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Ordinary panoramic pictures are the penultimate wide-angle photograph (the ultimate being either a 360-degree panorama or, perhaps, a picture that would encompass a complete sphere, with the camera at the center). In practice, 100- to 120-degree panoramas are easier to achieve simply by taking multiple pictures and stitching them together with Photoshop. This next project will show you how to do it, using Photoshop CS's Photomerge feature as well as a time-tested technique that can be used with earlier versions of the image editor. But first, a little background.

Traditionally, panorama photos have been produced using several different methods. One elegant solution has been a special panorama camera, which uses a lens that rotates from left to right in concert with a moving shutter, thus exposing a long strip of negative with a very wide-angle view of the subject, something like the one shown at top in Figure 5.19. Such cameras tended to be expensive and required working with a tripod for best results.

Figure 5.19. Special panorama cameras expose a wide image on a long strip of film (top). Or, you can simply crop the top and bottom out of an image (bottom).

Figure 5.19. Special panorama cameras expose a wide image on a long strip of film (top). Or, you can simply crop the top and bottom out of an image (bottom).

Another solution is the one used by now-discontinued and not-much-lamented APS (Advanced Photo System) cameras, which let you switch back and forth between three different aspect ratios, including a panorama view. This system works by taking an ordinary frame and simply ignoring the top and bottom portions, enlarging a thin strip in the middle of the frame to create a panorama. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. One advantage is that you don't need a tripod; any picture you care to take can be transformed into a panorama by flipping a switch on the camera. The most important plus to this system is that photofinishers are set up to handle such panorama photos automatically. The APS camera marks the film's magnetic strip with a code that labels a panorama picture as such. The photolab's automated printing equipment reads this code and prints out your wide photos using the panorama area previewed in the camera's viewfinder.

The chief disadvantage is that such panoramas don't use all the available film area, and that's probably one of the reasons why the APS system failed (cheap digital cameras being another reason). You get a wide-angle shot by enlarging only a center strip of the film. Your 4 x 10-inch panorama picture is actually just an 8 x 10 with two inches trimmed from the top and bottom. That's cheaper and faster than snipping an 8 x 10-inch print yourself, but you're not getting the sharpest possible picture. At the bottom of Figure 5.19 you can see how such a panorama might be derived from a full-frame photograph.

A third way to create panoramas is with one of the newer digital cameras with this feature. When you switch to panorama mode, the digital camera shows a ghost image of the edge of your last picture in the LCD panel on the

This documentiscreated withtrialversionof CHM2PDF Pilot2.16.100.rrent image so that the two overlap. You can repeat this step as many times as you want to create sweeping panoramas. Of course, each portion of the panorama is created as a separate digital image. You'll still need to stitch them together in Photoshop. (Digital cameras with the panorama feature often are furnished with special utilities that can stitch the images effectively.)

A fourth way to create panoramas is to take several full frame photos with a digital or film camera, lining them up as best you can by eye, and then stitching them together to create one very wide photo. Such photos have been pasted together in the past, and then rephotographed and printed, but Photoshop makes it easy to mate a series of photos digitally. The advantage of this method is that each picture contains the maximum resolution possible with a full frame digital or film camera image. Another plus is that it's not necessary to shoot with a wide-angle lens, which tends to load the image up with foreground and sky, while pushing the important subject matter way, way back. You can move to a good vantage point and take your set of pictures with a normal lens or telephoto, then join them to create one seamless image. The chief disadvantage of this method is that it's tricky to produce the original images, and time-consuming to join them.

However, if you plan out your panorama as you shoot, you can avoid many of the problems. Here are some tips for shooting good panoramas.

• Minimize the number of photos you take to reduce the number of images you have to stitch together. If you really, really want a 360-degree panorama you can take one, but plan on spending a lot of time combining images.

• There are specialized software programs you can buy, but I recommend seeing how well Photoshop works for you before buying one of these.

• Use a tripod with a panning head as a way to keep all your images level. Adjust the tripod (use an actual level if necessary) and swivel through your panorama to make sure the transitions will be smooth before taking the first photo. Some panheads have markings in degrees to help you align the camera.

• Try to keep exposures, including lens opening and shutter speed, the same between pictures so they'll match more easily.

• Remember to overlap your images slightly so you'll be able to blend each photo into the next.

• You should know that, technically, the camera should rotate around the optical center of the lens, not the center of the camera body to produce the most realistic perspective. Some panorama attachments for tripods include a plate that includes a tripod mount under the lens center, rather than in the usual location under the camera body. Figure 5.20 shows the right and wrong locations for your center of rotation.

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