Demonstration of stitching to create panoramic shots:

by Patty Waits Beasley

This is a fun little project, and one that can be done using a number of different programs, from Adobe PhotoShop to PaintShop Pro to image editors specifically designed to incorporate the stitching process automatically (my personal preference). 

Ever come across a scene that made you wish you could capture it, but you just couldn't fit it all into your viewfinder? That's where panoramics shine. We'll teach you an easy way to capture the scene and create your own panoramic. 

In order to keep files to a manageable size and allow you to view this page, all images were reduced in size. Of course, the more resolution and the bigger the image you can program for your shots, the better the output final product  will be after you edit/stitch it.

To start out with, you need a subject. It can be an object you want to enhance in order to get as much detail as possible, or it could be a scenic view, like our spectacular sunsets/sunrises on the Gulf of Mexico or bay systems. For purposes of our demo, we'll use an image of a Native American pipe, seen below in the normal way we might shoot it in order to capture the entire object in one frame:

As often happens, when a subject is wider than it is tall, one ends up with a lot of wasted space in the image, and in order to capture as much of the image as possible, the camera needs to pull back from the image, which in turn reduces detail and resolution. Not a very pleasing effect.

Let's try shooting it in a panoramic style instead. In order to do this, you'll need to shoot a series of photos, breaking up the subject into smaller pieces that will be stitched together later for one big final output image. There are a few rules to getting good  results for each section: 

If you can get close to the subject, pull out and don't use your zoom any more than you have to. Govern your level of zoom accordingly if you have to use a flash (as I did in the above picture) so you don't "white out" the image by being too close. 

Once you find the combination of zoom and framing you like, begin shooting the series of pictures. Shoot the first one at the leftmost edge of the image, leaving some margin room at the left (see first section image below). 

Continue shooting your series, without changing any settings on your camera. Leave your zoom alone; once you set it, use that same setting for the rest of the shots. As you shoot each successive image, move the camera a little to the right, keeping some overlap from the previous frame, while taking in new area to the right. 

Which brings us to the next important rule: leave a minimum of one third of your previous framing in this next shot. This is very important, as it allows maximum overlap when you (or your program) stitch the images together. In the image below, note how the dark feather draping to the left is included in the framing of the second image. The more the overlap, the cleaner, more accurate and seamless your stitching will be. 


Continue shooting your series in the same manner. Below are the five images I shot to capture the entire pipe, leaving 1/3 to 1/2 image overlap in each successive image. 

I've reduced the five images even further in size so you can see exactly how they line up side by side. You can see how the overlap works now... how each successive image retains the last third of the previous image. 

Okay, so there's your series. Now, what do you do with it? If you want to stitch them manually (not something for the fainthearted!), simply open your favorite editing program of choice, and open your first two image files, find the common overlap, cut the excess from the second image and line it up to the right side of the first. Continue until all your images are stitched together. A blurring tool lightly run down the seam between each edit point between images will help soften the stitch effect. Put all the pieces together, then use the editing program's crop tool to shape up the final image.  

If you're like me, you don't have the time or inclination to spend hours at the computer, trying to match up those edges and blur them without making it look too obvious that the image is a paste-up. I recommend using an editing program that has a stitching engine built into it, like JASC's After Shot, MGI's PhotoSuite, etc. For this demo, I used AfterShot, which uses Enroute's ImageSynthesis engine. 

The final output of a automatic stitching program like AfterShot's is a night and day difference from manually stitching files together. Blended areas are seamlessly overlapped and it's very difficult to tell just where seams are, unless lighting differences make it obvious (a common aftereffect of shooting panoramics in pieces). Here's the output file of our stitching exercise:

Quite a difference! And you'll note you'll have a lot more detail in the stitched image than in the single image taken at the beginning of this article. 

(Cherokee pipe courtesy of Ron "Walks In Smoke" Teel)  

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