Personally I like panoramic photographs as I find they seem to provide me additional visual information versus a typical picture. I find myself more consciously scanning a panoramic because they often contain multiple points of interest so I become immersed in the picture and all its individual components.
When someone interested in photography asks me how to create panoramic images I'm able to share some insight based on my own experiences. Whether they're working with existing images or planning a photo shoot with the intent of creating a panoramic it'll have some bearing on what method is most appropriate for them.
Basically there are two methods, one fairly straightforward and the other a bit more complicated requiring some planning ahead of time. There's an alternate method for those of us with smart phones I'll also mention.
The simplest way to create a panoramic is to just crop unwanted space from the original image to the desired proportions. Most photo editing software will allow you to crop your image using either preset sizes or custom sizing as you see fit. Many online services also allow you to crop images as part of their editing process.
There's no magic formula for calculating panoramic dimensions. It's really up to you to decide what looks best. If you ask two people how they'd crop an image I can just about guarantee you'd get two different answers. So, if it looks good to you, do it.
The biggest advantage to using the cropping method is that you only need the one image from which to create a panoramic. The only disadvantage is that you'll be constrained to the same width dimension you've deemed as acceptable from your camera. The reason for this is you're just cropping off the top and bottom of the image to give the elusion of a panoramic shot. So, if the largest print you can produce from your camera with acceptable results is 30 inches wide by 20 inches high then you'll want to keep that in mind when printing your panoramic.
As far as equipment goes, for best results I'd suggest using a wide angle lens if you own a DSLR camera. For point-and-shoot cameras just zoom out to capture the width of the scene of interest to you. Given you'll likely crop the top and bottom off the image later in your photo editing software I'd suggest just vertically centering the image in the viewfinder, which is typically the sweet spot for most camera optics and introduces the least amount of distortion.
Other things to consider would be to use a tripod to minimize camera shake and movement. Also, set the camera's ISO setting to 100 (or as low as you can for your camera) to ensure the highest image quality possible. During the photo editing process, always save your image using the best resolution available in order to ensure your prints look as crisp and sharp as possible.
The second method used to create a panoramic requires a little more forethought and planning as you'll need to take multiple, overlapping images to later stitch together during the photo editing process. Most photo editors, even inexpensive ones, usually allow you to stitch multiple images together to create a single panoramic image.
In the example I'm using I took three separate shots of the island of Maui to capture the area of interest to me in the combined images. You'll notice I've overlapped each shot by about 50%. Keep in mind that for the software to be able to stitch images together there has to be common elements in the adjoining images for it to match and create a single, seamless panoramic.
As a rule of thumb, always try to overlap images by at least 30%. Anything less and the photo editing software may not be able to successfully join the images, which may affect the quality of the final image. In general, the more overlap the better the results.
The biggest advantage of the stitching method to create a panoramic is that by combining multiple shots you're leveraging the combined resolution so you can create a much larger final print versus if you'd used the cropping method. In my example I could print an image 60 inches wide as compared to 30 inches by just cropping.
Unless you have a place to display your large panoramic, or a customer wants to fill an entire wall with one, this method may not be of interest to you. However, it is something to be aware just in case.
As a side note, although I took three shots for this panoramic example, there's nothing preventing you from taking as many shots as you deem necessary to achieve the panoramic you're looking for. I've seen photographers take many more shots to create a full 360 degree panoramic. There's also software available that lets you create a spherical image you can electronically view and rotate to see the entire scene.
Because this stitching method is more complex than cropping there are some additional things to consider:
Given we just about all have smart phones, don't forget they also have the ability to capture panoramic shots. The smart phone actually does all the work for you by automatically overlaying and stitching the images as part of the process. You just press the button to start the picture, slowly pan the smart phone to capture the scene, then press the button again to stop the process. The smart phone then does the rest of the work and shows you the finished product when it's done.
The following image is one I took inside the All Saints Church in Northampton, England using my iPhone. Not too shabby for a phone.
While the quality of a panoramic captured on a smart phone may not be as good as compared to those from high-end cameras, the results are instantaneous and often just as spectacular.
If you plan on sharing your panoramics on social media, or even just for small prints, this method may be the only one you'll need.
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