remember to have some overlapping parts in between each photo… Or you will have a lot of trouble trying to stitch them together. How much overlap is required? I will say at least 1/4 in between each frame, but I usually go for 1/3 to be safe.
STITCHING IN PHOTOSHOP
The final step involves stitching (combining pictures together), which works pretty much the same as panorama. If you are already familiar with it, this should be a breeze. One thing to note though – I use Photoshop. No worries if you do not have a copy of Photoshop, pretty sure there are plenty of alternatives.
COMBINE THE PHOTOS
- 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.
- Just use “auto” for the layout, it usually does a pretty good job. But if the combined image looks strange, feel free to try out the other layout methods.
CROP AND FIX
When Photoshop is done, you might want to save this image as a separate PSD file. The following process is going to be a little bit “destructive”, and you cannot “undo” it.
- 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 -> Contents: Content Aware)
FINAL IMAGE ADJUSTMENTS
Finally, 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.
How do we take good vertorama photos? Here are a couple of tips and some stuff to look out for.
BEWARE OF MOVEMENT
Take extra care of moving subjects in your photo, they might affect the final stitched image and make it look strange. For example, people flying kites in the photo. The strings of kites may get “cut” at certain points and look strangely broken in the final vertorama.
TACK SHARP IMAGES
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 of you who are on hand-held, make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough, and turn on that anti-shake.
PROBLEM WITH UNEVEN EXPOSURES?
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 photo, covering only the over-exposed spot.
LESS VIGNETTE LESS WORK
Remove all unnecessary filters and try not to stack any filters. Vignetting can be a pain to fix in Photoshop.
NO MORE READING. GO OUT AND SHOOT.
Congrats on surviving this long tutorial, and this concludes my sharing on doing vertorama with the stitching method. If you are unclear on certain parts, 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, try out your newfound ninja skill and have some fun!