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Book Review: Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography by Harald Woeste

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In photography, a panorama is generally considered to be an image that shows a field of view that is greater than that of the human eye. Many times this means that there is an aspect ratio of 2:1 or greater; the width of the image being two times the height. If done skillfully, the panorama can create much more drama and show much more visual depth than a regular photo.

Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography is intended for professionals and serious hobbyist photographers who want to create high-quality digital panoramas. Its goal is to systematically take you through the basics and open up the possibilities that are available from modern digital panoramic techniques. The book is 160 pages in length and is divided into 5 chapters and 4 projects.

Chapter 1, "Basics," begin with looking at the first panoramas and at the history of their development. Then you take a look at how panoramas have been used in contemporary art, the choices that you have when shooting, what a panoramic camera has been in the past, what it is today, as well as what the challenges are when taking a panoramic shot.

Chapter 2, "Shooting," examines the equipment that you will want to have when taking the images for you panorama. The one ideal piece of equipment is a Virtual Reality Panoramic Head (VR Head) for your tripod. This specialized head will help you avoid parallax errors in your images. This chapter along with detailing the head, also explores the lenses and other equipment you may want or need.

Chapter 3, "Stitching," is the process of putting together the separate images into a single one. Depending on how you do this there could be challenges to deal with. The first issue is the optical corrections that may need to be made. Then you have to align your images to make sure that everything is straight. Finally you need to render your images and blend the seams. In the old days this was much more tedious, but today with modern software that has become much easier.

Chapter 4, "Output," looks at taking the master file that was created in the prior chapter and turning it into, not only printed output, but also an interactive format, as well as for the internet. Here you will examine how to create an interactive panorama; one that you can navigate around. You will also discuss the three types of projections: flat, cylindrical, and spherical.

Chapter 5, "Stitching Software," describes the different software products that you can use to stitch your images together. These include Quicktime VR, PTGui Pro, REALVIZ, Photoshop, and Kolor Autopano pro. The pros and cons of each are discussed as well as forums that you can look to for more information.

Project 1, "Fine Art Limited Print," examines the creation of a pano of the Namib Desert which was a long term art project. This was actually done with an analog camera and therefore the images had to be digitized before stitching. The projection type was cylindrical 360° x 50°

Project 2 conerns "Documenting an Exhibition Using 40 Separate Panoramas," for the "Albert Einstein" Chief Engineer of the Universe" exhibition. This covered a number of rooms and was done in digital. The projection type was spherical 360° x 125°.

Project 3, "Advertising Shoot," was done for the Berlin Clubtheater as an illustration for an advertising brochure. The challenge was to include multiple appearances of the subject within the image. The projection type was spherical 360° x 130°.

Project 4, "High Dynamic Range Calendar Shoot," is a car-based wall calendar shoot. Because wall calendars have a short shelf life, they must have new material each year especially when the subject is a car; in this case the Land Rover vehicles. The challenges here are a wide range of brightness using bracketing sequences. The projection type is Mercator Projection: 200° x 100°.

Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography is a good book in the sense that it brings you through the history of the panorama, the equipment used to take professional quality images, and the techniques used to create them. The strokes painted are sometimes rather broad and there is not much step-by-step tracking on the process.

Where it does shine is that Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography gives you a much broader overview of professional grade panos and what it takes to create them. It also gives you the insight, through the projects, about how a professional addresses his or her work.

The bottom line is that if you have never done a panorama and want to get into doing them, then for the time being you should probably look to playing with Photoshop's merging features and find some tutorials to see if this is what you want to get into. But if you have tinkered with doing panoramas and want to expand your horizons by getting a broader, more professional view than I can easily recommend Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.