Creating Panoramic Images Digitally
Get A Super Wide View With Normal Lenses

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Lesson Of The Month

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Photos © 2002, Ben Clay, All Rights Reserved

This past summer, my wife and I took a road trip across the country and along the way we spent a few days in Yellowstone National Park and in the Badlands of South Dakota. Both places are visually stunning and as you might guess, both are very popular spots for photographers. However, anyone armed with a camera is immediately faced with the considerable challenge of how to effectively capture all that they're seeing.

For professionals, it often means shooting with a large format camera (4x5, 8x10) that can render large prints with fine detail. There are also those who shoot with special panoramic cameras capable of capturing wide spans of scenery that give the viewer a better sense of scale than conventional cameras.

However, if you don't happen to own a large format or panoramic camera, you can still create the same effect by digitally stitching images together. During this trip, I shot with the 5-megapixel Olympus E-20N, a digital camera that renders excellent image quality and that accommodates many useful accessories. The most useful accessory is the optional Olympus Lithium Polymer battery pack. Once this is fully charged, you can go several days without having to charge it again: excellent for location work.

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The other great thing about the E-20N is that it accommodates relatively inexpensive conversion lenses. You can affix macro, telephoto, and wide angle conversion lenses quickly and simply. I used a wide angle conversion lens here for my panoramic series of a scene in the Badlands.

After I mounted the camera to my tripod and attached the macro conversion lens, I composed some different shots facing both east and west to see how the mountain ridges looked as the sun raked across them, and ended up facing west, as I liked the look of the jagged edges of this particular mountain ridge.

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Since the sun was still hitting the lens, I affixed a remote release cable to the camera to trigger the shutter, stood to the side of the camera so that I could see the lens, and carefully positioned a Photoflex 12" Black/Silver LiteDisc (with the black side facing the camera) to block the sun from hitting the lens. I then squeezed the cable release button to trigger the shutter (#1 and #2).

Having previously set the tripod to keep the base of the camera level, I spun the camera on the base of the tripod head 15Þ to the right, locked it down and took another shot (#3).

After reviewing this exposure, I spun the camera another 15Þ and took a final shot (#4).

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After the trip, I downloaded these images to my computer and opened them up in Adobe Photoshop to create a single panoramic image (#5).

The final result shows a spectacular look at this view of the Badlands. Notice how the shot has a wide-angled feel to it, but that the crop is straight. This is due in large part to the wide angle conversion lens. It gives a panoramic effect without an overly exaggerated sense of distortion.

And because this image is more than twice as wide as any of the original three images, I could make a print of this image in excess of 16" wide with excellent detail.

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During our trip, there were many scenes that I photographed using this same technique. Along a stretch of road in Idaho, I didn't use the wide angle conversion lens because I wanted to keep the horizon line perfectly straight. Instead, I took four shots at the standard zoom setting and later stitched them together to achieve this seamless result (#6).

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One of my favorite compositions is of a series of shots taken at dusk in Yellowstone National Park. My wife and I had just set up tent one evening when I noticed some dramatic clouds looming overhead. I grabbed the camera and tripod and ran down to a nearby river and set up for this surreal scene (#7).

I was very thankful for that Lithium Polymer battery in this situation. Had anything held me up even for a minute, I would not have been able to capture this fleeting scene.

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This lesson will be posted in the free public section of the Web Photo School at: www.webphotoschool.com. You will be able to enlarge the photos from thumbnails. If you would like to continue your digital step by step education lessons on editing, printing, and e-mailing your photos it will be on the private section of the Web Photo School. To enroll for WPS just go to www.shutterbug.net and click on WPS Free Lessons.

Technical Information
Camera/Media: Olympus E-20N digital camera; Olympus 0.8x conversion lens; Olympus Lithium Polymer battery pack; Olympus cable release; 128MB SmartMedia card; Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod with a G1276 head
Lighting: Photoflex 12" Black/Silver LiteDisc

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