September 2005 HelpLine

Better Panoramas

    * Panorama Problems
    * Family Photo Issues
    * What’s A Body To Do?
    * Batteries Revolting 

Panorama Problems

Q)  I’ve started doing panoramas by shooting multiple images and using software to put them together. Every time I’ve tried it, I can see where the images come together. I’ve been good about overlapping the images, but the area where two of the images come together has some shadowing or darkening. This is really noticeable in the sky.

Sally E.
Via e-mail

A)  Here are some tips for good results when stitching together panos.

• Use support, such as a tripod.
• Overlap the previous image by one-half.
• Set your exposure to manual so it’s consistent for all of the images.
• Set your white balance to manual (also for consistency).

It’s likely a combination of not setting your exposure to manual and leaving white balance set to auto. With each image, the camera reevaluates the scene and sets exposure and white balance parameters to optimize image capture. If the exposure or white balance varies between images, the problems you describe are more likely to occur.



Let’s take a scene with a giant oak tree in it. When you first start the panorama, the oak might be out of the shot. As you move the camera to frame the next shot, the oak might now be in the shot just off the center of the image. The metering system sees all of that dark oak bark and figures that it should open up the iris a bit so you can see more of the bark. The same could be said about auto-white balance. As you continue to pan and take more images, other bright and dark objects could move into the scene and affect your exposure.

Instead of using auto exposure and auto white balance, use manual settings. Take a few test shots panning across your scene and look at your images to determine the optimal settings (these might be a compromise). Delete those test shots and start shooting.

You might consider a stitching program like ArcSoft Panorama Maker, software dedicated to blending images together for panoramics, which can help when the separate shots aren’t perfect.

One final tip: When I shoot a series of panoramas, before and after each sequence I take a shot covering the lens (I get a black image). After I download the images to my computer and browse my thumbnails, I can see where each panorama starts and ends.

Family Photo Issues

Q)  I’d like to get a camera for my wife. I already have a digital SLR, but she says it’s too much to use for snapshots of family events. Recommendations?


A. Passenger
Via seat 12B

A)  Okay, so this isn’t a real letter, but it’s a real question, asked by several people as I flew across the country. My seatmate would ask about what business I was in and the conversation would lead to the inevitable camera recommendation. Rather than blurt out a model number, I like to ask a few questions to find out their photography interest. And while I don’t make model recommendations, asking questions can help point to a camera type.



On three occasions, the information I got back was similar. My seatmates were going to purchase a digital SLR and needed help finding a simpler camera. Why? “My spouse doesn’t like using the SLR.”

The SLR owner was the family photographer and enjoyed that role. Whenever there was a family event, he or she would be ready, but his or her spouse didn’t end up with any prints! This was puzzling at first because these photographers typically had a very good-quality photo printer attached to the computer.


Then I recognized the problem. Prior to the advent of digital, after a roll of film was processed, prints would be sent to relatives and friends. Now that the family photographer has gone digital, he or she has to deal with the prints, too, which means firing up the computer, downloading images, figuring out which ones to print, loading paper and ink, and then printing. This might take some time! The “nonphotographer” recognizes it’s going to be a long time before any prints are seen and has suggested getting another camera so a media card can be taken to the store for prints to be made.

So I’d recommend a small, compact digital camera that’s easy to use, but one that both people would like for taking snapshots, plus a small printer that can accept memory cards directly and make 4×6 prints. Epson, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Olympus all make great small printers that are easy to use, have simple editing capabilities and produce great snapshots.

A printer with a built-in image display is convenient, but if the printer and camera are PictBridge-compatible (most new ones are), you can use the camera to see images to be printed. The printer must be in a location where it can be used quickly.


What’s A Body To Do?

Q)  In advertisements for various camera models in newspapers and magazines, I frequently come across the term “body only.” What does this mean?

Dave Livingstone
Via e-mail

A)  A term you frequently see when looking at SLR cameras, film and digital, it means you get the camera body without a lens (although it should come with everything else that’s normally included with the camera-instruction manual, battery, charger, software, camera strap, etc.).

Why? Since SLRs have interchangeable lenses and since manufacturers usually standardize their lens mounting systems, it’s possible you already have lenses that could be used on the new camera. Or you might not want the “kit” lens and opt for purchasing a lens separately.

Batteries Revolting?

Q)  True or false? NiCd rechargeable batteries fully charged, sitting in a digital camera, not having been used for several months—these batteries are still fully charged.

Jerry Shubert
Via e-mail

A)  False. It’s a reality of the chemical structure of rechargeable batteries that they lose power even when they’re not being used. It’s not uncommon for a battery to lose 1% of its charge each day. So don’t leave batteries sitting on chargers all day, every day! Follow the directions that came with your batteries and charger. Pop them on the charger every few weeks to keep your camera ready for action.

If you have any questions, please send them to HelpLine, PCPhoto Magazine, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025 or [email protected].


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