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Then I recently came across a free bit of software called AutoStitch. Written by a couple of students at University of Columbia, this takes all of heartache out of creating panoramas. All you do is select size of final image and tell it what images you want it to stitch. It then goes off and produces your panorama.
It really is that simple. Unless successive images are radically different in exposure (i.e. one image to too light or dark compared to another), it seamlessly blends them. It performs all warping of images necessary to get them to align (other software I've used can cause ghosting in overlap areas where it hasn't quite aligned images). It also aligns multiple rows of images rather than just a single strip.
Even better, it doesn't require you to set up your camera to rotate about its nodal point. When I was in Crete last year, I tried shooting a few panoramas with my Canon EOS 300D held up to my eye (I didn't have a tripod with me). When I got home, I tried stitching pictures together using various bits of software (including software dedicated to stitching images together) and didn't get satisfactory results. I knew, though, that it was because I'd swivelled camera about my spine. But I tried these images with AutoStitch and they came out perfectly. See for yourself here.
I went walking up Wicklow mountains in Ireland no too long ago and up to a high point called Djouce which offers a view over rolling hills south of Dublin. As an experiment, I shot 8 frames while rotating my head about scene (camera to eye as per normal). I wanted to see if Crete photos were a fluke as panoramas from there were composed of, at most, 3 frames each (sometimes 2).
What can I say? I plugged 8 frames into AutoStitch and after a bit of time processing images, it produced a perfect panorama with no ghosting I could see in overlap reasons. I like software like that. It may only do one thing but it does that one thing very well.
Give AutoStitch a try. It's free and, so far, it produces best panoramic results of all panorama/stitching software I've tried.
One thing to remember when taking panoramas is that exposures of each frame should be same. So if you make your first exposure at f/8 and 1/125 of a second, take them all using those settings. Yes, you will have to put your camera into manual mode. Otherwise, you run risk of having radically different exposures for your images. For example, if you're panning over a landscape that contains water, like a lake, any sunlight reflected off water may make your camera take a shorter exposure than for other frames in your sequence. Setting your camera to manual mode will prevent that.
Gary Nugent is a software engineer by profession and has been in the business for over 20 years. Photography has been a hobby for an even longer period of time and he's now even more passionate about it since making the switch to using a digital SLR camera. He runs the Great Landscape Photography website: http://www.great-landscape-photography.com