Panoramic digital photos cover a wide angle of view. In its extreme a panoramic photo can cover 360 degrees of view. Such panoramic photos are for example taken from a sky scraper to convey the view it provides. Most new digital cameras provide a panoramic mode that supports such photography.
There is no formal or definitive definition of what a panoramic photo is. It is common practice to define panoramic photos as such that cover a wide angle of view. How wide? A common definition is «wider than our eyes can see» — or in other worlds — provide an artificial view that otherwise we could not have gotten by just looking at the scene (without moving our head left and right or up and down of course). Panoramic digital photos can be taken in a single shot using special panoramic wide angle lenses. This technique is limited of course as for example a 360 degree panoramic photo can not be taken this way.
Another way in which panoramic photos are created is in segments — a few photos are taken in series and are later attached to each other to create one big panoramic photo. The process of attaching the photos together is fast and easy thanks to modern digital photo processing software (as long as you’re following some guidelines when taking the photos). Panoramic photos are not limited to capturing landscape or wide angle view. They can be very useful when capturing objects that are just too big to be captured from where you stand. For example if you are standing too close to a tall tower and can not retreat to a farther position — using panoramic photography will enable you to capture the complete tower (in 2 or more shots).
Most digital cameras support a special panoramic mode. In this mode the camera optimizes its optical settings for panoramic wide angle photography. But more than just setting the optical parameters the camera also provides tools that allow you to more easily take the photos series and later on stitch them together. When put in panoramic mode the camera will first let you choose if you plan to take a horizontal panoramic photo (i.e. taking photos from left to right or right to left while keeping the vertical position fixed) or to take a vertical panoramic photo (i.e. taking the photos from bottom to top or top to bottom while keeping the horizontal position fixed). You can also choose a combination.
After you choose the panoramic mode — the camera will let you start taking the photos. On its LCD screen you would always see the previous photo you took and the new photo you are taking. This allows you to easily compose each photo in a way that it complements the previous one. You would also want to make sure the photo overlaps a bit with the previous photo — this allows for easier photo stitching later on. The camera also names the digital photos files in a special format that further helps stitching.
Photo stitching can be easily done on a computer at home. Many digital cameras come with a photo stitching software. If your digital camera did not come with one you can find either free or xxxphoto low priced commercial software that can stitch single photos. Basically what the photo stitching software does is: based on the photo file names it orders the photos in their right order. Then it identifies the overlapping areas in each pair of photos and places the photos in a way that these overlapping areas match (this is why having a bit of overlap is important). The final step is to attach all those pairs of files and create a single panoramic digital photo.
It is a good practice to use a tripod when taking panoramic photos. A tripod will help you maintaining either a fixed horizontal or a fixed vertical position. Also it is good practice to keep the optical settings fixed between shots and to make sure that the lighting stays the same. As always practice makes perfect — go and experiment with panoramic photography and master your digital camera panoramic mode.