I have recently discovered the joy of panorama stitching software. This software does a remarkable job of stitching overlapping images into a panorama. The task the software handles (invisibly) is more complex than I first imagined. The software must correct for perspective distortion, match exposures, as well as align images.
Below is one of my first attempts. I achieved this result from six shots taken without a tripod or monopod. I used Panorama Factory. Click on any image for a larger version.
I later bought a monopod, which I used for the shot below. Monopods are light, compact, and can double as a walking stick. More importantly, they really make aligning shots for panoramas easy. The panorama below was taken using a monopod, and MGI Photovista was used for stitching the images:
MGI Photovista is particularly good at handling images that include moving people in the overlap areas. Here are two constructed using this software. Both were taken without benefit of tripod or monopod. Click each image for a larger version.
Here is one more handheld panorama. This one was shot in 40 mile/hr winds with a Kodak disposable film camera. I asked for a Kodak Picture CD when the film was processed.
For a review of panorama software, see http://www.panoguide.com. I use Panorama Factory, MGI Photovista, and PanoTools with the PTGui front end.
You can upload and print your panoramas at http://www.ezprints.com. They will print in six inch and twelve inch widths, in whatever length the image demands. Prices are low and the quality is good.
I had some hesitation in including this section, for fear that a section on technique would discourage some folks from just jumping in and getting started with panoramas. You can get good panoramas without much care. Three of the four images above were taken handheld, and I think they're pretty good!
However, a monopod makes good panoramas easier, and the method below takes much longer to describe than to use. There is only one goal: keep the monopod head stationary in space as you rotate it about a fixed axis.
While one can easily shot 360 degree panoramas, most of the time I am interested in only about 120 - 160 degrees. For these, I can shoot the whole sequence without moving my body. The goal of this technique is to avoid lateral movement of the camera. If the head of the monopod stays in roughly one spot as you rotate, your panoramas will be absolutely fantastic.
I like around 50% overlap of shots. Why so much?
Do not take the above instructions to mean that meticulous care is required for acceptable results. On all but the second, I used no monopod, just held the camera to my face and rotated my body from shot to shot. This works reasonably well as long as you hold the camera level. (I was surprised to find that when shooting handheld, I consistently tilt the camera about 1.3 degrees to the left. The stitching software handles this well, but the resulting panorama ends up rising from left to right as the images "stair-step". I use Paint Shop Pro to rotate the panorama exactly horizontal.)