Shooting Panos with the iPhone Pano Feature

Apple recently released a new operating system, iOS6, and among many other features and changes, one thing that is of particular interest to photographers is the ability to shoot panorama photography.  As with any new technology there are pros and cons.  Likewise, there are things you can do to increase your keeper rate, and things to avoid (unless you like deleting tons of photos).  Here are Five Tips To Improve Panorama Photos:

Tip #1 – Make sure you scope out the scene all around you.  Believe it or not, the iPhone panorama photo feature goes to nearly 300 degrees from left to right.  This means you will almost be doing a complete circle.  Is there anything on your left or right that you particularly want to be in the photo, or the draw of your photo?  Make sure that you initially face that particular person or scene.  Then turn 90 degrees to your left before you start shooting.Airport Panorama

(I wanted to make sure the plane on camera right was fully in the frame, and my first short, the pano ended right before the hallway on the right, so it looked like it was cut off…)

Tip #2 – Go slow!  The iPhone will tell you to slow down if you start moving too quickly from left to right, but at that point, it’s likely too late.  Stop the shot and start over.  Don’t get impatient because your wife (or husband, or significant other or friend or whoever) wants to get to your ultimate destination.  The amount of time it takes to completely capture the pano scene is about 15 seconds from left to right.  Add another 15 seconds to review the image on screen before you leave the area (you may have to re-shoot).  Finally, add another 15 seconds to your itinerary in case you really do need to re-shoot!  Just as a buffer, I’d add a final 15 seconds in because…well, you never know!  All in, that’s one minute of their lives that your S.O. will have to wait for you.

Bronco Stadium Panorama

Tip #3 – Consider the lighting – If your scene varies a lot from dark areas to light areas, that will not bode well for capturing a pano with the iPhone.  Why?  Quite simply, it can’t capture the dynamic range of our eyes.  Low light to bright light can be tough for the sensor to handle, and extremely low light scenes will introduce a lot of grain too.  Most of the time, shots that result from these scenarios will be unusable.  Exceptions to this would be city skyline shots.  The bright lights will be blown out, and the skyline itself will be all in shadow, but that’s ok – that kind of contrast is actually a good thing for skyline shots!

House Panorama

(Clearly, the bright light of the lamp and the darker area of the living room made for a bad contrast between bright and dark areas here…this is a bad shot imho..pano or no pano! :-)  )

Tip #4 – Consider the framing from top to bottom.  When shooting pano shots from the iPhone, you can’t rotate the camera to go into landscape mode – it must be recorded in portrait mode.    This means you may get portions of your scene at the bottom, the top, or both that you might not otherwise want in a final photo.  Re-frame accordingly as you conceptualize the shot!

Office Panorama

(Way too cluttered and the top and bottoms don’t really work for this scene..I kind of had a feeling it would be a bad photo, but wanted to include it as an example of what not to do!)

Tip #5 – Consider your storage!  Pano photos, just by their nature, are much larger files than any regular photo.  I pulled about twenty photos off my iPhone and the average size for any one photo was 17MB.  Compared to a regular photo (3-4MB), that’s 4-5x as large, which means it takes up 4-5 times the storage.  While under normal camera circumstances, storage is cheap, iPhones are unique in that you can’t increase your storage on the phone.  This means your phone may run out of storage sooner than you realize.  With all the games, utilities, and other apps we use on our smart phones, that can reduce functionality sooner than you may think!

Moving Walkways Pano

Boardings and Departures

I like these last two images – showing the moving walkways, and then that big huge boarding and departures screen in Denver International Airport.  As you can see, images that are expansive and cover a lot of area make for better panos than tigher areas (like a household living room).  What results have you had with your own iPhone or panorama photos?  Any tips and tricks?  Feel free to sound off in the comments!

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2 comments for “Shooting Panos with the iPhone Pano Feature

  1. at

    How does it hold up against Photosynth? That is the panorama app of choice on iPhone so far for me.

    • at

      Truth be told, I’ve not used Photosynth – I downloaded it last night and it looks pretty cool…not used to the “snapping” feature where the center dot aligns to the border of the previous screen capture, so will have to play some more with it, but thus far it seems like a “broad as it is long” sort of thing – whichever you tend to prefer or is more intuitive for you will likely yield better results.

      Just like the Canon vs Nikon, Mac vs PC, Ford vs Chevy, Vanilla vs Chocolate type or debate that is so common! :-)

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