The Norman Method

Shooting panoramas with the intention of cropping to a standard aspect ratio is a useful technique. In this article I describe how I got a shot of the River Brathay using the ‘Norman’ Method.

My lens woes continue.

Having broken my 24-70mm lens it has been away for repair since the beginning of December. With the 17-40mm lens that I have on loan and my 70-200mm telephoto lens I am left with a gaping hole between 40 and 70mm.

This is rather inconvenient as I like to shoot at 50mm on a regular basis. This was the case on a recent visit to the River Brathay in the central Lake District.

The River Brathay

I recently paid a visit to Elterwater to photography the River Brathay for my location guide to the central Lake District.

Conditions were good despite the rain and the gentle breeze only mildly effected the reflections.

When the reflections are this good I generally in ignore all foreground interest. This often involves shooting at a slightly longer focal length than usual in order to cut out any distractions.

But I had a dilemma. In portrait orientation 40mm was too wide and 70mm was too tight.

The Norman Method

Whilst pondering what to do I was reminded of a conversation that I had had with Gary Norman at the photography show just a few days earlier.

Gary told me that he doesn’t have a wide angle lens. Instead if he needs a wider angle of view he puts his camera in portrait orientation, shoots a panorama and then crops to a more common aspect ratio.

By doing this he can in effect turn is 24-70mm lens into a 16mm lens.

Shooting a Panorama

I know that if I shot a panorama in portrait orientation at 70mm with a little cropping I would get something close to 50mm.

I have not shot a panorama before because up until recently I have not been able to level my tripod.

However, having recently purchased a Benro Mach 3 TMA48CXL complete with built in spirit level now was my opportunity.

Having watched so many other photographers shooting panoramas on YouTube it was almost as though the whole process was second nature to me.

Here’s is the approach that I used:

  1. Level the tripod using the built in spirit level
  2. Mount the camera in portrait orientation
  3. Level the camera using it’s electronic level placing the horizon in the middle of the frame
  4. Focus manually on the primary subject, in this case the trees directly across from where I was stood
  5. Manually set the exposure
  6. Working from left to right shoot multiple exposures over lapping each time by about a third. This scene required 9 images.
Panorama of the River Brathay near Elterwater in the central Lake District
This panorama of the River Brathay is the result of stitching 9 images together in Lightroom.

When not to Shoot a Panorama

I recalled during my conversation with Gary that I did point out that there was one occasion where is approach would not work.

I typically shoot a lot of long exposures. As exposure times can run into the minutes it would be highly unlikely for the lighting conditions to remain constant long enough to shoot the panorama.

The most likely outcome would be an image with unnatural light and dark areas.

Gary also pointed out that it doesn’t work when there is a lot of movement in the scene, when shooting waves on the beach for example.

Lightroom

Once I was home I excitedly imported all of my images from the morning’s shoot into Lightroom.

I selected the 9 images that I had taken and merged them into a panorama. Selecting photo merge > panorama I was then faced with a choice of projection methods:

  • Spherical
  • Cylindrical
  • Perspective

I didn’t really know which one to select so I went for cylindrical and hoped for the best!

I also selected auto crop to remove the white edges of the frame. The resulting image has huge. 13,800 x 5,200 pixels and 240MB.

The image was so large that there was a little lag when I walked through my usual post processing workflow on my Macbook Air.

When I was finished I cropped down to my usual 16:9 ratio and sat back to admire my work. I am pretty pleased with the final result.

Reflections on the River Brathay near Elterwater in the central Lake District
The panorama cropped at my more usual 16:9 ratio.

Other Advantages

Gary explained to me that he shoots so many panoramas because they give him so many options for post processing.

He went on to explain that by shooting a panorama there is so much more scope for fine tuning his composition.

We sometimes refer to this approach as “get the data, sort it later”. Perhaps a little clinical for my taste but a useful technique nevertheless.

Despite the minor irritation of a slow laptop whilst editing the larger than usual image had one advantage. Normally my 6D allows me to print up to 18 inches wide (at 300 dpi) but my shot of the River Brathay would print at 24 inches quite comfortably.


