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What do you need to create panoramic photos?

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  • What do you need to create panoramic photos?

    Panorama photos are made via a process that involves either physically (if you are using film), or electronically (for digital photography), stitching a series of photos of neighboring sections of what you want to capture.

    Since I have no experience performing this trick with film, I'll stick to the digital side of photography. I would, however, love to hear from anyone that uses film, either negative or slides, and how to go about it.

    Also, since I'm not as familiar with the Mac or Linux software options, I'll stick with Windows based software recommendations.


    How to start

    This must sound obvious to you, but it is worth covering the absolute minimums:
    • The Camera
    • The Software
    • The Subject



    The Camera

    Any digital camera will do. That is right: no need for over the top, high-end, obscenely expensive professional camera to shoot panoramic views.
    Any point and shoot (P&S) or digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera will do. I'll not go into the discussion of if "the camera helps make better photos" or not, just suffice to say that as a beginner to pano making, if you have a digital camera, your are set to go.
    I happen to use a 3 year old Nikon D70s which by today's digital photography standards, is almost obsolete.


    The Software

    This is a little more complicated since there are many choices. Some free, some very expensive, some just for windows others for any platform.
    They all, more or less, do the same: they align the images, superimpose the areas that are common from photo to photo (much more on this later) and finally generate a photo that is a composite of all sections.
    I happen to use two tools:

    Autostitch, which is free, and can be found at http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~mbrown/autostitch/autostitch.html
    It is simple, fairly quick and it uses the algorithm that many commercial products use.

    Adobe Photoshop
    Photoshop has a feature called "Photomerge" that does the trick for you. It does a great job taking pictures that are slightly misaligned and merging them into terrific panoramas. Photoshop is expensive, but it can be found at http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/family/

    If you are curious about what other possibilities there are, try this link:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22panorama+software%22


    The subject

    Any subject that it is worth photographing, is probably worth creating a panoramic photo of it. Scenic, majestic mountain views obviously come to mind immediately, but it doesn't need to be the only candidates: sports events, people gatherings, architecture are just some of the more common "targets" in pano photos.

    Besides these three fairly simple requirements, what other tools or equipment do you absolutely need to have? None! Period.

    Sure there all kinds of "essential" (essential from a vendor's perspective ... ) items that you could use to make your life easier, but these three are the only ones that you must have. As you start to experiment, you will realize that there are items that would help tremendously. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you "have to have it" or if it is just a "nice to have it".

    An item that most agree that is almost a must, is a tripod. Once I explain the actual shooting process, you will understand why they think that way. When I started experimenting, I never used a tripod. All my shots were hand held. Now I use a tripod and I couldn't do without it.

    There are also very sophisticated software packages that will create not just standard wide view panos, but also have the ability to create 360 degrees (cylindrical perspectives) full motion views. Others even give you the ability to create both 360 degrees horizontal and vertical views (spherical perspective).

    Next: How to shoot the photographs
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