Panography, or how to turn a bunch of photos into one work of art
By Matt Simpson
16 Aug 2007
When I was in my teens and started using an SLR camera I used a lot more film that my friends. Yes, I took more photos, but I also did something different. I used to take a lot of close up photos of something, then assemble the close ups into larger piece.
For whatever reason I stopped doing this, I don't know why but I did and when I took a hiatus from photography I forgot about it completely. A few months ago though I found a description on the web describing a digital age version of the same thing. This technique, developed by German photographer Mareen Fischinger and called "panography", is basically the same thing that I used to do with prints but with transparency thrown into the mix.
Needless to say I took an immediate shine to it. Since that time I've been trying to take more and more panographies. I've no idea why this particular technique intrigues me so, but it does; I'm hooked.
Many of my friends have asked me about them too, and while the basics of my process aren't all that much different from the ones you can find I have gone into a lot more detail in certain areas. Either way, I hope that this helps someone else discover a new way to have some fun experimenting with their camera.
### Part One: Equipment and Set Up
The first thing you need is something to take a photo of. Preferably something, you know, _interesting_. Whatever you find, make sure you don't have to move in order to see it all (and as such, shoot the crap out of it).
The second thing you need is a camera. It'll be easier with a DSLR, but a point and shoot can probably do the job too.
For a DSLR, there are two schools of thought on the shooting set up. One school says set everything up ahead of time: shutter, aperture, white balance, focus, everything. The other says that all you really have to do it set white balance and use either shutter or aperture priority. I personally usually set white balance, aperture and leave the camera in auto focus mode but this makes things harder for me later on down the road.
If you have a point and shoot try out the different modes and see which keeps your settings the most consistent.
The last thing you need is a computer with Adobe Photoshop (or something similar) and enough RAM to handle a huge canvas.
### Part Two: Shooting
Stand in full view of your subject and plant your feet. You could use a tripod if you're in a low light situation, but either way it's important for the camera not to move from it's base position because an aspect change results in photos not lining up well.
Zoom in and start shooting. Be sure to take the aforementioned crap load of photos, the more the better. When I'm shooting I usually end up with _at least_ a 2 to 1 ratio of photos I've taken to photos I use in the panography, sometimes more. The more you have the more coverage you get, and the more you can pick and choose which photos you actually use.
Swivel your body, look up and down, and turn your camera for different angles. You want the photos to overlap in interesting ways. Try following branches or different ways of making a circle or a trapezoid or some other shape; anything to mix it up some.
In short, the more you take the better and the more unique the angle the better.
### Part Three: Prep
Now that you've shot the panography, you need to put it together. But you can't do that without a bit of set up. Once you have your photos on your computer, they need to be a consistent size. This can be a tedious process if you don't have some way to automate it. In Aperture I can export images to fit within a certain size (I usually choose 1024x1024 pixels, resulting in files that are about 1024x683 pixels), or you can automate the process in photoshop. I recommend using at least 800x600, any smaller and the details will be too hard to pick out.
Do _not_ crop the photos though. Cropping leads to a change in aspect, and that leads to things being screwed up. You could compensate for cropping by reducing the dimensions cropped photos by the same amount they were cropped by but that is even more tedious than the re-sizing in the first place.
Either way, the photos need to be big enough to see the detail but small enough to not overwhelm your computer.
You also need to set up a large canvas to work with in Photoshop, and don't be shy about going huge (I usually start with 4000x4000 pixels) because you can always crop it down later.
### Part Four: Assembly
Once your photos are prepared you need to start copying them into your new Canvas. Select a few of your photos, say 5, and open them in photoshop. Copy one, preferably one that you don't have to rotate too much, into the canvas. This is your anchor photo, you're going to line up all of the rest of the photos out from this one.
The first thing you should do when you copy a photo into your canvas is reduce their opacity. How much depends on the content of the photos and how much you want the layering to show through, but a good start is 50%. Remember you can always change it later, too.
And then start putting it together. Copy the next image into your canvas (remember to reduce the opacity) and line it up the details with the previous photo/photos. Repeat after me: the rotate tool is my friend. As implied, start rotating the images and lining up the details. Remember too that in photoshop the point on which an image is rotated can be moved; a lot of the time it's easier to line up one detail, then set that detail as your centre point and then rotate the photo until the rest of the details line up.
Repeat this process until all the photos you opened are on the canvas and aligned, then open five more and keep going. You can copy more photos into the canvas if you want, too, but I find keeping it to one at a time makes the whole process less daunting. It can be a time consuming process though, so be sure to get comfy before hand.
Remember too that if you set your camera to aperture priority (or set it to full manual) ahead of time then the details of your photo should line up pretty well, if you set your camera shutter priority or used auto focus then you might have some depth of field differences to deal with. If you didn't use a tripod or if you were extremely close to your subject you're going to have some aspect differences to work with too, but when all is said and done this is easy to deal with and usually adds to the charm and sometimes surreal look of panographies.
### Part Five: Finalize and Display
Once it's assembled you can make any final edits. Crop your canvas down so you don't have an excess of white space; add adjustment layers for contrast, levels, saturation or whatever else you want. Then the last, and most important step, save it as a jpeg file and post it somewhere for everyone to see.
That's it, you're done! Now do it again, but try to put your own spin on it as much as you can. Take panographies of different subjects and situations, try different white balance and exposure settings; whatever you want! When you're done you'll not just have photos but works of art you can be proud of and hopefully had fun putting together.