Making a Panorama of Sedona, AZ

Sedona from airport Pano

Sedona, Arizona is a gorgeous land of red rocks, lush valleys, arts, shopping and outdoor adventures.  If I sound like I work for the tourist bureau, I could – we visited last fall and thoroughly enjoyed this small city that has only 11,400 residents, but that attracts 2 to 4 million tourists a year.

This is the view from the Sedona airport.  The elevation is about 5,000 feet and offers this spectacular view of the city and the surrounding mountains, including Coffee Pot Rock, just right of center.

This image was created from six individual photos, taken with a Nikon D90 at 12 megapixels.  Here’s how I shot it:

I set my camera to aperture priority and checked the exposure at several points along the planned panorama.  I decided to go with f11 at 1/250 second, and switched to manual exposure and dialed that in.  It’s important that the exposure is consistent across all the images so that when stitched together, there are no variations in lighting, other than what naturally occurs in the scene.

I autofocused on the leftmost end of the scene and then switched to manual focus so the camera’s autofocus would not change during the shots.

I started on the left and, overlapping about 25 – 30%, took six total images, as I moved to the right.  Light was sufficiently bright so I did not need a tripod, but that is advisable in low light situations, as you want to make a level pan across the scene for all of your shots.  And if you use a tripod, turn off your lens’ image stabilization.

I then combined the six images in a free program called Autostitch, (available at  It’s easy to use and does a very good job.  I also used this program to create the Grand Canyon pano you see in the header of this blog.

Once stitched, I add a speck of saturation to bring out the red just a bit more.

The beauty of a pano is that the finished product can be enormous with loads of detail.  For example, the full size TIFF version of this image is 57.6MB and allows for incredible discovery via zooming in.  The downside of a file like this is that it can become unwieldy in some programs and if uploading or emailing, downsizing becomes necessary.

A few other pointers for making panos:  Ultra wide lenses would seem to make sense for making a panorama, but they can produce some unnatural results when stitching several together due to even the slightest distortion.

I’m normally a big fan of using a circular polarizer, but you should only use one for a narrow panorama.  If you’re creating a very wide pano, results with a polarizer may not be consistent from one end to the other.

If there’s any movement in the scene, you could end up with some strange results – for example, the same walking person or flying bird may appear in several frames, and hence make multiple appearances in your finished pano.

And don’t forget to experiment by taking vertical shots and stitching them into a horizontal pano.  This requires more shots to complete the scene, but gives you a finished product that is not as narrow from top to bottom.

I hope you enjoy this panorama and I hope you get to visit Sedona, and be sure to bring your camera!                                    –  Posted by Ed


About Ed Spadoni "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
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