Use a wide lens
This is of paramount importance. You cannot simply produce wide panoramas without a wide angle lens. The question, however, is which lens to choose? Any lens that is wider than 35mm is ideal for shooting wide panoramas. Theoretically, you can shoot panoramas using a 35mm lens mounted on a full-frame camera, but not on an APS-C camera. On an APS-C camera the angle of view will shrink down to about the equivalent of a 50mm lens mounted on a 35mm camera.
Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide panorama without photo-stitching. So, evidently you will need to make several shots and then stich them together in Photoshop or other photo editing software for the right effect.
Here are a few lens suggestions for a full-frame camera – AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR. Does almost everything that the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Lens does but is a lot cheaper. F/4 is good enough for shooting wide panorama of cities (you will not need the extra wide aperture ever if all you do is shoot cityscapes and landscapes) and you also get Image Stabilization as a bargain.
For DX format Nikon cameras the AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens is a good option. The lens is optimized for the smaller sensor and gives a 35mm format equivalent angle of view equivalent to a 15 – 36mm lens.
This lens however does not have image stabilization. The newly launched AF-S DX Nikkor 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR is a great option which gives almost the same wide angle perspective and is miles ahead in technology. To top it all this lens has image stabilization.
Canon system have its own great collection of lenses as well. The EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM has both image stabilization and a refined STM motor for smoother auto-focusing. The image circle is optimized for the smaller sensor of Canon’s APS-C cameras. For full-frame cameras there are plenty of options too. You can opt for the EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM. It has image stabilization and a ring-type ultra-sonic motor based auto-focusing. You could alternatively opt for the cheaper EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. It does not have image stabilization and that means you will have to shoot with a tripod. Both these lenses are ‘L’ series lenses and that means you get excellent build quality and durability.
Use a full-frame camera
For the reasons mentioned above, you need a full-frame camera to squeeze that extra bit of angle of view for that really wide panorama shot. This, however, does not suggest that if you do not have a full-frame camera you cannot shoot wide panoramas. You can. But if you use the same lens (considered that it is designed for a full-frame camera), you will get a wider view with a full-frame camera. To get the same view on a crop-sensor camera you will need to step back a few paces.
Use a tripod
For hand holding a camera for panoramic shots, as long as you are using a shutter speed faster than the inverse of the focal length you should be fine in regards to image blur. However, for best results and when you want to capture light trails or long exposures, use a tripod. A tripod gives you that extra flexibility to really slow down the shutter speed and capture those streaking lights at night time, those dramatic blue hour cloud movements and those booming fireworks over a city skyline.
Try different combinations of shutter speed, ISO and aperture to make better images
This is like telling that you need the right ingredients to make a hot sauce. Of course you do! But the thing is sometimes photographers tend to get stuck in customs. Advice like – you mustn’t use a high ISO, you should always use a small aperture and so on can stifle your creativity. Don’t get stuck into customs. Break free and use your imagination when in doubt.
E.g.; you don’t always have to use a small aperture to get a sharp photo. e.g.; when shooting cityscapes at night you can use a wider aperture like f/4 as long as you set your focus to infinity. At such vast distances and with lack of light illuminating the foreground (evidently making it dark) it wouldn’t matter if your foreground is blurred or not.
Then again, when shooting light trails photographers prefer using a combination of long shutter speed and a small ISO number. This exposes the buildings well but the light trails are usually too dim to spot in the final image. Instead of this try this – use a higher ISO number and a reasonably long shutter speed. Leave the aperture unchanged (depth of field will remain the same regardless).
The higher ISO will create a more prominent light trail and the faster shutter speed will be compensated by the higher ISO number for a proper exposure of the buildings.
Use the bubble level indicator
The bubble level indicator is an easy to use method that guarantees that your camera is level with the horizon. The last thing that you would want is a crooked horizon line in your shots. Most tripods will come with at least one bubble level indicator. Some even has two. Ensure that the bubble is right in the middle of the indicator to ensure a straight horizon line.
Use the built-in horizon detector
This feature comes only on a handful of cameras. If your camera does not have one don’t fret. You can always go back to using the bubble level indicator as discussed in the previous tip.The horizon level indicator allows you the convenience to keep the horizon level perfectly straight which is an important requirement for wide panorama of cities. You can, however, always correct this in Lightroom but getting it right in-camera saves you from one more thing to do in post-processing.
To turn the built-in level indicator you will need to invariably dig deep into the menu. Different make and models of cameras have different routes to this option. On my D7000 I need to press the Info button at the back of the camera a couple of times in Live View mode to turn this feature on. This is ideal for situations where you don’t have a tripod or anything flat to set your camera down or are hand holding the camera.
Though a lot of tips online suggests that the blue hour (the 30-mins to 1 hour) after sunset is probably the best time, really there is no single time of the day that is ideal. You have to decide for yourself what time of the day you want to shoot and that again depends on your vision.
The classic composition is a city shot from across a water body at the blur hour with a slightly long exposure to smoothen out the water. But this is just one way. You can shoot from top of a tall structure and get a perspective that is different to the usual. You can shoot from down the ground level, may be from a park with a much more close and personal view of the prominent structures.
Of course today’s daredevil urban photographers have gone beyond all of it in order to get that money shot. The problem in some of these cases is that safety takes a back seat. At no time should you compromise your own safety and the safety of those who are assisting you.
Hope the above tips were a good read. Would love to see your clicks using those.