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Wide world photography (03/29/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

The idea of panoramic pictures has been around for a long time, but it has only beena within the last few years that this concept has become popular, or practical as a photographic option. To encourage the use of this option, many new cameras on the market have a switch or masking device which, on the whim of the photographer, will change the cropping of the negative to the panoramic format. Also, several single-use cameras are loaded with 12 or 15 exposures for nothing but panoramic shots.

The panoramic feature allows for greater creativity. More importantly, it provides the opportunity for better composition. Many pictures could be improved by cropping the top and bottom. Getting rid of large expanses of sky and foreground will place greater emphasis on the center of interest.

If your camera has the panoramic option and is equipped with a zoom lens, the wide-angle range of the lens will usually be the most appropriate. A long, narrow picture will emphasize the vastness of a landscape.

When shooting panoramic landscapes, always make sure that the horizon is absolutely horizontal in your viewfinder. The stretched-out format will emphasize any camera tilt. If the print will be framed, you might ask the person doing the mounting to compensate for any slight horizon tilt.

Because of the wide expanse that you have to work with in a panoramic shot, you also want to pay attention to the outer edges of the frame. It's too easy to concentrate on the center of the scene and include distracting objects on the ends. If you notice objectionable things at the edges as you look through the viewfinder, you might be able to crop them out by tightening up a little with the zoom lens.

Scenery isn't the only type of subject matter that can benefit from panoramas. Group portraits are usually difficult to take. If the people bunch up, those in the back row might be difficult to see, and if the group spreads out, there is a lot of wasted space at the top and bottom of the picture. A panoramic shot will solve this problem.

Panoramic pictures can also be taken vertically. With this format, you can take shots of individuals and eliminate unnecessary objects to the left and right of the person. This will provide stronger emphasis on the subject.

Tall, slender buildings can also be shot vertically as panoramas. As with horizontal scenery shots, it's important that the camera isn't tilted. On the other hand, go ahead and tilt the camera. The dynamics of a tall building can be enhanced if it's tilted in a picture. Be sure to give the camera a definite tilt. You don't want it to look like you tried to get it straight and botched it.

If you'd like panoramic shots but your camera doesn't have panoramic capabilities, there are two other options aside from buying a panoramic camera. Option number one: Almost any photo processing lab that can make panoramic prints from cameras that have this option can also make panoramic prints from any negative, digital imaging card or digital CD disk. The only problem is that the image can't be further cropped. So if the camera was tilted slightly or the image is too near the top or bottom of the frame, the print would look unbalanced.

The other option is more costly, but you'll get what you want. Have an 8 X 10, 11 X 14, or 16 X 20 print made, then cut it as desired. Most panoramic shots are printed with an aspect ratio of about 2.75 to 1. To determine the width of the finished print, divide the length by 2.75. Of course, this dimension could be altered for the best cropping. Cutting can easily be done with a metal straightedge ruler and a single-edge razor blade.

Now that you know the options, go out and expand your horizons. 


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