Vertorama / tiltorama (see comments for details) simply stands for a vertical panorama and it’s one of the best ways to capture interiors. If you are not familiar with panoramic photography, please read my previous post on Equirectangular Panorama to get yourself familiar with the stitching process.
The principles behind capturing Vertoramas are pretty much the same as Equirectangular panorama. However, to capture a Vertorama you will only need to stitch 3 to 4 pictures, if you are using a wide-angle lens such as an 8mm fisheye. This post will guide you through both capturing, stitching and post-processing and will discuss some issues related to them. However, in order to follow this post, you need to be familiar with the process of stitching photographs with a dedicated photo stitcher and the basics of panorama shooting.
You could argue that the same field of view can be captured by taking one picture with a fisheye lens in portrait orientation. However, capturing such an enormous field of view in one picture will create significant distortions at the top and bottom of the image. Vertoramas, on the other hand, are capable of representing enormous field of view without significant distortions.
What you will need is a DSLR camera and a wide-angle lens, preferably an 8mm fisheye lens on DX or FX format camera. It doesn’t have to be a fisheye lens as long as the focal length is between 10 and 20mm. The reason for using a wide-angle, as opposed to a kit lens, is that it will capture a larger field of view, letting you crop the image to your likings in post production.
Firstly, find a good scenery to capture. Churches, cathedrals and museums are ideal but you have to remember one thing. The further away you are the better. Like I said before, a wide-angle lens will capture bigger field of view but you will still have to crop your picture for the desired effect. Also remember that the light is likely to change with each exposure, as you will point your camera at different parts of the building, so shoot in manual mode and decide on the right shutter speed and aperture beforehand. What I usually do is to point my camera at the floor and the ceiling and observe how the light meter of my camera changes. The floor will be usually underexposed and the ceiling will be overexposed, especially if there are lots of windows. Then, I try to aim for the most balanced exposure so that the floor and the ceiling are both properly exposed. You will never achieve perfection but at least try to make sure that there are no extremelly over- or underexposed areas in your image. Simply take a few test shots.
Once you manage to find the right place, start taking pictures. Remember, just like in traditional panoramic photography, you will need to rotate your camera around the nodal point of your lens. It will considerably reduce distortions and make stitching way easier. The picture below demonstrates the correct camera rotation.
The most important thing is to get this right. Don’t just look through the viewfinder and then move your head up or down. It’s the back of the camera that should move up and down rather than the front, so you may find it easier to shoot in the LiveView mode at first. I personally find it easier to hold the sides of the lens while rotating it but you will probably find your own way of rotating it once you start experimenting with this technique.
If you have a panoramic head and are allowed to use a tripod then you can set it up as demonstrated below. If you tripod has a centre column you can simply put it in portrait orientation. Remember, the head needs to be set up properly so as it rotates around the Nodal point of the lens you are going to use.
If you tripod doesn’t have one, then put your tripod’s head in portrait orientation as shown below.
First, decide on the starting point of your image and take the first picture. Then, rotating the camera around the Nodal point and maintaining a good 30% overlap, move the camera up and capture another image. Next, moving your camera further up, capture another image. Finally, if you want to capture a greater field of view, take another picture pointing your camera directly at the ceiling. Now, you should have three to four images you will need to stitch in Hugin or Autopano Giga.
The stitching part is relatively simple and shouldn’t take too long. There’s only one last thing you need to remember. In order to make the stitching easier load the pictures in portrait orientation in your panorama stitcher, set up automatic control points and align the panorama. You will need to adjust the centre of your panorama and crop it in the preview window. Just remember, don’t get discouraged if your image looks distorted at first. In order to get it right, you will have to work on the composition in postproduction by cropping it. Also, you can edit your image further in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Finally make sure you read Farbspiel’s HDR Cookbook posts: Taking Interior HDR Vertorama Shots and Taking HDR Vertorama Shots with a Tripod where extremely detailed description of the shooting process as well as useful tips and advice are discussed.
There are also two dedicated Flickr groups if you need some inspiration:
Have fun and good luck with your first Vertorama
This article was also published in Cultor – an Italian arts and photography collective.
Update: Capturing a vertical panorama is a great photography exercise but after shooting several of them you will probably notice that in order to achieve the best results you will have to shoot your vertoramas / tiltoramas in HDR. Light conditions inside buildings are often challenging, almost always resulting in under- and overexposed areas. Notice how windows in the sample image on top of the page are overexposed and lack detail. I simply had to let more light in, in order to expose the dark areas more. HDR, on the other hand, allows for greater control over exposure and you can have both properly exposed windows, with a lot of details, as well as properly exposed dark areas. So, once you master simple vertoramas, try capturing a HDR Vertical Panorama.
Update: As of 2015, I’m officially fed up with having to argue with people in different public buildings over the use of tripods, which are often banned without any good reasons. I abandoned the setup I discussed above (tripod + Nodal Ninja) and stopped using an 8mm fisheye lens as it creates too much distortion. Now I shoot with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8. Ken Rockwell has a good review of this lens so have a look if you are interested. It is a wide angle lens with a large aperture so now I can shoot my vertoramas / tiltoramas handheld even in dark places. In the most extreme cases, I captured an entire vertorama / tiltorama at f/1.8 and the image was exceptionally sharp. Also, I often bump up the ISO to over 1000 as I have a full frame body now. You can easily reduce the noise in post-processing anyway. Since the lens comes with a hefty price tag, you may still want to use the setup discussed above. Once you master it and become fascinated with these images, then you can invest in a large aperture wide angle lens and start shooting handheld. Just remember to rotate the camera around the Nodal point. Happy shooting!
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