Creating stunning panoramic images in Affinity Photo

Fay and Matt Doyle of This Expansive Adventure take us behind the scenes on a commissioned trip to Snowdonia, Wales, where they create a series of stunning panoramic images using Affinity Photo.

About the photographers

Fay and Matt Doyle work collaboratively as photographers, filmmakers, writers and publishers of thisexpansiveadventure.com.

Their work centres on the outdoors, landscapes and adventure, and how time spent in nature can enrich your life and be beneficial to your mental health. It also has big connections to environmental storytelling and they’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the world to tell stories to enrich, inspire and educate about the world around us.

Accustomed to using Affinity Photo for iPad in the field, we asked Fay and Matt to put the Panorama Persona through its paces to produce a stunning series of panoramic images during a commissioned trip to North Wales.

They kindly documented their experience and post-production process and even recorded a fascinating Creative Session which you can watch on our YouTube channel.

Our approach to photography

There are a lot of preconceptions—myths, almost—about how landscape photography should be done. There’s an idea that a successful landscape image is created through meticulous planning: the photographer has studied the geography of the place and knows exactly what time of day—what time of year, even—they need to be in place, with their camera set up to capture the scenery and light exactly as they want to.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and many fine images are created this way. There’s just one problem, though. This isn’t how most people experience landscape photography.

When we are travelling, we often have a tight schedule to stick to—this is especially so when working on commercial projects. We might just have a few hours to create images in a certain place—and often, that’s somewhere we haven’t visited before.

Basically, we’ve become used to working with what’s there—but we don’t see this as a problem at all. In fact, we see it as quite the opposite! Our work is not about a literal recording of what we’ve experienced in a place, but rather, it’s about communicating our emotions or how we felt when we visited that location.

“Our work is not about a literal recording of what we’ve experienced in a place, but rather, it’s about communicating our emotions or how we felt when we visited that location.”

A panorama of Mynydd Llybdy, Snowdonia, Wales, created in Affinity Photo

Much of our work is post-produced and sometimes heavily so, but we do this to help build a sense of emotion in our images. Our post-production work always builds on elements already present in the original scene rather than adding in something new or creating something from scratch.

For us, post-production should work in harmony with the original images. We see it as a process of enhancement, not of change.

“For us, post-production should work in harmony with the original images. We see it as a process of enhancement, not of change.”

We’ve been using Affinity Photo for quite a few years. For a long time, we just used the iPad version, which we’ve found to be very useful for making initial edits to files based on ideas we have whilst shooting.

There’s no doubt that Affinity Photo for iPad is a very powerful piece of software and, combined with the power of an iPad Pro, completely capable of everything we likely need to do with it—even when working on high res, multi-layer files. However, we still prefer to finalise our work in the studio on our calibrated Eizo screens, so we’ve recently added the desktop version of Affinity Photo to our toolkit and can now fully finish images using Affinity software.

The trip

Snowdonia, in the North of Wales, is a place we have been visiting together for years. It’s a place we both love very dearly and have a definite connection with, and it’s a place where we’ve made some spectacular images in the past.

As lockdown restrictions eased in 2021, we found ourselves able to visit Snowdonia again for the first time in well over a year. We were keen to get back onto the trails we knew well and loved, but we also wondered if we could reapproach the landscape with ‘fresh eyes’ and perhaps create some new work there that we could really get excited about!

Snowdonia was just how we remembered it—but a lot busier! With international travel still limited, many people, it seems, are choosing Snowdonia for their staycation this year. Anticipating this, we planned our trip around some of the less popular trails. We based our hiking around routes in the Ogwen Valley and near the towns of Beddgelert and Llanberis that, whilst not as iconic as some of the other areas in the park, would still give us incredible scenery to photograph.

We always go to Snowdonia prepared for varied weather—there was one particular visit a few years ago when we packed crampons, ice axes… and shorts (and we made use of all of them on that trip!). This time around we had something quite unexpected: three days of glorious sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s.

All our hiking was done on familiar routes, but the weather transformed the landscape. The clear skies meant we had views through the mountains and even out to sea that we hadn’t been aware of before. Put simply, we got more ‘context’ on how the geography of the place fit together. In turn, this presented new scenes to photograph in areas we thought we knew well.

A panorama of Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia, Wales, created in Affinity Photo

The team at Affinity were keen to promote the stitching tools in the Panorama Persona of Affinity Photo and we saw this as a great opportunity to produce something a little different. Most photographers produce panoramas with wide-angle lenses, but we choose to work with longer focal lengths.

