learn. create. do.

How to Make a Panoramic Portrait

by Casey Cosley
photo & video

Let’s get down to business (and defeat the huns) and learn a new skill. When people hear the word “panorama” people think of a very long photo that someone took while holding up their iPhone.

While they’re not wrong, there’s more that can be done outside of showing the landscape or simply your surroundings. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to utilize this technique of creating a panorama and apply it to taking a new style of portrait; the panoramic portrait.

Become a better photographer. RSVP now for John Keatley’s class Portrait Photography: Creating & Styling Your Environment

Now, let’s take a look at the following image shot with a 50mm lens (on a full frame camera for those of you keeping track) at f/2.0.

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

Got it? Okay now scroll down and look at what happens when I use the approach of a panorama.

Step 1) Move a little closer. This part takes a little bit of practice because you need to pre-visualize a composition that you want without being able to look at the back of your camera for easy reference

Step 2) Turn your camera to shoot vertically! Consider the horizontal plane is a canvas and you’re filling it up with all of your vertical images.

Step 3) Take the set of images. I suggest at minimum three to really see a difference, but some people have found amazing results using many more. The sweet spot for me is around 5-10.

If you’re not using back button (the method I use) or manual focus, you’ll need to find an area to lock in on and refocus to that area each time for each photo. I also recommend shooting in manual mode to assist in achieving consistency in exposure and depth of field.  

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

Step 4) I use Lightroom‘s Photomerge tool to combine these into one final image.

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

You may be asking, what makes this image unique from the previous? Take a close look. The bokeh in the second image is even more pronounced than the top version and the depth of field is even more exaggerated (Don’t know what Bokeh is? Check out our Ultimate Resource Guide here).

Let’s try this again.

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

Now with 7 images.

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait


CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

Compression is the same, and the focal length stays the same, but using this technique we’re able to achieve the look and feel of a portrait lens with still being able to add the environmental context of a wide angle lens.

The effect does become more pronounced with the length of your lens so the longer your lens the more drastic it will get. Ryan Brenizer who popularized this technique generally uses the 85mm or a 50mm if you’re shooting on a crop body sensor (like Canon’s t2i with a nifty fifty!).

Here’s some more inspiration for you to get those creative juices pumping

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

CreativeLive Challenge: Panoramic Portrait

The best part about this technique is how easy it is to produce quality results and how great the image can  be even with low end gear!

Printer Profiles? No problem. Learn how to create your clients perfect print, trouble shooting and all. RSVPs are open for From Capture to Print with Rocco Ancora.

Now it’s time to put this into action. Grab your camera, grab ANY lens (that will fit it anyway) and go wild. Use the hashtag #CreativeLive for the opportunity to be featured on CreativeLive’s Instagram!


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related Classes

Related Articles

Casey Cosley

As a Seattle-based photographer, I incorporate the culture and style of the city into the sense and attitude of my work. I deliver a stunning and vibrant body of work for my clients, and am available for commercial & editorial travel and/or location photo assignments worldwide. Check out my work on Instagram.