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Tips & Tricks

Panoramic Sunset Portrait – How We Shot It

By Matthew Saville on April 3rd 2013

Every sunset is different.  However each year, there are a few of them that you remember forever!  This was certainly one of those sunsets!  As Galen Rowell once said, “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.”

The Photo

slr-lounge-sunset-beach-panoramic-portrait(Click here to view larger size!)

The Equipment and Settings

The Shooting Conditions

This particular shade of pink does not last long, so you have to move quickly to capture it.  Especially if you are doing something complex such as a panorama or other type of composite.  Also, often times, the most beautiful colors show up in the sky *opposite* the actual sunset, especially in colder conditions.

Anyways, I kept my eye on the clouds in a 360 degree direction, because I knew that great color could show up practically anywhere.  When I saw these clouds just barely begin to light up, I had only a couple minutes to decide on my composition, get into position, set my tripod and check the “swing” of the panorama, and fire off the images at peak color.

The resulting un-edited frames looked like this:

separate frames-clip

Picking an exposure is always the toughest part of capturing a panorama such as this where you have extremely bright highlights in one area, and deep dark shadows in another.  Such a scene can easily pass the 10-stop mark, if you were to grab a spot meter and take a reading off a bright cloud and a shadowy tidepool.  Usually, since I shoot Nikon and therefore trust my shadows a little more than my highlights, I try and expose my RAW images so that the highlights are just barely preserved.  Sometimes it’s okay to just barely clip your highlights because you know you can recover them, but be careful.

Anyways I picked my exposure, and just let the shadows be deep and dark, knowing that I would certainly be able to find plenty of detail in them later, albeit with a little noise.  I could have attempted to HDR bracket the entire panorama, however I felt that time was of the essence and also that the scene was just barely within the dynamic range that I could pull off without bracketing.

 

The Post-Processing

As difficult as it is to gauge your exposure for such a dynamic scene, the images actually come together pretty nicely without much fuss.  I used an SLR Lounge Preset for Lightroom 4 for HDR type images, and then tweaked it on each frame separately until they all looked as similar as possible, yet without losing highlights in the brightest frame nor any shadows in the darkest frame.

Then I merged the images into a panorama using Photoshop CS6‘s “Photomerge” tool, and the result looked like this:

panorama-stitch-2

With a little bit of the warp tool in Photoshop, I was able to reduce the loss of clouds due to eventual cropping, and also straighten out a slightly wobbly horizon:

panorama-warping-2

Finally, I saved this relatively flat looking image as a PSD, returned to Lightroom, and did final basic adjustments and burning / dodging to ensure that the image regained some pop…

slr-lounge-sunset-beach-panoramic-portrait

 

And, that’s about it!  Please feel free to comment here with any questions, or join our Forum and participate there if you’d like!

Take care,
=Matthew Saville=

 

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Nice.

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  2. Jason Borg

    Great shot, thanks for sharing your process.

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  3. G

    This is not a negative comment/question. But what is the difference if this was in one shot with a wide angle instead of multple shots stiched?

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    • Robert Tran

      I think that By stitching a panoramic, you have less distortion and higher megapixel compared to a wide angle.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Care to buy me a D800 and a 14-24? ;-) Okay to answer your question, sure that would have been fine too. It just depends what equipment you have at the time.

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  4. Jennifer Cox Inigo

    Awesome

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  5. Mary Hurlbut

    thank you Matt for sharing your tech knowledge…Love this image

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  6. Jo Gorsky

    Excellent work and thank you for sharing your post-production process.
    Really appreciate it !

    I’m curious to know why you choose to do […a PSD, returned to Lightroom, and did final basic adjustments and burning / dodging…] instead of doing that part on the original RAW version of the image, pre-photomerge.
    Wouldn’t you have had more dynamic range than with the .PSD ?

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    • Matthew Saville

      I prefer to create a PSD that does not lose any shadow detail, and then make that final “deep shadows” decision after the photomerge…

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  7. Jon McGuffin

    Always appreciate your contributions here Matthew, this is one of the better ones! Nice work!

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  8. Chad

    Awesome shots and post work.

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  9. PeteSuttonFineArt

    A Beautiful shot.
    PeteSuttonFineArt.com

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  10. Kelvin Won

    thank you for sharing your workflow process. really appreciate it!

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