WHAT IS A PANORAMA?

You’ve all seen those really wide photographs from years, ago where the whole army regiment or the entire crowd at Wembley stadium are in one single wide shot, Or perhaps you’ve seen scenic panoramas of landscapes or buildings.  And we’ve all been in a position where we just can’t get all of a building or every person the shot without stepping too far back.  This is where panorama stitching comes in. Years ago you needed a special camera or lens to achieve a dramatic wide angle shot.  But a good panorama looks stunning! Look at this two picture panorama of the River Seine in France.

It Was taken on an entry level Kodak camera with a High Street price  of £60.00. No tripods or gadgets were used to take the pictures. 10 years ago, you needed software to be able to do this, and a good hand as you had to manually align two or three images, and if you were slightly out,  it would show where the panorama joined the photo’s together. Today, the camera does everything for you, and automatically stiches them together. Like Ernie Wise’s wig, you can’t see the join.  They were taken using the Panorama mode found on most modern cameras.  The feature was  introduced two to three years ago. Now, entry level cameras have the feature. It may be a separate mode, or it might be one of the pre-set scenes in your cameras scene mode. It works differently for different makes of camera, but is really easy to use. I’ll show you how to use it.

 

SONY SWEEP PANORAMA

Sony’s panorama mode is the easiest to use. You just set the camera  to  Panorama mode, press and hold the shutter down, sweep across the scene you want to capture and the camera automatically stitches the images together. It can even do up or down panoramas. The trick here is to steadily move the camera at the right speed; as users have complained if you're jerky, too slow or too fast it doesn’t work properly.

 

FUJI, GE & AGFA SWEEP PANORAMA

All three manufacturers use the same technology to capture panoramas: First you select the direction, Left to right or vice versa. Pre-focus with a half press of the shutter to set exposure and zoom length, then press to take the shot. Two crosshairs appear on screen, one in a circle, the other in a square at either side of the image, with a horizontal  line in the centre of the image joining both cross hairs. Sweep the camera in your desired direction along the line, and the circle moves. When it lines up with the square it automatically takes the next shot. If you move too high above or too low below the line it will tell you to start again. It can take two or three shots, and it stitches them together when you press the OK button.  If it fails on the third shot pressing OK stitches the other two.  It takes a little getting used to, but is impressive.

 

KODAK AND OLDER MODELS: SLICE MODE

Older cameras have what is known as a Slice Mode Panorama function. You choose the direction and take the first shot. It previews for a second then a slice of the photo appears at the left or right edge to align the next shot with. It doesn’t have to be exact, Two or three shots can be stitched, just press the OK button when you’re ready.  if you’re  slightly out it’s not a problem, but any more and it will show.  The camera will stitch the photos together, cropping the top and bottom a little bit. Resolution is limited, often shooting at 2 or 3 megapixels.

LIMITATIONS

With the exception of Sony’s sweep panorama, you need to be able to see the LCD screen to align your shots. If bright sunlight makes viewing the screen tricky, some cameras have an electronic viewfinder and you will be able to use this, but if not, you’ll need to squint to align it. You will use a lot of area from the top and bottom using panorama mode, due to the stitching process. Also buildings or landscapes may appear rounded. The French Manor house below is actually straight, but appears to be round. Also note the join on the bridge isn't quite perfect. The effect is quite Pleasing though.


 

NO PANORAMA MODE - CREATE YOUR OWN

 

There’s two methods of creating panorama shots. The first is simple. You can crop the top and bottom off a normal image. The ‘Panorama’ of Liverpool’s Albert  Dock has had the top and bottom cropped off a 14 Megapixel image. As the original image was so large, the end result looks like  a panorama.  If you intend to print a panorama created in this way, then the uncropped image should ideally be 5 Megapixels or more, otherwise you could get a blocky print.

 

The Second is to use Panorama creation software. Many cameras come with bundled software, often from ArcSoft. There are others available, but you need to take photo’s with a view to stitching together. They need to be taken from the same spot and swept along, or with a slight sideways shuffle retaining the same distance from camera to subject. The images should have the same zoom length and there should be a slight overlap with each image. You need to load all the images into the programme and carefully stich them together. You need a good eye for this, as any discrepancies may show. You then crop off the bits of the picture that may be jutting out top and bottom. Some programmes will do the aligning for you, making the job a lot easier.

FUN PANORAMAS

Look at this panorama.

 

You'll see it's two identical twins either side of their friend. Or is it? The twin on the right is actually the same woman on the left, who simply switched chairs inbetween shots. It looks impressive, but is really easy to do. It's a two picture panorama, but it could easily be a three picture one with triplets, or you could photograph a long dinner table with the same bowl of fruit or vase of flowers in every shot. The possibilities are endless. The Kodak website's Tips and tricks Section has more information on this technique.  

CONCLUSION

Panorama photography is a great way to get more of any scene the into your photographs. If your camera has a panorama mode it’s easy to use, and even if it hasn’t you can easily create your own. Give it a go and surprise yourself.

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