Shooting panoramas is a little complicated but once you get the hang of it it can be a very useful approach.

I think I will continue to shoot panoramas in the future, even after my 24-70mm lens is fixed, particularly when the best composition is not immediately obvious to me.

11 thoughts on “The Norman Method”

  1. The lens saga continues… At least you have managed a viable solution in the meantime. I quite like the final image and it would be difficult to tell that it is anything but a normal wide angle shot if we didn’t know better. I think the appropriately named “Norman Method” is a useful tool for this situation, but obviously works for the more traditional panoramic shot as well. Gary posted a nice tutorial vlog on this subject just recently. As I am one of the last stubborn holdouts who does not use the Adobe CC subscription, my version of LR does not support merging. I am however able to stitch panos and create focus stacks with Photoshop Elements to achieve the same results, albeit with a bit more effort.
    I hope your lens returns to you before too long Chris, but I wonder since you often shoot at 50mm would you ever consider a “nifty fifty”? Certainly a bit lighter to carry around than the 24-70, but for a man who carries a 5 kilo tripod, that might not matter. 😉

    1. Hi Jeff, I really would recommend an Adobe CC subscription. I think it is worth a tenner a month. Don’t forget that it includes the full version of Photoshop, Adobe Spark for creating social posts and My Portfolio website that integrates with Lightroom, + some cloud storage. I have thought about a nifty fifty but what I really want is my 24-70 back! 🙁

  2. I’ve also done a lot of panoramas in the last few months but because of the reverse problem. Since I’m traveling with crop camera (that changes soon) and the ultra wide angle does not meet my desired quality, I use the sigma 17-50 (equivalent to 25-75) in portrait position and make a panorama. Actually a challenge that you always have to solve creatively. This is also a nice challenge that you could do on facebook. we did it in a workshop and i think gavin hoey showed it on youtube as well. 1 camera, 1 lens, 1 location- maximum 15 minutes and then present the 3 most beautiful photos. It does not matter if it’s intimate or far, but we should present a story

    1. That sounds like an interesting challenge Jorg. I am not sure how I would get on however. I like to take my time and to really think about a composition.

  3. I recall being on a workshop a few years ago and we had the most splendid autumn display in front of us , reflections in the lake and all, and the group leader suggested ‘doing a pano’. Never having done one he guided me through it and boom, a great image was made. My only regret? At that time I was shooting in jpg and the post processing options were limited – doh! Nevertheless, it featured in my successful LRPS panel, so it must have been OK. I have used the technique many times since, including using hand held images taken in good light. The tripod is only really needed in low light when shutter speeds start slowing down. Using Fotospeed panoramic paper allows ‘big’ pictures to be printed on a basic A4 printer too.

    1. Fascinating Stephen. Do you ever shoot a panoramic image and then crop to a standard aspect ratio (3:2, 16:9, etc) specifically to widen your field of view?

  4. Great article Chris. I’ve had a go at a panamas and had mixed results. I did however get a great panarama of a river bend where I merged 3 images, one before the bend , one at the bend and one just after. It gave a great view of the river turning a bend. So I would also add that another benefit to using panamas, is that you can lead the viewer through an image by allowing them to follow a leading line.

    1. Sounds like an interesting shot Kevin. How about the Norman Method though mate? Would you ever shoot a panoramic image and then crop to a standard aspect ratio (3:2, 16:9, etc) specifically to widen your field of view?

  5. Hi Chris. I quite like shooting panoramas because I believe it introduces a subtle change in perspective which ends up producing a more natural looking image. With a wide angle lens the relationship between foreground and background can sometimes look a bit odd. The foreground can appear out of proportion in relation to the background. A longer focal length lens reduces this effect and gives, in my opinion, a more natural look and when using a longer lens to shoot panoramas this benefit is retained. In other words you get the wide angle field of view with the long lens perspective. I hope you can understand what I am trying to say.

    1. I understand perfectly Les and I couldn’t agree more. Wide angle lenses really exaggerate the foreground which often distracts from the main subject. I wider angle of view with the long lens perspective seems like the perfect antidote.

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