Panoramic iPhone Photography

A Disquisition

About a year ago I upgraded the iOS on my iPhone 4s. A few days later I discovered a new option in the Camera App—Panorama Mode! Over the next few months I slowly realized that this was a serious photographic tool. Now I take it along as an important part of my photographic gear. It appears to work like a slit camera, but instead of moving the film, you must move the camera. This has interesting ramifications if some or all of your subject is moving (see discussion below). Click on the images below to view larger versions. [Gallery]

Let’s start with a typical landscape panorama covering about 270°…

pilchicocha-lake-at-sacha-lodge

 As you can see, it does a great job of capturing the sky and its reflection. But notice how far away everything seems. Unless the sky is the major subject, it is better to place a few objects or people in the foreground

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A shorter panorama is also a great alternative to a wide-angle lens for subjects that are large and close. Notice that the photo below appears flat with very little distortion

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Typically you rotate the camera from left to right and try to keep it level.

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There is another technique however, you can move parallel to your subject to get a flat rollout even in tight spaces.

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The next example was taken in a crowded market, along an aisle that was no more than six feet wide. I simply held the camera steady and walked twenty feet to the right. I did not even notice the woman peering through the opening until afterward. Notice the colorful hangings are distortion free, while her face is a bit off (she moved)…

ecuador-market

There is even a third possibility, holding the camera stationary and allowing the subject to move across the field of view (slit camera, think photo finish at a horse race). This cannot be done directly because the iPhone must move to activate the shutter. It IS possible to include a moving subject with some interesting results…

freight-train

Here’s another flat panorama with some random distortions due to the rough cobblestones I was walking on…

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The skips and distortions are unique to each exposure. They depend on how the photographer chose to move and cannot be reproduced. I think this adds to the aesthetics of each shot.

Panoramas are also handy for recording confined spaces, like this 10×10′ berth on a ship…

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And let’s not forget the vertical dimension!

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 vertical-pano-3 vertical-pano-1


Panoramic portraits are are also possible. Just ask your subjects to stay still until the camera passes them (sorry pooch!). Notice the lack of distortion that would be present if I had used something like 24mm wide-angle lens on a conventional camera…

boat-ride-with-dog

Here’s another shot, this time indoors. I love the mix of poses and presence of this photo. It is very much the way I remember that evening…

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Here are a few experiments from a recent visit to the beach…

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2015 Update

Time has passed and I’ve collected a few more panos. This sunset for example…

sunset-panorama-richard-rathe

And this family gathering in Iowa for Thanksgiving in 2014. We seem to have a one-to-one ratio of photographers to subjects!

thanksgiving-panorama-richard-rathe

Here’s an experiment at 50mph from a car window…

highway-panorama-richard-rathe

That red stripe is a car passing in the other direction! The various distortions and discontinuities in this and other examples give some insight on how the software attempts to make sense of visual and inertial data. Here is another more subtle example…

flowers-panorama-richard-rathe

Notice that the flowers are mostly undistorted while the green foliage behind them has numerous stutters and repetitive patterns. Clearly the algorithm is tuned to high contrast, well defined objects.

Here are a few more examples to round out this group…

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woods-panorama-richard-rathe

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2016 Update

This is my year for panoramic self-portraits. These are all handheld, no sticks, no assistants, just me and my phone. <smile>

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Here are a few of the best from the past year…

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…and this abstract image from the St. Petersburg Triathlon

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Finally, here are a few panos from our recent trip to Turkey starting with the Blue Mosque

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That’s Mt. Olympus in the distance!

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By standing near the “focal point” of this restored Odeon I got a flat “rollout” similar to that used for vases and other round artifacts.

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A Roman Bath with little stacks of round tiles used to support a raised heated floor!

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Breakfast on the boat before they brought out the main course!

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Typical small inlet on the Turquoise Coast

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[View All Turkey Panoramas]

2017 Update

This was a good year for panoramas as I continue to refine my technique. I took this stunning vertical pano last fall in Denver

Shark River, Everglades at dusk…

A sand pit abstraction…

Another vertical, Cypress Pond, Florida

Friends kicking back on Lake Superior

Some selfie shenanigans…

Floor rollout at Tom’s Burned Down

Rollout of the Art Car on Madeline Island

Sunrise over Quarry Bay in the Apostle Islands

Rocks at the Garden of the Gods, Illinois

Fall color at Pike’s Peak, Iowa

Sunrise, Little Lake Santa Fe, Florida

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