Winter Panoramas With Your iPhone

Cuyahoga River Gorge – Unedited iPhone 11 Pro Panorama

Cuyahoga Falls, just north of Akron in northeast Ohio, includes a spectacular 1/2-mile rocky gorge, with overhanging cliffs up to 90 feet in height, through which the Cuyahoga River flows. In spring, kayakers test their skills on the white-water rapids and several waterfalls, and in cold winters the sandstone cliffs are lined with icicles that may extend 40 feet from base to tip. Just south of  the Sheraton Suites hotel, at High Glens Park, you can walk out onto an Observation Bridge that spans the gorge, and nearby a walkway allows you to descend halfway down the cliff to a viewing platform with a spectacular vista of the tallest icicles on the other side of the gorge, shown in the panorama above, which was taken with my iPhone 11 Pro in “PANO” mode. 

Icicle Panorama, Cuyahoga River Gorge – edited in Lightroom/Photoshop

If you look closely at the first photo you will notice a curved fence that borders the cliffs along the State Route 8 Expressway that runs just east of the gorge. In fact the fence is straight, but it is rendered as a curve when the iPhone creates the panorama. In the bottom right corner of the photo is a section of the snow-covered guardrail, which is also parallel to the river and not tilted to the right as shown in the photograph.

I minimized the distortion by cropping out the top, bottom, left and right sections of the panoramic image, adjusted the tonality in Lightroom, and use Photoshop’s Transform command to render the icicles as vertical, more or less. This produced a 64 MB TIFF file, shown above, that could be used to produce a tack sharp panoramic print big enough to hang on the wall next to your sofa.  

To make a panoramic photo with your iPhone, activate the camera by tapping the camera icon on your iPhone’s Home screen, then scroll the camera mode all the way to the right to access the “PANO” mode. Hold the iPhone vertically, and click on the 0.5X, 1X, or 2X zoom setting based on which of these settings best covers the subject of the panorama. Tap and hold your finger on the most important subject – in this case the icicles across the river – to focus the iPhone’s camera and align yourself so you are facing the center of the panorama. Notice the white arrow facing right in the middle of the scene, and the thin yellow horizontal line. If you would prefer to work from right to left, simply tap on the arrow to reverse its direction. Now twist your body to the left and line up the arrow with the left edge of the subject. Tap the shutter release button, then slowly move the iPhone to the right, making sure to keep the yellow line horizontal and keeping the arrow aligned with the yellow line. You will see the panoramic image start to appear and grow on the screen as you move the iPhone, and the iPhone will print a message if you move it too fast or the arrow strays away from the yellow line. When you reach the right edge of the panorama (up to 240 degrees) click the shutter button to complete the photograph. Most panoramas are horizontal, but you can also flip the iPhone and make a panorama from the top to the bottom of a tall building, for example.

Icicle Details, Cuyahoga River Gorge

You can also make regular, non-panoramic photos of the icicles by setting the camera mode to “PHOTO”, as I did to create the image of the spectacular icicles shown above, which was taken with the iPhone’s 6mm (2X) telephoto lens. Notice the soft light from a cloudy sky – bright sunlight would have produced overexposed highlights and inky black shadows. In general cloudy lighting works best for icicle photos. I’ve had excellent results with normal outdoor lighting, except in low light situations such as sunrise and sunset, which can often result in banding and other image artifacts with smartphone panoramas.  

If you have access to a high-quality Nikon, Canon, or Sony digital SLR or mirrorless camera and lenses, plus a sturdy tripod and panoramic head, you can produce higher resolution panoramics of superb quality, but the process is time-consuming, requires precise camera alignment and exposure control, as well as skill using Lightroom, Photoshop, or a specialized panoramic stitching program to assemble and merge the dozens of images often needed. Your iPhone or Android smartphone essentially automates the entire process and only takes a few seconds to create a finished panoramic image of sufficient quality for all but the most exacting professional needs.   

In addition to the Cuyahoga River Gorge, excellent icicles may be found in some of the Cleveland metroparks, Mill Hollow and Cascade Park in Lorain County, Stebbins Gulch at the Holden Arboretum, Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, and Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio. 

The warmer weather forecast for the Buckeye State over the next couple of weeks will put an end to Ohio’s icicle displays, but they will hang around (no pun intended) for the next few days if you would like to practice panoramic photography with your smartphone.        






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