Back in the early days of photography, panoramic photographs, which by definition are wide-field, unbroken sweeps of scenery, were captured using cameras with pivoting lens turrets that “painted” the image across a wide sheet of film as the lens rotated from left to right (or vice versa). The second method, which somewhat breaks with the somewhat “official” technique cited above, was to butt together two or more photographs, each representing a portion of the whole.
Panoramic photography has come a long way since, and while there are still a dwindling number of film cameras with pivoting lens mounts available, the wonderful world of digital imaging has brought with it a slew of new tools and processes for capturing and creating dramatic panoramic imagery.
The first and most basic form of digital panoramic imaging is stitching, a method in which two or more sequentially captured images are combined either in-camera using the camera’s panorama mode, or stitched together post capture in Photoshop or other photo-editing applications. As long as you maintain consistent horizon lines from one image to the next and sufficient overlap between each image (about 10% on the right and left side of each image) the results are invariably remarkable.
Click image to enlarge
All photographs © 2011 Allan Weitz.
A second in-camera method called Sweep Panorama mode was introduced a few years back in select Sony Cyber-shot pocket cameras. Sweep Panorama mode is a system in which the user presses the shutter button while “sweeping” the camera left to right (or right to left) while the camera captures anywhere from 60 to 90 individual exposures and stitches them together in-camera, and in a matter of seconds. Depending on the camera model, these seamless panoramas take in anywhere from 225° to 264° of the area surrounding the camera. Similar technologies are now incorporated into Sony’s NEX and Alpha-SLT DSLRs, as well as select Nikon (CoolPix P500) and Fujifilm digital cameras (Finepix X100). Undoubtedly, this wide-field shooting technology will probably become as commonplace as Face Recognition within the next few years.
The beauty of panoramic photography is that you don’t necessarily need a wide-angle lens in order to capture wide-field pictures. In fact, successful wide-field images can be captured with normal, wide-angle and telephoto lenses alike. Perhaps the most dramatic, not to mention dynamic wide-field imaging tools to hit the scene are the Gigapan Epic robotic camera mounts, which enable you to capture incredibly detailed panoramic images by combining dozens, or even hundreds of individual images together into a single, extremely hi-res image file. A similar robotic camera mount for capturing multi-image über-files is the GoPano EyeSee360.
Less expensive, though no less fun to shoot with are the film-based Lomography Spinner, Horizon Perfekt Panoramic Camera, and Horizon Kompakt Panoramic Camera. Made of plastic and about as unassuming, lowbrow and hip as cameras get, these cartoonish cameras capture images that make the most jaded among us pause and take notice.
Even if your camera isn’t designed to capture in-camera panoramic images per se, you can still create wide aspect ratio images by simply cropping into the (2:3 / 4:3 aspect ratio) images your camera currently captures, into whatever format you please. If you camera’s finder or LCD offers a grid option now’s a good time to turn it on in order to maintain a level horizon line and as an aid in composing your wide-field imagery. The cool part of creating panoramas via the cropping method is that you can shoot with any focal length lens, from ultra-wide to extreme telephoto.
If you plan on shooting panoramic imagery on a regular basis, you should invest in a ball head or pan/tilt head that features a calibrated rotating base and a bubble level to better ensure a level horizon line across the entire sweep of the scene. If you prefer to stick with your existing tripod and head, rotating head plates and shoe-mounted bubble levels are available separately.
As for printing your wide-field panoramic images, select Canon and Epson desktop inkjet printers accept cut sheets and rolls of fine-art papers and canvas that allow you to output panoramic prints up 13 x 44" long. Larger-format inkjet printers from Epson, Canon and HP make it possible to print panoramic images up to 100' or longer.