How Photoshop Won The Panorama War

When I started talking about panoramas, there was some question about how you might turn a few pictures into one.  You didn’t need a tripod, but it was strongly recommended.  A bubble level wouldn’t hurt too.  Care needed to be exercised.  Incantations were recited.  If you took a picture of water buffeted by the wind, god help you.  Back in the day, I used Panorama Factory.  It crashed a lot.  I spent hours mapping little dots from one picture to the next.

Starting with Photoshop CS4, Adobe changed all that.  There was a panorama tool built right in, and it had a magic setting called “Auto”.  With CS5 it got even better.  No matter what you throw at it, it blends, warps, and just works magic.  The pictures always look good.  Always.  Here is my latest:

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Like before, I’m posting my panoramas at twice the width of most of my pictures so you can see a little of the magic in there!

This is a shot from the end of highway 270 on the north shore of the big island of Hawaii.  Stretching out to the east is the Waipio Valley.  From this side, near Hawi, you can drive only so far, and then you can hike.  The beach below is only 20 or 30 minutes, but you can go a couple days farther if you’re stupid brave enough.  It’s a beautiful place with lazy cows, fields of waist-high grass and the odd taro patch.  It might not be obvious but this shot is a bit odd.  I’m standing on a hill, shooting down and panning the camera diagonally – sort of inland + underneath me.  In the past, this just wouldn’t work.  You’d have to map every point in the panorama by hand, and at the end of the day you’d have a distorted picture that would probably lead to a lot of rending of hair and kicking of computers.  With Photoshop CS5, you just hit go and wait.  I’d like to say I miss the old days when things were hard, but I don’t – at all.  Not only does this let you just take pictures and do what you want to do, but it means you can shoot hand-held and with lesser equipment and still have something serviceable come out the other side.  Adobe, this time, I love you.

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