Did you see those Sony commercials where Taylor Swift takes a photo of her adoring fans by physically panning the camera? I did, and thought that Sony's Intelligent Sweep Panorama Mode was one of the coolest features I've ever seen. Since it was time for me to buy a new point-and-shoot digital camera, I decided to go with the Sony HX5V so I could play with the iSweep panorama setting. I bought the camera right before my recent trip to England and Scotland and I had a lot of fun shooting panoramas there. That's the Glenfinnan monument in Scotland pictured above.
Like most elements of photography, using the iSweep panorama function is easy to learn and hard to master. All you have to do is set the camera to iSweep, press the shutter button down half-way and then move the camera right to left (or left to right — your choice) in a semi-circle about 258 degrees. If your movement is too fast or too slow, it won't work. You can figure out the desired speed pretty quickly though. As you move the camera, it shoots 100 photos and then stitches them together in about a second.
Where you begin and end the panorama makes a huge difference in the end result of the photo. A lot of trial-and-error is involved with this function — good thing it's fun to spin around. Check out these two photos (the one directly above and the one above that) of St. Andrew's Castle in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was only standing a few feet away, yet the photos look remarkably different.
The ruined castle at St. Andrew's is a photographer's dream. I had less luck at Edinburgh castle — mostly due to the crowds and the gray sky. Neither is Edinburgh castle's fault, of course. And even non-crowded places, it's hard to have a 258-degree vantage point without any people. In many of my panoramas (that I chose not to picture here), I felt frustrated that you can't use the zoom with the panorama. But in this case, I had the opposite problem in that I couldn't find a way to avoid cutting off the very top.
If you don't like the weather in Scotland, just wait a while. Later on that day in Edinburgh, we had much nicer weather at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It was fun taking photos in the gardens, my favorite shot being the one above that shows the shadow of the ruined abbey.
As long as the light is good (and fairly uniform), using the iSweep panoramic function was probably easiest out in the countryside. The Scottish highlands is one giant picture postcard — it takes forever to drive around there because you want to keep pulling over for photographs! The photo above was taken near Glencoe.
When you're taking panoramic shots right by the road, often you get the road in the photo. It gets a little distorted, as you can see in the road's curve in the photo above. It's best to keep any roads and paths as far off to the side as possible.
I also had really good luck with the panoramic function when I was in Manchester, especially out at the museums by Salford Quay. There were blue skies, few people around and wide open space, which seems to be a good recipe for these shots. You can see it at the bottom of this post about the Imperial War Museum North.