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Photo Stitching

September 10, 2009 - Dave Hecei
You may have heard the term ‘photo stitching’ before. If not, then read on. If you have, you may be thinking of wide panoramic images. While most photographers who use photo stitching are creating super wide panoramas (even up to 360 degrees), it can also be used for standard format photography (11x14, 16x20, etc.). Doing so can create an image with almost triple the pixels allowing for larger prints with more detail.

If you want to shoot a wide panoramic photo using photo stitching software, either stand alone or what is included in Adobe’s Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, there are some techniques you need to follow for quality results.

First you need a tripod and remote release. Yes you can try to hand hold and click off several shots and put them together, but remember we are looking for quality images. Set up your tripod making sure that the tripod head is as level as possible. The next step is optional, but it will be more accurate.

When you mount your camera to the tripod, the pivot point is usually centered in the camera. When shooting several photos for stitching you actually want the pivot point to be on the lens not the camera body. This is called the Nodal Point. There are plenty of accessories out there to help with this, but unless you are doing this professionally, they are far too expensive for most amateur photographers.

It is possible to make your own adapter plate to help. I use my macro focusing rail and a homemade aluminum L-bracket. This allows me to put the camera back from the mounting point and also mount it vertically. Making sure that everything is as level as possible I then shoot three to four shots of my scene, taking them from left to right.

By stitching these photos together in Photoshop I create a single file that is the proper 5:4 or 3:2 size proportions but is also now the equivalent of a 30-megapixel image. While the software does allow these files to merge together fairly seamlessly, it is very important to keep your exposure accurate and the same for all the shots. The only way to do this is to take you camera off of automatic. Take an accurate exposure for the entire scene and set it manually.

You will be amazed with the results you get. This technique does take a bit of practice . You have to have a good subject with good composition. The one thing to watch out for is movement. While you might be able to shoot three or four shots quickly in succession, remember that you want to match things up from photo to photo. Be careful when you are shooting a scene with moving people, animals, or just tree limbs blowing in the wind, it will be much harder for the software to line things up from photo to photo. This technique is ideal for still life and static scenics.


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