Author: Harald Woeste
Publisher: Rocky Nook
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
Aside from the obvious benefits of digital over other photography media, like greater control over exposures and post-processing adjustments, digital photography has enabled us to improve older techniques so that photographers are better able to convey their vision. Images that covered more than the normal angle of view, called panoramas, were first created in 1787, using large scale circular paintings in which the viewer was centered in the painting. Today, with very little additional equipment, a digital photographer can create very wide angle images, with great detail, by stitching together several separate images. He or she can even create virtual realities (also known as spherical projections), where a viewer can have the effect of being completely surrounded by an image. Particularly amazing is not just the angle of view, which can exceed any wide angle lens, but the resolution of the final image.
In Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography, Harold Woeste provides an introduction to panoramic photography. After reviewing the history of panoramas, Woeste introduces the special equipment necessary to capture the images to be used in the panorama. While a panorama can be captured using a hand held camera, better results will ensue using a tripod with a specially designed head when shooting the series of images required for a panorama. The author then discusses the computer software necessary to stitch together the images. He also shows methods of outputting the images, which includes both wide flat prints of great detail and images which must be viewed on a computer and which allow the viewer to select any direction to look, including even up and down.
An important part of the book is the description of four different panorama projects that the author worked on, moving from the initial idea for the project, through the special considerations in capturing the images, to the use of multiple software packages to maximize the quality of the image, to the final output as a print or computer file.
On the other hand, Woeste’s level of detail is at the familiarization level, not the practical level of actually taking the images or using the software. Thus, as I followed along I occasionally encountered references that I did not understand, such as control points, which were not related to the Photoshop CS4 software that I normally use, but are contained in PTGui, a more advanced piece of software that can be used for difficult situations and for spherical images. To fully comprehend what the author was saying, I had to download PTGui (there’s a free trial available) and spend several hours reading the instructions (which were not very well organized) and even process a few trial images. On the other hand, snap shooters who aren’t willing to spend the time and effort, are also not likely try their hand at panoramas, and understanding the uses of PTGui will certainly help if one encounters a problem where PTGui can provide a useful solution. I suppose I would have liked just a little more detail. For example, Woeste suggests that while PTGui is great for stitching, one can have better results if one saves the image and then blends it in Photoshop. Unfortunately neither Woeste nor the PTGui instructions mention that the stitched image must be saved as a PSD file rather then a TIFF to do this. Perhaps what I really wanted was a better PTGui instruction manual.
In any case, if you are a photographer who wants to move beyond the simple flat image capture and processing, wants to know what’s available to help you create better panoramas, and wants to see some of the possibilities available in panoramic photography, this book will provide a good introduction.