Finchley Thompson | Panoramic Portraits

Panoramic Portraits

July 10, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Photography can be pretty much anything you want it to be. It's subjective. You may like super saturated landscapes or perhaps gritty black and white street. It really doesn't matter as long as you are making images that you love and if you are of the persuasion, are loved by other people. Often part of what makes a photograph interesting to other people is a connection or emotion stirred by what they are seeing. Whether it's that beautiful landscape or gritty street image there has to be a narrative. As photographers we have a range of tools at our disposal to convey that story. Tools like the shutter speed which can freeze or blur motion, or using light and shade in the environment (natural or artificial) or using aperture to give shallow of deep focus.

I happen to love using shallow depth of focus to isolate and draw attention to my subject. Elements around the point of focus are blurred and less catching to the eye of the observer. I use Canons 50mm f1.2 lens which has super shallow depth of focus. Not as legendary as the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens but still lovely. The 50mm focal length is great for portraits which include the body of the subject. It can be a tiny bit distorting if used too closely. On the other hand even at f1.2 the depth of focus can increase more than I'd like if I step back to include more of my subject (The biggest influence on depth of focus is subject distance). One answer would be a wider angle lens with a super huge maximum aperture. Wonderful, except if such a lens could be made it would be very big, heavy and probably very expensive.

Thankfully ingenuity and computers can come to the rescue.

Most photographers and many non-photographers enjoy a good panoramic photograph. Gone are the days of folk like Colin Prior using a Fuji GX617 to take a panoramic image on a roll of 120 film at 6cm by 17cm. Only 4 exposures before having to load another roll half way up the side of a mountain. This has largely been replaced by a digital SLR on a special tripod head which allows the scene to be scanned one frame at a time and then built up into the final panoramic scene using a computer to stitch the separate files into one super wide image.

There are two people who have really pionered the panoramic portrait technique. The first being Ryan Brenizer who often shoots 50-60 frames of his wedding couples to make massively epic images. I've experimented with this style and even bought the two hour video he produced to learn the subtle in depth technique. See examples of his work on his website. I bet you can spot the portrait panoramas.

Then there is Sam Hurd who has created a set of portraits of well know faces using panorama stitching. Sam mostly shoots only 3 frames as he has a very brief couple of minutes with his subjects. Not enough time to shoot 50-60 frames.

As I mentioned, I've experimented with the Brenizer Method as it became known but I've tended towards fewer frames. Sometimes 9 or 12 but mostly I've gone for 3 frames like Sam Hurd. It's simple, quick and I love the results.

Elodie - LeftElodie - LeftCopyright Finchley Thompson Photography 2018
All Rights Reserved, No Reproduction Without Prior Permission
  Elodie - MiddleElodie - MiddleCopyright Finchley Thompson Photography 2018
All Rights Reserved, No Reproduction Without Prior Permission
Elodie - RightElodie - RightCopyright Finchley Thompson Photography 2018
All Rights Reserved, No Reproduction Without Prior Permission

So here are my three frames of Elodie. I actually took the middle frame first as I always start on my subject and then take the left and right images. Ideally the camera should have been kept level and Elodie kept at the same vertical position in the frame. There's about 40% overlap between frames which helps the stitching software line things up. Because I use back button focus I could focus on Elodie in the first frame and then not refocus for the side frames. On my Canon 5D MK IV I have also set the exposure lock button to "Hold" mode which retains the exposure settings between frames even in the semi automatic modes. So a dab on the focus button, a dab on the exposure lock button, take the first frame, rotate to one side, take a frame, rotate to the other side, take a frame. All done within a couple of seconds.

I always explain to the model what I'm going to do so that they don't leap around too much. The wind is going to blow hair and clothes and the stitching software can cope with that. But arms and legs in different positions will probably cause errors.

Lightroom Merge to Panorama DialogLightroom Merge to Panorama DialogCopyright Finchley Thompson Photography 2018
All Rights Reserved, No Reproduction Without Prior Permission

Once I have imported the images into Lightroom I can select the 3 frames in grid view and hit Ctrl + M (menu: Photo >> Photo Merge >> Panorama) to launch the dialog which you can see above. After a few moments a preview of the stitched image will appear. Bear in mind panorama stitching was really designed for massive land and city scapes. For these distant subjects with very little if any parallax the Auto Crop and Boundary Warp features can work really well straightening horizons and verticals and filling gaps. For 3 frame panoramic portraits (close subjects) it tends to be a bit distorting so I leave them switched off. Click the Merge buton and a few moments later the stitched image will be added to the grid (in the latest version of Lightroom circa June 2018 it will also make a nice tidy stack with the new image at the top if you tick the "Create Stack" option.

ElodieElodieCopyright Finchley Thompson Photography 2018
All Rights Reserved, No Reproduction Without Prior Permission

The final cropping and processing of an image is up to your style and preferences as a photographer. Here is my final of Elodie :-) Created from a combination of a darker environment and out of focus background and foreground placing Elodie in the middle of the scene.

Out of the Darkness into the Light


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