Some scenes are just too epic to fit into an ordinary picture frame. Consider this: Your usual field of vision is about 200 degrees, but a typical digital camera can only see about a quarter of that--which is why a photo of a breathtaking vista is a lot less impressive than the view you might remember.
In the old days, people sometimes made massive panoramas by arduously combining multiple photos using a razor and tape. These days, whether you have a camera or a phone, technology has made the task much easier: With just a few clicks, you can capture a large vista in an impressively oversized panoramic photo.
Panoramas by phone
When it comes to making panoramas, most iPhone owners have it easy: Just turn on panorama mode (available in the Options button at the top of the Camera screen), and then make a panorama in a single fluid, sweeping motion after tapping the shutter release icon. (Tip: You can change the panning direction just by tapping the panorama bar in the middle of the screen.)
If you don't like the sometimes jagged panoramas, or if you have an older iPhone that can't make panoramas automatically, don't worry--you still have options. One of the best panoramic stitching apps for the iPhone is Pano. For $2, you can take sweeping vistas using up to 16 photos (and a final resolution of 24 megapixels). The image quality is excellent, with superb alignment and blending. The interface works great, with a guide that helps you line up each subsequent photo.
Long, flat panoramas aren't your only option, though. What if you want to make a fully immersive 360-degree panorama that connects end-to-end, like a photographic cylinder? For that kind of panorama, check out the aptly named 360 Panorama, which, for $1, automates everything. Just hold the camera up and start to pan in a circle; the app snaps and stitches on the fly, so by the time you make a full spin, you have a complete panorama that you can swipe to see all 360 degrees of landscape.
That's similar to Microsoft's Photosynth, a Web-based panorama tool that also has an app for the iPhone. After installing the free Photosynth app, you move the camera around your scene, and the app snaps pictures to stitch together a panorama. Like 360 Panorama, Photosynth can make a complete 360-degree scene that includes the ground down to your feet and overhead into the sky, as if you captured a complete sphere around you.
And if you're an Android lover, fear not: A wealth of similar options exist for your phone of choice as well. Though Microsoft hasn't gotten around to offering an Android version of PhotoSynth, you can stitch together very high-resolution, high-quality vistas with the $2 PanoStitch. If you'd rather make a fully immersive, 360-degree panorama, check out the free, aptly named Panorama--360.
Panoramas by digicam
Like smartphones, some digital cameras come with built-in panorama modes, in which making a panorama is essentially a one-click affair. If your camera doesn't have such a mode, though, you'll have to turn to an app to get the job done.
A popular option is a program called AutoStitch. One reason people love this free program is that it works with any collection of images--you don't have to tell the program what the right order is, nor do you need to drag and drop anything. Feed it a set of photos, and the app arranges them automatically. AutoStitch is free as long as you use the resulting panoramic photos according to the license agreement.
If you would rather not worry about AutoStitch's licensing, then check out what might well be the very best free panoramic stitching program available for Windows--Microsoft Photo Gallery. This simple photo editing and organizing program has a phenomenal stitcher hidden within it; select a set of photos, and then choose Panorama in the Create tab. Like AutoStitch, it does all of its magic automatically.