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Vail Tech: Stitch panoramas with free software

Jessie Williams
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –While Colorado’s state motto, Nil Sine Numine (nothing without the Deity), may have been appropriate back in the 1860s when it was first adopted, my personal motto for Colorado has always been “Photographer’s Paradise,” and for good reason.

With the majestic vistas and beautiful people that make up Colorado, you don’t need to look far to find a tourist (or local) with their camera in hand, snapping off a few photos.

Colorado is so filled with beautiful landscapes and scenery that, while it’s never difficult to find something worthy of being photographed, it can often be challenging to capture entire scenes within one camera frame. In the week’s Tech Bytes, I’m going to show you how to make breathtaking panoramas in six easy steps with your digital camera and a free software program called AutoStitch.

1. Shoot

The first step in creating a panorama is to start shooting. All of my panoramas have been made with a simple, point-and-shoot digital camera set on the panorama scene mode. I prefer that mode because it remembers the aperture and ISO settings of the first photograph in the sequence, which helps keep the lighting of the photos balanced. Digital SLR cameras are even better, when used at the same manual settings for each frame in the sequence.

2. Rotate

When taking the photos to be stitched, be sure there is quite a bit of overlap from one photo to the next and try to keep all of the photos rotated around the same axis. To do this, I recommend using a tripod, hiking pole, fence post, or anything stable that you can rest the camera on. Also note that with AutoStitch you are not limited to one row of photos, so feel free to angle up and down from the fixed point as well, and capture as many rows of photos as you’d like.

3. Download

After you’ve shot the photos and downloaded them to your computer, you’ll want to download the AutoStitch software. It can be found by going online to http://people.cs.ubc.ca/~mbrown/autostitch/autostitch.html, and then clicking on the link at the top to “Download (Windows demo).”

Don’t be put off by the word demo, it’s an amazing piece of software, and the demo designation keeps it free for now. As a side note, there is currently no Mac version available, so you will need to run this software on a PC with Windows. There is, however, an iPhone app of AutoStitch available.

4. Organize

It’s easiest if you make a new folder for each panorama somewhere on your computer, and copy just the photos that are going to make up each panorama into those folders.

5. Set up Autostitch

Each time you launch AutoStitch, the first thing you’ll want to do is open the Edit > Options menu. In this menu, there are only two options that I change. The first is to select the “Scale” button under Output Size, and set your output size in percent. If you ever receive an “out of memory” error while stitching, reduce this number.

The second change is to the very last option in the bottom-right corner, the one marked “JPEG Quality.” I put this at 100 for full quality. Everything else I leave the same.

6. Stitch

To get started stitching, go to the File menu and select “Open.” From the browser window, select the folder that you made in step four. Select all of the photos in the folder by hitting Control and the letter A. Once all the photos for the panorama are selected, hit the open button.

Viola, that’s all there is to it. AutoStitch will create and name the new panorama pano.jpg and places it in the same folder that you selected earlier. Now, using your favorite photo editing tool, you can crop the overlap off the photo, or leave it on for a neat effect. Enjoy.

Jessie Williams is the owner of Second October Media, http://www.secondoctober.com, a Web development and graphic design firm in Edwards. Have a tech question you’d like answered? E-mail her at info@secondoctober.com.


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