Creating Panoramic Images

While they're great for pictures of people, objects, and cats, 4-by-6-inch rectangles can be limiting when it comes to vast outdoor settings. To capture sweeping scenery and 180-degree (or even 360-degree) views, use a digital camera to take multiple photos, and then assemble them into a striking panorama.

For this panoramic image of the Plaza de Binondo in the Philippines, photographer RC Rivera started by taking a central test photo and establishing what his settings would be. To make smooth panoramic images, the exposure and the focal distance need to stay exactly the same for each shot. This ensures they can be stitched together seamlessly without excessive post-production work.

RC manually set his Nikon D200's aperture to f/11 (for maximum depth-of-field) and his shutter speed to 1/250. He switched the lens to manual, focusing on an object in the middle ground of the scene (the red lantern at the left edge of the square). He then shot 10 images of the square from one viewpoint, sweeping quickly from left to right and overlapping 30 to 40 percent of each shot with the previous frame. You want to have generous amounts of overlap so the stitching program has enough information to work with later on.

Since this location was in the middle of a busy city, RC took the images as fast as possible to minimize inconsistencies like disappearing cars. He was also careful to keep the horizion at the same central point in each frame to minimize distortion. A tripod is ideal for keeping the camera at a consistent level across multiple images, but a steady hand will do if there's ample light.

Once he had his photos, RC uploaded them and chose eight consecutive images. Then he used Photoshop's Photomerge feature to stitch them all together. In Photoshop, he chose File -> Automate -> Photomerge, selected his photos, checked Auto in the layout menu, and clicked on OK . After the image was merged, he zoomed in on the overlapping areas to check for any bumps or inconsistencies and used the healing brush to make minor fixes. Finally, he cropped the jagged-edged image to create an even rectangle.

If you don't have Photoshop or Bridge, there are many other inexpensive and free panoramic stitching programs like the free Hugin and the $25 DoubleTake ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). Some companies also ship stitching software with their cameras. If you'd like to use your iPhone's camera to create a panoramic image, there is, naturally, an app for that.

[Editor's Note: Want to submit your own photo to our Snapshot series? Send the photo (or a link to the photo) and a description of how you got the shot to digitalphoto@macworld.com. We'll pick our favorites and feature them on our Website. Chosen photographers will receive a free printed copy of our Digital Photography Superguide.]

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