Vertical panoramas are the iPhone camera’s hidden jewel

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It's not a vertical panorama, but at least if fits at the top of this post.
It's not a vertical panorama, but at least if fits at the top of this post.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Panoramas are those super-wide, letterboxed strips of photos that look spectacular, and that are impossible to fit into Instagram. Maybe you already shoot a lot of panoramas, and maybe you even use the pano camera to create amazing glitch photos.

But did you consider that panoramas don’t have to be super-wide? They don’t even have to be horizontal. Let’s take a look at vertical panoramas — the iPhone photographer’s surprisingly great secret weapon.

For great panorama shots, rotate your iPhone, not your body

First, a general tip on getting great panoramas. Instead of holding the iPhone rigidly in front of you, and using your body as a pivot, try just twisting the iPhone. You should twist the iPhone around a central axis, instead of sweeping it through an arc.

Imagine that it has a skewer running from top to bottom, and that you are rotating it around the skewer, like a seesaw on its axis. This not only gives better panorama, but it’s quicker and easier to shoot.

Mini panoramas

If you own an iPhone 11, then you will have no problem fitting things into your photos. Its super-wide-angle lens will capture pretty much anything in front of you. But if you have trouble squeezing everything in, why not use the pano mode instead?

Maybe you’re taking an Instagram photo of your brunch (in which case, you’re a terrible human), and there’s just too much on the table. Instead of backing up, switch to pano mode and take a mini panorama. A pano doesn’t have to be a long strip that takes in almost 360 degrees of the restaurant. It can be a slightly extended photo that squeezes in a few extra bacon-topped muffins.

Vertical panoramas

Vertical panoramas: My toes were only just out of frame on this one.
My toes were only just out of frame on this one.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Vertical panoramas are amazing for all kinds of reasons. One is that you can capture tall buildings in a single image. Trees, mountains, waterfalls, landscapes — they’re all great subjects for the vertical pano. And you already know how to shoot these spectacular photos. Just take a pano with the camera held sideways.

I have one tip for getting the best out of a pano: Choose where to begin. Even with the smarter panos in modern iPhones, sometimes you can start on a dark forest floor, and by the time you get to the sky, the blue is washed out. If this happens, start the pano at the top, and move down. To change the direction of the pano, either move the iPhone or tap the arrow on the pano screen to flip its direction.

Then, just take the shot, watching the screen all the while to make sure you capture just enough. Too long, and the panorama is hard to see on a small iPhone screen.

Vertical panoramas: A spectacular effect

Why vertical panoramas rule: Try this with a regular shot.
Try this with a regular shot.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

I’ve put a few of my own vertical panoramas into this post. The tree and the mountain lake are probably the best examples. The mountain lake was clear to the bottom, in the shallows at least, and a vertical panorama let me capture that, along with the spectacular mountain view surrounding it. A regular wide-angle shot would have added a lot of extra at the sides, diminishing the impact.

Next time you open up the camera app, consider a vertical panorama. Practice on anything you see, so when you come across a screen suited to a vertical panorama, you’ll be ready to go.