Autofocus Tip – AF for Panoramas

Posted October 29th, 2015 by   |  Photography, Software  |  Permalink

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Ferry

Eimskip ferry boat in Westman Islands, Iceland.

Creating panoramas with digital cameras is easier than ever these days. Since most image editing software packages have panorama stitching utilities built in, building the final image is often as simple as selecting the photograph sequence and then clicking “merge to panorama.” Even though the software side of things is fairly simple, making sure your camera’s focus settings are configured properly will make a big difference in the final quality of your panorama.

Manhattan

New York City skyline panorama from the Staten Island ferry.

As most of you know, the process of taking a panorama with a camera requires you to capture a sequence of photos horizontally or vertically. In other words, take a photo on the left side of the scene, then pan the camera to the right a little bit and take another image. Repeat this sequence until you’ve captured the entire scene in front of you. You’ll use these photos in your software program to stitch together the final single image.

With respect to autofocus, the most important thing to consider is to make sure the focus distance remains constant from picture to picture in the panorama sequence. If the focus changes from shot to shot, then the software will have a difficult time merging photos. Even if the software is able to merge together images with different focus values, the final image will look weird because one section might be blurry while another section next to it looks sharp.

New York post office

Post Office Building, New York City, NY.

So, the solution is to make sure that you lock focus distance for the entire sequence of shots. Here are four ways to lock focus:

1. Set focus manually. I like using autofocus to acquire focus initially, then I switch off autofocus on my camera body for the entire image sequence. This ensures focus remains constant from picture to picture.

Focus switch

Setting the AF switch on your camera to Manual focus will prevent refocusing before each shot.

2. Use the AF-L (autofocus lock) button on your camera. Press and hold the AF-L button on the back of your camera to lock focus during the sequence.

AF-L

The AF-L button can be programmed to lock focus.

3. Use back-button AF. If you’ve programmed your camera to operate with back-button autofocus, then you don’t need to change any other settings on the camera. Basically, take the photographs and the camera won’t re-focus from the shutter release button.

AF-ON button

If you use the AF-ON button on your camera, then release your thumb from the button while shooting. This will lock AF.

4. Press and hold the shutter release button in AF-S (single servo) mode. If you focus your camera the traditional way with the shutter release button, then you’ll need to press and hold the shutter release button for the duration of the photo sequence. This is difficult to do since you’ll be panning your camera between shots and you might accidentally lift your finger from the shutter release button at some point. Then, when you go back to press the shutter release button, the camera will re-focus. The easiest thing to do if you focus with the shutter release button is to switch your camera to manual focus.

Cheney Stadium

Cheney Stadium at dusk. Tacoma, Washington

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Nikon AF cover

 



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