The Tall Picture : How To Shoot Vertorama

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WHAT THE HECK IS VERTORAMA?

Welcome to a guide on how to shoot 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? You get 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”.

 


CONFESSION
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE

Quick, hide your wallets!

There are affiliate links and advertisements on this page! Whenever you buy things from the evil links that I recommend, I will make a commission.

Nah. These are just things to keep the blog going, and allows me to give more good stuff to you guys.

So thank you if you decide to pick up my recommendations!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction
Phone camera

Section A
The gear

Section B
The setup

Section C
How to shoot

Section D
Editing

Closing
Go shoot

 

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.

 

SECTION A : RECOMMENDED GEAR

Any decent compact camera or smartphone will work just fine.

But that is not quite what we are going to do in this guide.

So for you “serious photographers”, we need some proper gear 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]

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]

If you do not already have a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom, click on the banner below to check out an offer.

 

SECTION B : THE SETUP AND COMPOSITION

The basic game plan is simple, take at least 2-4 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.

This is not rocket science, but there are still some things to note.

B1) HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL STACK?

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.

Saint-Séverin Vertorama
Photo by S.J. Pettersson

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.

B2) 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.

There is no right or wrong to each method, just experiment and see which one works for you.

B3) 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.

 

SECTION C : HOW TO SHOOT

Snap, tilt, and snap again – that is the basic idea, but there are a few more things that you need to note.

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.

C1) THE SETTINGS

So why use manual exposure?

Because if the sky is too bright, and the ground is too dark, you are going to have very differently exposed photos.

When you combine them together in Photoshop, you end up with an oddly stitched vertorama.

Over exposed sky and under exposed ground

If you are not good at estimating manual 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 you who are on hand-held, make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough, 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.

C2) 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

 

SECTION D : EDITING

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.

One thing to note though – I use Photoshop.

No worries if you do not have a copy of Photoshop, I will include a small section on Photoshop alternatives.

D1) STITCHING IN PHOTOSHOP

  • 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.

D2) 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 it should work.

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!


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