Handmade Panoramas; Manually Stitching Can Be Fun!

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Photos © 2003, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

In 1980, I was involved in a project to create the world's largest photograph: a panorama of the Grand Canyon. Our team of six (photographers and a TV crew) rode mules into the Grand Canyon, where, in the sweltering August heat, we set up a 35mm SLR camera loaded with slide film. The camera, equipped with a 85mm lens, was carefully secured on a surveyor's level that was, in turn, mounted on a tripod.

We had a computer print-out of the degree and minute settings (indicated on the level) that were needed so that each frame precisely overlapped the adjoining frame by about 20 percent. The result was a picture perfect panorama: The 25 35mm frames were each enlarged to 6x9 feet and then mounted as a mural in a 125-foot circle. Standing inside the mural, one felt as though he or she were really standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The mural is now on display at the International Photography Hall of Fame & Museum (www.iphf.org) in Oklahoma City.

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This past August, again in the sweltering heat, I rode a mule into the Grand Canyon, this time with my wife, son, and digital camera kit: a Canon EOS Rebel and a Canon EF-S 18-55mm zoom lens. One of my photography goals was to take a panorama, although not on the scale of the 1980 project. This time I intended to produce a panorama solo--something anyone can do these days in the digital darkroom. You'll need a panorama program and/or an image-editing program with layers and canvas size control, such as Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS (the program I use).

Here's a look at what I did, in the field and at home. As you'll see, I was most pleased with the panorama achieved with a manual stitching technique--because it gave me totally creative control. In reading this article and in seeing the pictures, think about how you can apply the same techniques to your own panoramas.

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(#1) Here are my three original digital images, which I shot specifically for the panorama. Each image overlapped the other by about 30 percent. I set my camera to the raw mode for maximum image quality. Overlapping pictures to be used in a panorama is very important. So is keeping the camera level.

(#2) Using ArcSoft's Panorama Maker, I quickly and easily created this panorama on my Power Mac G4. I actually like the way the horizon line is curved.

(#3) Some panorama programs, especially early versions, produced panoramas that, in certain lighting conditions, clearly showed where the images were stitched together, making the panorama unacceptable.

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(#4) Manually stitching images together in Photoshop or other photo editing imaging programs with layers and a canvas size option is easy. First, open the picture you want on the left side of your panorama. Then, triple the canvas size to the right of your image. This screen shot shows one photo and the canvas dialog box in Photoshop.

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(#5) Next, open the other images. Then, using the Move tool, drag your other two images into position on the newly expanded image. For easy alignment, slightly reduce the opacity of your pictures so you can see through them.

(#6) Here's the key: Using the Burn, Dodge and Eraser tools, blend the images together. For this panorama, the burning, dodging, and erasing process took less than five minutes.

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Now it's your turn to have fun expanding your photographic horizons by creating panoramas.

Rick Sammon recently completed "Photoshop for Outdoor and Travel Photographers," an interactive, tutorial CD produced by Software Cinema. For information, see www.ricksammon.com and www.software-cinema.com

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