Over the past 20 years, photography has become an integral part of smartphone technology. And thanks to the ubiquity of top-of-the-line Android phones and their cameras, photo-sharing sites are some of the most popular on the internet. But sometimes you want to take a photo that’s larger than the typical 3:2 ratio (sometimes you need a Samsung S23 Ultra with 200MP). Sometimes the subject of your photo demands that you break the bonds of tradition and overthrow the tyranny of a fixed aspect ratio. Sometimes you need a panorama.

A bit of panoramic history​​​

Even though the term panorama (which means “all viewing”) didn’t come about until the 18th century, the technique has been around since at least the Roman Empire. The word “panorama” was coined to describe a type of art exhibition where a painting was displayed on the inside of a cylinder which viewers could enter to view a scene from 360 degrees.

Paralleling the growing popularity of panoramic paintings was the development of photographic technology. Early photographers wanted to mimic the broad vistas of the panoramic paintings, so they created special lenses and film plates to get the shots they wanted. It’s not an exaggeration to say that panoramic photography is nearly as old as photography itself.

Taking the perfect panoramic photo

Today, most smartphone manufacturers include panoramic functionality with their bundled camera apps, and third-party apps are picking up the slack if it’s not built into your phone. But no matter how good your software is, the quality of your panoramic photos is limited by the technique of the photographer.

The most important thing is to be patient. Getting a good shot means taking more than one photo and not rushing the photos you take. Smartphones make panoramas by stitching together multiple shots. If you move too quickly, those photos will be blurry, ruining your panorama. Rushing your shot also means there’s a greater chance of your photos being out of alignment. If some shots are level and others are tilted, that affects the final product.

If you use a tripod to stabilize your phone, set it up so that the camera lens aligns with the tripod’s rotation point. This minimizes distortions and produces a cleaner final image.

Think about how much movement there is in your photo. Suppose you’re taking a picture of a road. In that case, the individual photos in your panorama might only capture half of a moving car, leaving an unsightly artifact in your photo. Likewise, moving animals and people could create strange artifacts or appear in your shot more than once.

It’s also critical to plan ahead. Unless you’re taking a 360-degree panorama, you don’t want to start your shot on the focus of your picture. Find a start and end point for the photo you want, with the focus of the shot equidistant between those two points. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it right on the first try.

If your phone has an HDR mode, go ahead and enable it. When you’re stitching together a bunch of photos, there will be a greater variation in the light. Without HDR, your darks will be too dark, and your lights will be washed out. In the same vein, lock your exposure if you can. Phones are superb at stitching together photos, but they can’t hide drastic changes in brightness. Point your phone at the subject of your panorama, let the phone set its exposure, then lock it in, ensuring that the focus of your shot looks the best in the final image.

The easiest ways to capture the perfect panoramic shot

Many phones come bundled with proprietary camera software, and most can take panoramic photos. Because they work by stitching together a series of photos, they have similar features implemented in different ways. If you use the Google Camera app, you’ll probably be able to take panoramic shots without any third-party apps.

We used the Google Pixel 4a to walk through the instructions in this post. If your phone has the Google Camera app, they should be identical. We also have a rundown for taking panoramic photos on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

The Google Photos app takes vertical and horizontal panoramas

The panorama mode on the Pixel 4a and other Pixel phones supports both vertical and horizontal panoramas. This process is virtually identical on Samsung’s latest phones.

  1. Open the camera app.
  2. Tap Mode on the right side of the bottom menu.
  3. Select Panorama from the pop-up menu.
  4. For horizontal panorama, hold the phone in portrait. For vertical, hold it in landscape.
  5. Tap the Capture button to begin taking photos.
  6. Press the Stop button when you’re finished.

As you pan your camera, the app guides you with a box showing the left-right tilt of the phone and its drift relative to when you touched the Capture button. Do your best to keep the phone level and within the track displayed on the screen. The app takes pictures for you automatically and shows a preview strip of the photos as you pan. Although this form factor is still in use in the Pixel 7 family, the Pixel 8 appears to be getting some new software, so there could be some changes in the next generation.

The Open Camera app guides you while taking panoramic photos

With over 50 million downloads, more than a few of you probably already have this app on your phone. Like the Pixels, it supports both vertical and horizontal panoramas.

  1. Open the app.
  2. Tap the three-dot menu at the top of the screen.
  3. Under Photo Mode, select PANO.
  4. Hold the phone in either portrait or landscape orientation for horizontal or vertical panorama, respectively.
  5. Tap the Capture button to begin taking photos.
  6. Press the Checkmark button when you’re done.

This app guides you with icons that appear on the screen, indicating how you need to adjust your phone. Unlike the Pixel 4a camera app, when panning the phone with Open Camera, the app displays AR spots on the screen to guide you. Line up your camera with the spot, and the camera takes the photo.

Panorama 360 is an incredible third-party app for taking panoramas

This is the most popular app dedicated exclusively to taking panoramas.

  1. Open the app.
  2. Touch the camera icon at the bottom center of the screen.
  3. Tap the Capture button to begin taking photos.
  4. Touch the red Stop button when finished.

Panorama 360 uses a box guide and strip preview similar to the Pixel 4a, and its AR guides are similar to those on Open Camera. One of the best features of this app is the ability to discard and retake the last photo you took. If your previous shot was ugly or cut off a moving object at the edge of the frame, press the undo button in the lower-right corner to retake the last photo. One drawback of Panorama 360 is you can’t take vertical panoramas.

Go forth and photograph

Now that you’ve acquired a new skill, go out and play with it! Panoramas are the ideal medium for landscapes and large architecture. They’re also a great choice if you want to take a picture of a room for your Airbnb side hustle.

There’s no secret formula for taking the perfect panorama. It’s a mix of art, science, and arcane magic. If your camera doesn’t support panoramic photos, or your shots look a little rough, it may be time for an upgrade. Our Google Pixel 7 vs. Google Pixel 7 Pro camera shootout is a great place to start if you’re a hardcore smartphone shutterbug.

Conclusion on How to take the perfect panoramic photo using your smartphone

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