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Panoramas
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Panoramas

There are times when capturing a sweeping vista in its entirety in a single photograph is exactly what works best. Until the advent of digital cameras and editing software, doing this meant using either a low-quality disposable panoramic camera or plowing the kids' college fund into a professional camera dedicated to this use. Both of these types of cameras used a wide-angle lens and a long horizontal format to create extremely wide panoramic images.

Digital cameras, however, offer a great alternative called "stitching." Most digital-editing software programs have "stitching" capabilities (some programs call it "merging") that let you bring together a series of overlapping photographs into one long panoramic image. You can combine images to create panoramic images that use any number of frames and—if you shoot and assemble them carefully—they can be assembled into ultra-wide photos where the joining is seamless and undetectable. The great thing is that if you have the software, you can create "pans" with virtually any digital camera. It's very easy to do.

The trick to getting good panoramic assemblages through "stitching" is shooting the original series of photos carefully and correctly. Each image must overlap the adjacent photos by approximately 30 percent of the image area. In other words, if you are shooting a beach scene and you want to combine several images, you would begin with the area that you want to be the left edge of the scene, then pivot slightly to the right and take the next image, and so on.

Overlapping is the key. Let's say there is a palm tree at the left edge of the first frame and a rock outcropping at the right edge. If you are adding images from left to right, then you must include the rock outcropping at the left edge of the second photo in the series. Keep shooting until you've taken in the entire view. It's imperative that you use a tripod with this technique since the photos must line up exactly for the stitching to appear seamless.

Once you've captured the entire view in several (or many) successive images, your editing program will merge them together into a single image. Programs like Adobe's inexpensive (about $70 street price) Photoshop Elements (www.adobe.com) do an absolutely amazing job at stitching multiple images together, and in fact this technique has generated a subculture among digital photo enthusiasts. For some very cool examples of what can be done, see Max Lyons' online digital gallery: www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons/index.html.

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