A telephoto panorama might sound like a contradiction in terms, but cinematographers working with anamorphic lenses will be very familiar with this. This approach allowed us to produce wide images which still had the perspective compression inherent of longer lenses that we like in our work.

A top tip for shooting panoramas

If you’ve shot stitched panoramas before, you’ve no doubt encountered parallax error. This is where one plane of the image stitches together fine but elements that are either closer or further away don’t. The only way to fix this is with retouching—sometimes a lot of retouching!

Parallax error isn’t a fault with the stitching software; it’s just a side effect of how optical systems work. However, there is a way we can eliminate this problem. All lenses have what’s called a ‘nodal point’ and, if we pan around this point, then there is no parallax error. There’s plenty of info online on how to establish the nodal point for a given lens and, if you’re serious about panoramas, this subject is well worth researching.

You can spend a lot of money on a dedicated nodal tripod head, but we just used an inexpensive slider rail and, on the two lenses we used for our panoramas (a 24-70mm and 70-200mm), the nodal point was always somewhere between the camera body and the front of the lens.

It’s worth pointing out that even if you don’t set your nodal point exactly, panning around something close to it will still greatly reduce parallax error and thus minimise the time you need to spend fixing joins in post-production.

Ogwen Valley, Wales

Editing in Affinity Photo for iPad

Affinity Photo on our iPad Pro became a valuable tool in our panoramic workflow. As we were shooting each image in stages, there’s no way to visualise the final image until it is stitched. Especially for early images, we found it very helpful to stitch the panorama on location, so we knew we had it ‘in the can’.

“Affinity Photo on our iPad Pro became a valuable tool in our panoramic workflow. As we were shooting each image in stages, there’s no way to visualise the final image until it is stitched. Especially for early images, we found it very helpful to stitch the panorama on location, so we knew we had it ‘in the can’.”

There’s plenty of different ways to get images from a camera onto an iPad, but we settled on a low-tech but reliable solution. We popped the memory card into a reader and connected it directly to our iPad Pro’s USB-C port, at which point the files are directly accessible from the iPad OS Files App. From here, we can copy the files we need to the iPad’s local storage and open them directly in Affinity Photo.

The Panorama Persona within Affinity Photo can work directly with raw files and, if all you want to do is to check that the panorama actually works, then this is fine. But if you want to start working up a final image, then you’ll likely want to adjust the images through the Develop Persona first.

Tryfan, Wales

Whilst it was certainly helpful to have Affinity Photo running on the iPad with us in the field, we wanted to concentrate on our hiking and photography during this time, so the bulk of the work we did on the iPad came in the evenings when we were back at our apartment. As well as stitching together panoramas, we’d use this time to lay in initial colour and contrast treatments.

We could easily have used this setup to produce final images had we been on a tight deadline, but in this case, we knew we’d be finishing the images off in the studio on desktop software, so really, our objective here was to create ‘work in progress’ files that we could complete later.

A timelapse of Fay and Matt’s workflow on iPad

Making final adjustments in the studio

Back in our studio in London, we transferred our work files to our server and were soon ready to pick them up in the desktop version of Affinity Photo.

As good as the screens on iPads are, we have come to trust what we see on our calibrated Eizo screens more, so we’ll always do the final sign off on these monitors if possible.

As well as making any adjustments to the colour work we did on location—which can range from a few tweaks to close to a full-reworking depending on the images—this is also an opportunity to tidy up the files by checking masks, dust spotting, grouping adjustment layers, setting crops and adding in some grain so the files feel a bit more ‘organic’.

Working on the desktop version of Affinity Photo also makes it easier to check all the images from the project at once. We can quickly compare images and make any final minor adjustments to ensure everything sits well together as a set.

Finally, we export flattened full resolution RGB TIFFs and medium resolution JPEGs from Affinity Photo to add to our image library. The layered .afphoto work files are kept on our archive server should we need to revisit them in the future.

A panorama of Llyn Dinas, Snowdonia, Wales, created in Affinity Photo

All told, our trip to Snowdonia was very rewarding. We returned with a number of images—and not just panoramas—that we are truly proud of.

We think this trip helped us to ‘rediscover’ a place we thought we already knew, and at the end of the day, that’s one of the reasons why we love to make images. They can help us build connections with the world around us.


You can see more of Fay and Matt’s work on their website thisexpansiveadventure.com and Instagram, and watch their Affinity Creative Session anytime on our official YouTube channel.