How To: Sunset Panorama


Introduction to shooting a Sunset Panorama

A few nights a week, I like to drive the ‘back roads’ and see if I can find any deer to shoot (with my camera). Each trip I’ll see some. Most trips they’ll be too far away or run into the trees when they see me coming. Other times, I’ll see flocks of turkeys, hawks, owls and other birds.

This means that I’ll usually end up without any wildlife photos, but will have enjoyed a nice, peaceful drive. Then there are the rare occasions when the sky lights up for me.


You never know what you’re going to get before sun starts to set, but like most situations: If you aren’t prepared you will miss out.

In most cases when I’m shooting around the back roads, I’ll either have my 70-200mm or my 300mm. These are not good lens for landscapes or capturing the vast Nebraska/Kansas sky. So when you come across a sky that looks like this:

Chester Nebraska Sunset

For this shot, I had to turn my camera on it’s side and shoot a series of 7 photos.

Sunset Panorama

To shoot a sunset panorama, you need to set everything to manual.  Everything.  I’ll start by setting my White Balance to Daylight for consistent colour. Next I’ll set my exposure to Manual so that all frame are exposed the same. This is extremely important with a sunset panorama as the exposure value can change dramatically from part of the sky to the next. I will focus on the horizon and then switch to manual focus (and try not to bump it.)  With everything set, I can either shoot handheld if the shutter speed is acceptable or use a tripod.  Another option is to use a tripod with a head specifically built for panoramas.  I use the Panosaurus.   This allows me to use foreground objects and merge them easily in Photoshop.

Now with 7 photos, it was just a matter of bringing them in Photoshop via the ‘File / Automate / Photomerge’ option. Once Photoshop has done it’s work, I can flatten the sunset panorama image and start making what ever adjustments I need.  I ended up with a 17″x40″ image.

As a rule, I will usually underexpose a sunset to get a more dramatic image. This series I shot from my car window. I didn’t have my tripod with me, so I lined them up as best I could using the grid lines in my viewfinder.

If you have any comments, please post them below, or for questions, feel free to e-mail me.

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