by Alan Hartmann
(This tip was submitted by a user.)
Here are a few tips from my own experience.
Taking the photos
Evaluate the scene and locate the brightest portion. Take a test shot, and adjust your exposure so there are no blown out highlights. Set your camera to manual exposure, using the results of your test shot.
Do not use auto white balance. Either select one of your camera's pre-sets, or set a custom white balance.
For successful hand-held panos, you're better off shooting situations where you can set the aperture to get a reasonable hyperfocal distance. Then you will not need to worry about focus from shot-to-shot: just set it once before the first shot.
Shoot your frames starting from the left edge of the scene. After each shot, rotate to the right so you get a 30-50% overlap. The easiest way to do this is to make a note of something near the extreme right edge of the frame, then rotate right until it's past the center of the frame. (Exactly at the center of the frame would be 50% overlap. Halfway between the left edge and the center would only be 25% overlap -- not enough.) If you can't shoot from left to right, that's OK; it's just easier when you're importing the images into your stitching software if they're already in the right order.
Concentrate on keeping the camera as level as possible throughout the pan. If you're using a tripod, get one of those hot-shoe levels, and make sure the camera remains level as you rotate it.
It's not specifically required, but I recommend that you shoot in portrait orientation. You'll need more shots to cover the same horizontal field of view, but you'll wind up with more "headroom", and more detail (i.e., higher resolution) in the finished photo.
Don't use a polarizer. Since the effect of a polarizer varies with respect to the angle between the sun and your shooting angle, the sky will not be uniform across the resulting stitched image.
Avoid scenes that have foreground detail to minimize ghosting caused by parallax.
You can stitch in Photoshop, but I've never tried, so I can't offer any assistance. For the price ($35 for version 2.4, $60 for his newest, and there's even an old version available for free), Panorama Factory can't be beat IMO. There are other options, some free, see the links below.
With any of the programs, you'll need to supply the effective focal length used in your shots. If you don't have the exact multiplier your camera uses, find out if you can. I believe the latest version of Pano Factory has profiles on a great many cameras, so it may be able to figure this out for you.
The stitching software I use is available at www.panoramafactory.com
For information on other pano software: www.panoguide.com
Kaidan makes a variety of pano heads. I use the "Kiwi-L" (relatively inexpensive): www.kaidan.com
Ezprints makes great pano prints. I've done some up to 5 feet wide: www.ezprints.com
The best collection of panos I've come across is by Max Lyons. Max also sells a stitching program called PTAssembler that can do multi-row stitches. It's a "front end" to an industrial strength image manipulation program called PanoTools. www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons
Some of my panos, including some very early efforts that demonstrate some things that can go wrong:
Here's a sample of 4 hand-held photos quickly stitched with Panorama Factory:
Hand Held Sample
Hope this helps!