. What do people mean when they say a photo is created by combining thousands of photos?

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Usually this is used in night or space photography

In:

They mean exactly that. The photo you see is comprised of several smaller photos that are stitched together in a photo editor of sorts to create a large, complete picture.

For example:

https://www.thephoblographer.com/2019/02/18/backyard-astrophotography-hits-new-heights-with-this-81mp-moon-pic/

The photo in that article is made up of 50,000 different photos.

Imagine having a stack of physical photographs on a table. Unstack them and place them side-by-side so that the edge of one lines up with the edge of the one(s) next to it. That’s all they’re doing, just with computers.