A panoramic photo captures an image that is at least twice as long as high. Usually a photograph with an aspect ratio* of 2:1 or higher would be considered a panorama. For example, 10×20 or 8×16 inch prints would be considered panoramic, with a view that is twice as wide as high. An image that is as great as or greater than the viewing field of the human eye would be panoramic. A higher aspect ratio, of 4:1 or even 10:1 would be panoramic.
There are cameras which will create a panoramic image with a single shot. There are multiple lens and software to help create panoramic photographs as well as 360° photographic images. But for most of us, our usual still digital cameras using a standard lens along with some stitching software will be more than adequate for pano creation.
There are a number of software stitching programs on the market. One of the most popular is PTgui. (www.ptgui.com ). Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements have Photomerge feature and does an excellent job for most panoramic stitching. More recent versions (CS4 or better) do a much better job than earlier versions.
No matter what you use to create the final image, it is the photographic process that will determine how good your final image is. It is possible to hand hold the camera and still create a panorama but it is much easier to use a tripod. You can purchase specific heads for your tripod to create panoramas, from the inexpensive LensPen Pananic head for about $20 to a Manfrotto Spherical Panoramic Head Kit at $650.
If you chose to forgo the expense of a special head for your tripod there are a few rules to keep in mind. If you are shooting without a tripod, try to use your body as the center point. Plant your feet firmly and turn from your waist. As with any shot, take a breath and hold it before depressing the shutter button. If you are shooting with a tripod, it is best to level the head if you can before shooting. The most important rule, however, is to overlap your shots by at least 1/3 of the scene you are shooting. I usually pick out a land mark in the shot about 1/3 from the edge and make that opposite edge on the next shot.
It is also important to keep the settings the same in the camera. If you have auto focus turned on be careful with the focus. It could shift based on the image and it would destroy your panorama. You may want to shoot in Manuel Mode in order to avoid that from happening. A shift in meter reading could also make the creation difficult, although the software will do some blending of edges.
Try re-positioning yourself and trying the shot from a slightly different angle. Take several multiple shots from different perspectives. Your first perspective might not work as expected when you start to turn the camera. The number of shots you use to create your panorama is dependent on the scene you are shooting. I find that for a 180° shot that I will need 5-7 shots.
Creating a panorama photo is fun and rewarding. Going beyond the limits of the lens and camera opens up a whole new way of seeing through your lens. Capturing a wide view makes the scene more memorable and closer to what the “mind sees”. Try turning the camera for a vertical shot. This will make your panorama wider and capture more of the scene. Good luck and keep shooting!
*Aspect ratio is a measure comparing width to height. Most digital cameras will produce a 3:2 aspect ratio. The resulting print size of 4×6 or 8×12 is an example of 3:2 aspect ratio.