How to Shoot a Panorama

Sometimes you just have to respond to a magnificent view by making a stitched panorama with your camera — not just an instant one with your iPhone. I was so inspired after hiking to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome in Rome, and inside St. Peter’s under the central dome.

#stpeters, #rome, #panorama, #howto, #nikonD800
Panorama image made from 8 photos taken from St. Peter’s Basilica cupola in Rome. I shot through a gap in a chain link fence.

Here are some best practices for shooting for a successful panorama.

  1. If practical, use a tripod and make sure your camera is level. Realistically, you aren’t going to hike all day in the summer heat with a tripod in one hand, so if you don’t have a tripod handy, just do your best to hold the camera level as you shoot a series of images from left to right or low to high. Some locations don’t allow tripods — such as St. Peter’s (and most Major League baseball and football stadiums in the U.S.).
  2. With your camera set to Program, Aperture Preferred Mode or Shutter Preferred Mode, determine your best average exposure setting. Especially outside, looking in one direction may be brighter than another, but you are going to need to choose one exposure setting for your camera, and then set it on Manual.When I shot these panoramas in Rome, I had a 24/70 lens on my camera, so I used the zoom level of 24mm and the aperture of f/2.8. That aperture is wide open, but I knew the whole scene would be in focus, so it worked. I chose an ISO level and shutter speed that worked (fast enough to eliminate camera shake blur), and set the camera on Manual, so these values would not change as I pointed the camera in different directions along my axis.
  3. I also reduced the variables by making sure that my focus was constant (manual/turn off auto), and white balance was set manually, not auto. One last variable to eliminate: don’t use a circular polarizer filter, as this will change the color of your sky.
  4. Now you are ready to shoot. Overlap each frame by at least one third. This way, Photoshop will have an easy time stitching the frames together and eliminating lens distortion.
  5. Back at home, open all your files in the series in Photoshop and run the Panorama action. Crop and resize your finished file. You will be rewarded with a large file, that might enjoy printing as large as possible at a lab. My panorama of St. Peter’s Dome would make a print 18″ wide by 38″ tall with an ideal resolution of 300 dpi. That’s a powerful print!Interested in buying these or other images from Italy? Visit the Italy gallery on my website.

    #howto, #panorama, #stpeters, #dome, #interior, #Nikond800
    Panorama of interior of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Handheld the camera using the tips shared here.

Shopping in Piazza Navona

You can only sightsee in Rome in the summer heat for so long. Then, you need to get off your feet, snack on a dish of cold gelato and do some shopping. Besides, no trip to Italy would be complete without shopping for some hand made Italian goods, right? I love to shop while traveling abroad, because I know how much I enjoy my souvenirs after I get home.

If you are planning a trip to Rome anytime soon, I have a great tip for you. Piazza Navona is a lively square,  both day and night, and it is well located walking distance from the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. You can find good gelato shops and cafes there, but you can also find one of the nicest leather shops in old Rome.

I visited the fragrant leather shop La Sella in 2005 when I spent two weeks in Rome with my daughter Erin and our friends who lived two blocks from Piazza Navona. It is small but packed with high quality hand made purses, briefcases, belts and wallets. I bought myself a brown leather purse, and my husband a brown leather briefcase that we still use frequently, ten years later.

Charlie shops La Sella in 2015, ten years later.
Charlie shops La Sella in 2015, ten years later.

So, in 2015 when I looked for the shop between Piazza Navona and the busy avenue Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, I was delighted to find it alive and well. So, my husband Charlie (shown in photo) and I shopped again — for our sake and theirs!

We also got off our feet and enjoyed a dish of gelato as a late lunch at Tre Scalini while we admired Bernini’s grand Fountain of the Four Rivers. That grandiose and beautiful fountain features life-sized human figures on the north, south, east and west faces and is a real challenge to photographers. It’s a fantastic centerpiece to a vibrant square, that is also dotted with working street artists.

My husband ordered a mushroom crepe, but I ordered gelato for lunch.
My husband ordered a mushroom crepe, but I ordered gelato for lunch.

I shot these photos on my iPhone6, because it is so lightweight and easy for this kind of spontaneous documentation of happy moments while traveling. I thought you, my readers, would enjoy a few shopping and snacking tips from my travels for yours.

Roman Domes / Best of 2015

The ancient Roman Pantheon, Michelangelo’s dome in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Borromini’s San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane — these are a few of my favorite photography subjects in 2015. Walking around Rome last August, I enjoyed the chance to examine how different architects and engineers imagined and then constructed the same great architectural achievement — the Dome.

Today as I look back on these photos, I can reflect on the symbolism of their shape: beginning with the circle, which has no beginning and no end, with a three dimensional shape that draws the eye skyward and a window in the center to give the eye a focal point and provide natural light.

While the Pantheon was the first major dome ever constructed and the model for every major dome that followed, each dome is uniquely constructed and styled. The Pantheon’s large open oculus (eye) welcomes a beam of sunlight and heavy rain at other times. While it is now used as a Roman Catholic church, a burial place for Italy’s founders and the artist Raphael, and at times a concert hall, it did not begin that way. I took a panoramic photo with my iPhone 6 that shows the view from the altar to the open oculus.

Ancient Pantheon now used as a Catholic Church and a concert venue.
Ancient Pantheon now used as a Catholic Church and a concert venue.

The giant scale of St. Peter’s dome is one its first impressions. How will I capture how immense it really is? Here is another iPhone shot from the base of the dome, looking down at the people below.

From the base of St. Peter's Dome.
From the base of St. Peter’s Dome.

From the marble floor below, looking up, I braced my camera (no tripods allowed) and shot the painted inside of the St. Peter’s Dome. Nikon D800 this time!

Exquisite interior of St. Peter's Dome.
Exquisite interior of St. Peter’s Dome.

Then, go ahead and climb it! I lost count of how many steps it is within the inner and outer shell to the cupola, where you can look out over Rome from its highest point. Stick your camera lens through the safety fence to shoot a horizontal panorama.

Pano with Nikon D800, merging 6 images.
Pano with Nikon D800, merging 6 images.

A lesser known church among the hundreds in Rome is San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. You might easily walk past its relatively unremarkable facade right on top of a busy street. But once you enter the small church and look up, you will fall in love with the originality of the oval dome — all in white and beautifully sunlit with perfect symmetry and sculptural detail.

San Carlino, a Baroque gem.
San Carlino, a Baroque gem.

If you liked this Baroque gem, you should also visit the small church and dome by Borromini’s rival Gianlorenzo Bernini in the same block: San Andrea al Quirinale. Or San Ivo della Sapienza. Share your own favorites, and if you want to read a cool book about domes, check out Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. I read this book after I got home, and it really turned me into a dome freak!

Like what you see? Cathy Kelly has photographed churches and temples in many countries around the world. If you are looking for a print or image license for a location she may have captured, please email Cathy at

More Italy travels to come!