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This chapter is from the book

Taking Pictures for a Panorama

Of all the features and projects that can be accomplished by using Photoshop Elements, making a good panorama requires preparation on the photographic side. I spent the past six months learning how to do it, and I am just now beginning to get the hang of it. Don't let that last sentence scare you, however. Taking photos to be used in a panorama isn't that hard—it just takes some getting used to.

What You Need to Take Panoramas

Probably the most important item that you need to take panoramas is a tripod. Having said that, some of my best panoramic shots were taken without using a tripod; the panoramas came out because of my using a tripod substitute or just by dumb luck.

The second item you need to have is a camera that can lock the automatic exposure (AE) settings. This isn't critical either, but it helps. When you begin taking a series of photographs, if the camera is continually adjusting between the individual panels (photos), you end up with light and dark lines of demarcation, as shown in Figure 11.2. Because the idea is to create the sense of the photo being one continuous picture, it takes away from the effect.

Figure 11.2 If the camera's AE setting isn't locked, it can produce dark and light panels in the panorama.

Most digital cameras that I have worked with have an AE lock feature. If yours doesn't, it doesn't mean that you can't take panoramas; it just means that doing so will be a bit trickier.

General Rules for Taking Panorama Photos

Here are a couple of rules and general guidelines that might help you take good panorama photos.

Don't Get Too Close

When taking panoramic pictures, you want to get as far away from the subject as reasonable. The closer you are to the subject, the wider the setting on your zoom lens; this produces greater barrel distortion on each panel. If there's too much distortion, even Photomerge cannot avoid weird-looking gaps between each panel. So, get a good distance away from your subject and set your zoom lens so that it is at a less wide angle and more telephoto-like.

Controlling Overlap

Overlap is the next thing that you must consider. Overlap is like vitamins—you need just enough to get the job done. With too much overlap, the file becomes huge and the program doesn't do a good job in automatching the panels together. How much is enough? Most photographers agree that 20–30 percent overlap is about right. So, how do you calculate the overlap? It helps if your tripod has degree markings. My tripod doesn't have any markings (it's a really cheap tripod), so I use a method that seems to work. When I take the initial photograph, I note some point of reference in the LCD frame of my digital camera. As I rotate the camera (more on that in a moment), I try to make sure that the reference point remains in the right or left third of the frame (depending on which way I turn it).

When you turn the camera, make every effort to have the camera lens rotate around an imaginary axis. When I first started taking panoramic photos, I held the camera and turned my body. By doing that, I changed the angle of the camera in reference to the scenery that I was photographing. It is less important when the subject is a great distance away, but it becomes important when the subject matter is close.

We cover additional tips later in this chapter. Now, it's time to make a simple panorama.

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