Westminster fountain at sunset

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I am trying to take a picture of a long counter in a super market. It is about 15 yards long. I inched along (at about a distance of 3 yards) and took straight on 30-35 pictures with my 16-35mm at around 16mm. I also did another series (with more images) at 35mm.

When I was at the computer and wanted to stitch them together I noticed that it just would not work, even though I had enough overlap. But the angles had changed. The items behind the glass of the counter would have slighly different "sides" showing forward which made it impossible to stich. Even worse was the "background" - only being 1 or 2 yards behind the counters items moved closer and farther away from objects on the counters (i.e. scales).

I then made a test taking more pictures - but the problem with the background remained. What is the right approach to taking such pictures? What focal length is the best for this?

Thanks

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@MattGrum I think it's not a direct duplicate as the question can accept a shooting technique that solves his problem, I don't think that s/he must do it by stitching in a panorama. But ofcourse the question you posted is really good for him/her too –  akram Jul 30 '12 at 15:05
    
Some cameras from Fuji and Sony can stitch automatically as you sweep the camera. This is called Motion Panorama and Sweep Panorama, respectively. If you have one of those, I suggest you try it. –  Itai Jul 31 '12 at 1:59

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The only way to do this is to take a very large number of photos with very small movements in between and use a very thin vertical strip from each image to create your composite. By doing this you will limit the disparity in the background and avoid imaging the sides of objects.

Using a longer focal length will also help.

In fact the absolute best technique would be to shoot a video moving along the counter maximising the number of images and minimising the gap between them.

Microsoft research's Image Composite Editor apparently has a function to assemble such panoramas from video sequences.

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+1 - Parallax is indeed a bitch. –  user2719 Jul 30 '12 at 11:56
    
I Like this approach, It should work. Maybe, using shallow depth of field would help too, by allowing you to stitch only the very front of the items but taking up some of the disparity with the background. –  Jahaziel Jul 31 '12 at 16:50

As you found out, if you move the camera along the counter, as opposed to just pivoting on a point, you'll find it very hard to stitch seamlessly, since you are constantly changing the point of view of each successive image.

You can do a faux panorama by taking one or two shots that capture the entire counter, and cropping out top and bottom.

Or if you had room to move way back and use a long lens, you'll have less distortion, and could pivot and do a standard panorama.

If you don't have the space to do either of these, I guess you could stand in the middle, take a number of shots for a standard panorama, stitch together, and apply some perspective correction in post processing to try to flatten out the perspective.

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One possible approach to this kind of thing would be to use a tilt-shift lens, as wide a one as possible. (The Canon 17mm TS-E on a full frame camera is as wide as it gets.) Now, mount the camera on a tripod dead center of the counter, at an appropriate distance from it (ie where you can actually fit the entire counter into the three-photo mosaic you are about to make). Shift the lens to the left, take a shot, take one shot with the lens centered, and one shot shifted to the right. Stitch the three together on the computer. Parallax should be a very minor problem I believe because the actual point of view has not moved by more than a few centimeters.

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I think this one is actually the best approach. TIlt-shift lenses are made precisely for that. Even though the counter dimensions seem to be much longer than the shifting can handle. The gain of using the Tilt Shift Lens is that every 3 shots you'll have a seamless stitch, that leaves you with only 11 seams, instead of 30+ –  Jahaziel Jul 31 '12 at 16:47

This isn't a panorma but another option is to use depth of field to convey size. Position your camera at one end and focus on something around the middle to far end, make sure depth of field is low (I'm not going to use the term 'bokeh' here because I'm not used to it) and take your shot.

What you should get is a shot with the foreground and background soft and the middle sharp which conveys a feeling of depth to the image.

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it sounds to me like the questioner is trying to get an image of the entire counter for marketing / documentary purposes, not as an artistic exercise... –  Matt Grum Jul 30 '12 at 8:50
    
yes - I want a very wide image of the entire counter... a ratio something like 20:1 –  Casper Jul 30 '12 at 9:55

I'm guessing that you're using a DSLR with a less than full frame sensor, and you can't back up enough to get the counter in the whole frame? If so then you've run into one of the problem areas of DSLRs - they have difficulty taking very 'wide' pictures because the length of the lens is multiplied be the size factor of the sensor. So your 16mm lens has probably become a 24mm one.

To take this as a single shot you need a very wide lens and a full frame camera. If you don't have either you could look into hiring one from a specialist supplier. You'll need either a full frame DSLR (or a film SLR!) and a 14mm or less lens (but not one described as a 'fisheye') and to back up as much as you can to get everything in in one shot (or two if you have to). If there's a handy window you can move outside the building if necessary.

Another option would be to try a medium format camera, but again you'd probably have to hire one. Not my area of expertise but it is one thing that medium format can excel at.

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Actually, a crop-sensor DSLR with one of the readily available 10-20mm-ish lenses will give you exactly the same field of view as a full-frame camera with a 16-35mm. Can't tell offhand if there is something to equal the 14mm though. –  Staale S Jul 30 '12 at 17:23
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Any shot you can make with a wide lens you can make by by shooting a panorama from a fixed camera position. However there comes a point where the extreme perspective (the edges in particular will becomes very stretched) will render such images unusable. –  Matt Grum Jul 30 '12 at 18:43
    
Actually, you can do the same on both. Either a Sigma 8-16mm on an APS-C sensor or a Sigma 12-24mm on a full-frame give you the equivalent field-of-view with a rectilinear perspective. You can always defish a fisheye which can have up to 185° field-of-view. Many 180° options are available from different brands though. –  Itai Jul 30 '12 at 19:07
    
It's been a while since I've had to do this so I'm out of touch with which lenses are available. But a full frame sensor with the shortest lens possible will always give a wider picture than a crop sensor with the same lens. If the real problem is that there's not enough 'depth' of space to take a full picture then the only remaining options are eiher a wider lens or a multi shot panorama. –  Clara Onager Jul 31 '12 at 7:50
    
Clara, you are correct in the "with the same lens" argument as stated, but you forget that there are lenses available for crop cameras that simply won't fill the sensor of a full-frame camera. Which renders the point moot - a 10-20mm zoom for crop will not be wider on a full-frame camera because the image circle is too small. –  Staale S Jul 31 '12 at 9:03

I suggest using a "strategic" rather than a technical approach. That is don't treat the whole counter as a single image (I know it sound obvious here), but treat each set of products as an independent shot. This means to purposely "cut" each image for every product group. So, when you stitch the whole panorama, the seams will be in the inter-product "frontier" thus the eye will be naturally more forgiving about the images not matching perfectly.

You should still photograph all the product sets using the same focal length, camera to product distance, same manual settings, etc.

The only thing that changes is that you are hiding the shot-shot divisions behind the already existent product-product division.

Every product set should be photographed aiming perpendicularly at the horizontal center, to minimize the perspective distortion for the items at the border of the group.

Also, if possible, use your lens at the focal length that minimizes barrel or pincushion aberration (perspective distortion)

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+1 for this idea, although depending on the layout of the counter it might not work very well –  Clara Onager Aug 2 '12 at 7:46

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