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Easy High Quality Panoramic Montages Using Autostitch · by Simon Mackie

(note for Mac users – Autostitch is Windows-only at the moment. However, there are similar tools for the Mac, and although I haven’t tried it, I’ve heard good things about PTMac – http://www.kekus.com/)

Sometimes there’s so much landscape to photograph that it doesn’t fit in one image. In these situations, you can either use a dedicated panoramic camera, which can be fiddly, heavy and expensive, or you can use a method to combine several images together into one, which can be very time-consuming and fiddly.

Fortunately, software can make panoramas quickly and easily – and the results can be impressive.

A panorama of the view from the top of a mountain

The software I’ll be using in this article is Autostitch. Autostitch is a fantastic piece of software; even better because it is free. Although the interface may seem a little tricky to use, it’s really very straightforward and Autostitch does al ofthe heavy lifting for you.

The first step is to take the source images for the panorama. In this example, we’ll be making a panorama of Double Island, off the coast of Queensland in Australia. I walked out onto a spit to take a photo of the island, but didn’t have a lens wide enough to capture the whole thing, so decided to take a series of images, and then stitch them together to create the final image.

There’s a few things that you can do to ensure best results for your panorama, but the main thing is to ensure that your images match well. Autostitch will do a pretty good job of blending images that do not match, but you can make its job a lot easier. Firstly, don’t use a polarizing filter. A polarizer, while making skies that lovely deep blue, will cause the sky to be an uneven color – making it hard to blend the photos together. Secondly, use Manual mode on your camera if it has it. Usually panoramas are landscapes, so you’ll want to use a small aperture like f/11 or so to get a large depth of field. Take a look at the scene that you wish to photograph and decide on the most important and interesting part of the shot, meter for that, and set the shutter speed. If you don’t use manual mode, it’s likely that your camera will recalculate the exposure between images, meaning that they will be hard to blend. If your camera does not have a manual mode, or you’re not sure how to use it, don’t worry too much – Autostitch will still try to blend the images as best it can. Finally, switch to manual focusing and set your focus point (use the hyperfocal distance, if you know how to set that on your lens). Again, if you can’t use manual focusing, don’t worry too much, but you’ll get better results if the focus is uniform.

Taking The Pictures For The Panorama

On to taking the images. Assuming you want to take a horizontal panorama, like the image above, a good tip is to rotate the camera through 90 degrees and shoot all the images in portrait orientation. This means that you get greater vertical resolution, although you’ll need to take more images. Start with the camera at one side of your scene and take several images, enough to capture the whole scene. A good rule of thumb is to overlap your images by at least 25% – the more overlap you have, the easier you make Autostitch’s job. Try to shoot the images in a straight horizontal line – if you have the camera on a tripod, it will make it easier as you can just swing the camera horizontally, but if not you can try aligning point in the viewfinder with the horizon to try to keep the images straight. I didn’t have a tripod with me when I was shooting these images, so I aligned the horizon with a focusing point in my viewfinder. Even if you don’t have a tripod, swing the camera around a fixed spot as if it was on a tripod – that will minimize parallax problems. Don’t worry if you don’t get it completely straight. Note that Autostitch will only work with JPEGs, so I tend not to bother with RAW images for panoramas.

So here’s my source images. I have a lot of overlap, but that’s OK:

A selection of images of an isalnd, ready for stitch together

Ok, let’s get hold of a copy of Autostitch – download the zip file from the Autostitch homepage and extract it to somewhere on your PC. You’ll need to double-click on “autostitch.exe” to make it run.

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