Tips For Taking Great Panorama Photos From Your iPhone

Jack Johnson via Macworld

The iPhone’s camera is no one trick pony. You can add live filters to your screen. You can shoot in HDR mode. You can fit your images into a traditional rectangle, square or panorama frame.

The last one requires a bit more than tapping on a screen to get right though.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with mastering the art of panoramic photography on the iPhone. This feature requires that you steadily move your phone to the left or right as the camera captures a widescreen version of what you’re looking at — and I’ve encountered some issues.

Image: Pocketlint

Image: Pocket-lint

For example, my hand usually isn’t still enough to capture a smooth image. I’ve also found that it sometimes looks too busy to snap something in panorama, especially here in Spain where there are people strolling around town at all times. Pedestrians often appear as weird, cut-off blurs since the iPhone captures them over time, not instantly like a traditional camera.

If that’s hard to picture, here’s an example of a failed panorama I took recently. I took an evening walk to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, the very center of the city, and captured this shot:

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 3.51.11 PM

Image: Andrea Marchiano

Aside from the fact that a teenager stood in front of my camera and smiled (you can see his blurred face a little bit right of center), there are several other problems with the image above.

For one, there’s no real focus. Sure, you can see the beautiful buildings that surround the square, but none of them really catch your eye. The bright yellow bones of what will eventually be an enormous Christmas tree may distract viewers who don’t know what it is. And, of course, there are lots of people. I would be crazy to think that I’d ever be able to see Sol without a crowd, but capturing less of them would really help this panorama.

Due to this failed photo (and many before it), I did some research into the realm of iPhone panorama photos. Here are some tips I found super useful, in addition to a few pointers of my own:

  • Don’t try and fit everything in. This definitely affected my first image, when I weirdly twisted my body in order to get all of Sol into one picture. You can stop shooting your panorama at any point—it’s not required that you slide the arrow all the way to the end of its track. In fact, you’ll find that some images look better as a shortened version of the panorama.

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Image: Pocket-lint

  • Determine your focus before shooting. Figure out what you want your picture to feature before you start capturing it. This will also help you decide where you should stand to take the shot.

  • Use the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds might just be my favorite photo trick (I’ve previously gushed about it on this very blog). Although the panorama isn’t taken through a traditional lens where the grid is clear-cut, you can pretty easily envision the lines and put your focal point at an eye-catching location. It’s also important in panoramic images to align a focal point or two along the image’s horizontal planes. This will draw the eye all the way across your photo.

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Image: Danny Irizarry via Macworld

  • Find the light. This didn’t affect me too much, but it’s an important pointer. Make sure that the entire length of your intended panorama target has the same exposure to light so that your final image looks cohesive.

  • Don’t be afraid to go slow. You might feel silly slowly spinning as you balance your shot and capture the entire panoramic image—I know I did—but it’s worth it. It makes it so much easier to keep the lens steady if you don’t rush it.

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Image: Cameron Thompson via Macworld

  • Practice makes perfect. It took me a few tries with all of these tips in place, but I finally got some panoramic pictures that I am proud of. Just keep practicing and shooting until you create the image you’ve imagined. Check out mine below:

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 3.52.18 PM

Image: Andrea Marchiano

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 3.52.07 PM

Image: Andrea Marchiano

Neither of these are perfect, but they are leaps and bounds better than any of my previous attempts at panoramic iPhone photography.

What tips do you have for using this mode? Let us know in the comments below!

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Andrea graduated from the University of North Carolina, where she studied journalism and once saw Michael Jordan at a bar. She's currently teaching English in Spain, writing about her experiences, and snapping as many photos of her travels as she possibly can.

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