Composing in Panoramic Format

When people ask me why I like shooting in panoramic format. My response has two parts

  • I love the single minded nature of panoramic format. It forces you to make choices about what is critical to your image.
  • Everything looks cool in panoramic format… The interesting proportions of the format can make up for considerable weakness in your composition technique. Movies look great in 16:9 format – it is pleasing to the eye. Panoramic format is the same. Point it, get the rangefinder spot lined up, and shoot. It will probably come out looking awesome!

Whilst it is easy to get aesthetically pleasing shots straight away, it is more challenging to master at a high level. The field of vision is very narrow, top to bottom, in landscape format. Composing for the format needs conscious effort – and a clean break from standard frame proportions.

Some standard compositions that I think work :

A story that starts at one end...

A story that starts at one end. Put your main subject at one end and then use the panoramic format to show the rest of the story. In this case, the guitar player who is also in the band.

Lead into the subject, or away from the subject.

Lead into or away from the subject. Get up close and pop your subject at one end. Use the rest of the frame to draw the eye into or out from. Always be prepared to crop your subject… the frame is simply not high enough to do anything else. Watch movies in widescreen and see how they compose things…

Highlight the subject.

Highlight the subject by plonking them in the middle. Leading lines are always your friend in pano format…

Show breadth of the scene.

You can show breadth of a scene in a unique way in pano format. Generous in layout. The width with tight top and bottom suggests generosity and helps the viewer enter the scene without being distracted by vertical distractions. We all read left to right, after all, not up and down.

Again, read the story left to right.

Using the pano format to focus on a particular story or part of the scene is strong too

Capture lateral movement.

Panoramic format is pretty good at capturing a suggestion of lateral movement – the wide frame helps the viewer imagine where the subject is heading.

Crop Crop Crop and then Crop.

You gotta crop. Crop. Try something different. The pano format welcomes something a bit different. The format requires you to sacrifice subject matter to create a pleasing image. No matter what you do, you are never going to fit everything into the vertical space available.


Be adventurous with your composition. The photo above is kinda all over the shop, but it works for me because of the movement of the subject towards the door, and the skewiff perspective suggests the motion of the train as it trundles along.

MSP, I want to give Panoramas a try! How can I get into it?

For those on a budget level of “tight arse” : Grab your camera and set up your editor with a crop frame that is proportioned to panoramic dimensions. The down side is that you are doing the composing in post, rather than through the viewfinder.

For those who want some versatility : There are a couple of medium format cameras that either have a kit to insert 35mm film into the camera to achieve a panoramic effect, and frame lines that pop up in the viewfinder to aid composition.

sprocketFor those who feel they can make a small commitment : Why not try a toy camera from the Lomo crew? The Sprocket Rocket is a 35mm camera that is a bit on the plastique dodgy side, but for about a hundred bucks you can either get panorama fever out of your system, or confirm your format love.

You can check them out here.

holga pan

Another cheap option is the Holga Pan. It shoots medium format film in pano format, but the lens is not particularly wide angle.

For those who have too much moolah burning a hole in their pocket : The Hasselblad XPan 35mm system beckons.

If you decide to tread the path, don’t get lazy. Panoramic cameras can breed lazy due to the naturally pleasing aesthetics once you get past the beginner stage for the format. It is a difficult, yet rewarding format to master…


  1. Cropping an Image to Explore New Formats | Melbourne Street Photography - June 29, 2014

    […] Start thinking about panoramic composition when you are framing your shots. Crop to a roughly 1 : 2.7 frame size for panoramic. See if you like it… You can find out more about panoramic composition here. […]


  2. Featured Image – Matthew Joseph – Panoramarama | Melbourne Street Photography - October 17, 2014

    […] I have talked about panoramic composition before here. Panoramic format is very challenging first up for most photographers, with the tendency to still think in 3:2. Either get in close, or mover further away is a good place to start. There is also the natural resistance to crop subjects, and to try and squeeze too much into frame, losing the subject. […]


  3. Mr Xpan – Fotodudenz (Matthew Joseph) Interview | Inconspicuosity - March 14, 2015

    […] MSP – The panoramic format Matt talks about is a challenge worth having a crack at for any photographer. You can find out more about it here. […]


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