Panoramic photography is something that has been practised ever since the very advent of photography; to show sweeping landscapes and the like in a single photograph. In the early days of photography, the production of panoramas generally involved printing several photographs and compiling them into a single print. It was a novel and effective method that continued for decades and still does to some extent even today, with the like of triptychs etc. Eventually technology caught up and specialty cameras and lenses were devised that could take a panorama in a single shot.
These speciality cameras evolved over the decades and became weird and intriguing indeed. The Widelux camera with rotating lens was one of the most ubiquitous cameras of the day, but many other brands came into the fray to capture part of the growing market, with a number even providing inter-changeable lenses. These cameras were very expensive and few could afford to own even the most inexpensive model and the cost of film used by these cameras only added to the expense.
But then along came digital photography, which turned everything on its head. Even the simplest point and shoot camera could now offer a ‘panorama’ mode, where anyone could follow the camera’s instructions and produce reasonably high quality panoramas in-camera. Mobile phone cameras and special apps now also produce panoramas with little effort and there are also some very expensive digital panoramic cameras available today that produce amazing results in a single shot (yes, it really is as large as it appears).
And those using DSLRs, who want ultimate control over their images, can take single images with a variety of suitable lenses (yes, P&S cameras do have zoom lenses) and stitch the final images together with powerful software. You don’t always need multiple shots either, sometimes just two will suffice. Digital technology enables even more control than ever previously imagined, at least in a manner that is far easier to manage and implement than in the film days.
Not only does this new software enable you to produce panoramas from still photographs, you can produce panoramas from video clips as well and, while the results aren’t as good as the panorama from still shots, it’s still not too shabby. Higher quality video cameras such as those that can produce 4K video will provide better results. Both the first and second panoramas below have been produced from still images and a video clip respectively, and processed using Microsoft ICE.
You can also use a wide angle lens to take a scene and just crop to simulate a panorama, but that will usually mean that the level of detail that you can achieve will be lower, though the impact of the scene may be just as good. Any type of wide angle lens will do, be it a fisheye or just an ultrawide angle lens. However, in general, panoramas are best taken with longer focal length lenses so that you minimise distortion and other effects when stitching multiple images, as there’s less visible ‘curvature/distortion’ in the photographs (always try and overlap the photographs by 10-20%).
And panoramas don’t always need to be of broad vistas as, sometimes just looking a little closer and at smaller scenes can reveal just as many interesting views, sometimes even more so, than the all too common grand landscape.
The ultimate panoramas are produced by those who are into the production of gigapixel photography. Gigapixel photography involves taking often hundreds of digital images of a scene and blending them all into one, seamless, image. One of the most well know providers of equipment and software for gigapixel photography is GigaPan. I won’t even try to provide example photographs of the truly massive scales available, just go to the link and become absorbed. But I will include one photograph taken some distance from home that could be considered a gigapixel photograph due to size of the sensor on the camera (the curve, the rocks and distant mountains look awfully familiar).
The final types of panorama that I’d like to touch on are the circular ones, scenes that show full 360 degree views. There are effectively two types, ones created using special lenses or cameras that produce a 360 degree spherical image in a single shot and which are processed with special software that allows you to move fully around (somewhat like gigapixel photographs), and the second type are a sort of distorted image that have recently become quite popular. All that’s required with the latter is for you to take overlapping photographs in a 360 degree circle and then use software to stitch them together into a circular panorama. You don’t even have to take a full 360 degree view if the scene is suitable.
And on that note, all I can say is, Hasta la vista!