Panoramas are an exciting, creative application of photography and recently, of computing. Panoramas offer a unique, immersive perspective to the viewer. To the photographer, panoramas present an interesting artistic and technical challenge, both from the point of view of obtaining the source images, and processing and presenting the final panoramic product.
Panoramas come in different shapes and flavors. A dictionary tells us a panorama is "a picture (or series of pictures) representing a continuous scene". This continuous scene can come straight from a (special) camera or it can be assembled from multiple images using special software such as the panorama tools.
Technically two different types of panoramas are distinguished.
A partial Panorama is an image typically created by assembling together 2 or more images to create a single image with a wider field of view. Partial panoramas are created in exactly the same was as full spherical panoramas, but cover only a fraction of the view sphere (less than 360 degrees in longitude around the horizon, and/or less than 180 degrees in latitude). Example partial panos include Max Lyon's GigaPixel image, created with 196 source images! Partial panoramas are often viewed like traditional images, either in print or digital form.
Immersive or full-spherical panoramas are panoramas viewed through special viewing software that allows you to look everywhere around you, including straight up and straight down. Partial panoramas can also be viewed in the same way, blurring the difference between them. In particular, partial panoramas which cover all 360 degrees in longitude, but less than 180 degrees of latitude, are often considered immersive panoramas as well, and viewed with the same type of software. Example immersive panoramas can be found at the World-Wide Panorama page, among many other places.
A fundamental concept in the production and viewing of both partial and full spherical panoramic images is the type of input and output projection used. See Projections for more information. It is the projection of photographic images and resulting panoramas which explains why the simple method of aligning and taping together snapshots cannot produce seamless panoramic images (though it can be quite enjoyable in its own right).