Stitching Techniques Tutorial

Adrian Wayte asked me recently to do a refresher on stitching techniques so I thought I would put a post up going over some of the techniques I have developed over the years for anyone who is interested.

I am not up with the latest technology like my mate Brent and the slick video tutorials so bear with me. At least I guess with a written tutorial it is maybe a little easier to scroll back to a specific area you are looking at!

To start with I confirm that I shoot in RAW and use CS5 and Camera RAW to process the RAW images. Lightroom can easily replace camera RAW if that is the software you are used to.

To start a stitch I set my camera in full manual, with the white balance selected as required. You will need a level tripod and an L bracket so that you can set your camera up in portrait mode. I use a Really Right Stuff Tripod and L bracket. I just about always stitch with a 50mm prime.

Select the scene you want to make a panorama and my good mate Neal Spool uses a cardboard cut out for this purpose cut out at a 3-1 ratio so that you can look through it to visualise the panorama image. I just tend to look left to right visualising where I want to image to start and where I want it to end, then in live view I do a sweep of the scene from right to left viewing the scene in live view.

Decide if your scene deserves 2/3 sky or 2/3 foreground and ask yourself if it needs something in the foreground. If the scene is lacking in the foreground…move left to right to see if there is anything more interesting further around.

Once the scene location has been decided on, click live view on your camera and zoom in to 10x on an area 1/3 out and manually focus on that area..

Set your aperture at something between F8 and F13 and then select the shutter to end up with a reasonable looking histogram (if your camera has that function). Be careful of starting the stitch in a really bright area and ending in a really dark area. It will be easy to either blow the highlights or lose the darks, or both.

So, now that everything is set and you have your release cable attached, start with the left shot and then move the tripod head around to the right and over lay from the last image by 20-30%.

I do a 7 image stitch for a 1-3 composition and a 10 image stitch for a 1-5 composition.

If you are doing a stitch that has any water movement in it. Make sure they are enough control points, or fixed parts of each image to enable the stitching software to work its magic. I always take a few cover shots in landscape mode in case I need to drop a nice wave in to cover up some stitching errors.

To edit, open all the images in Camera RAW. Select the top image and make any white balance adjustments, fill light adjustments, digital grads etc until the top image is close to how you want it. then click ‘select all’ and then sync. Click all the buttons in sync and push OK. In this way all the images will be exactly the same.

Export to photoshop and then immediately save all the images to your desktop.

I use PT GUI to stitch with. It is easily downloaded from the web for about Euro 89…don’t hold me to that, coz its been a while since I bought my version!

Open PT Gui and select the 7 images and then select align images. Check on the various options in PT Gui for the stitching method. Most of the time, I select mercator.

Then go to create panorama. AS a default PT Gui defaults to a small size, so it is important that you select a 16 bit image with no compression and select full size as well.

Export as a TIFF file and name the image what ever you like. Click create image.

A couple of tricks here shown to me by my little buddy Flembotaruny! If your horizon is crooked at align image stage Control click on the right side of the image will allow you to move the horizon up and down until its level. If your horizon is bent, a click in the centre of the image will bring up a hand that will allow you to click and hold moving the image up or down until the bend is gone.

Another trick is if you have shot a water scene, on the last step export as a PSD file, blended with layers. This will allow you to rub in and out the stitching errors in the water. Use a mix of that and the clone tool to get the result you are looking for.

Once the image is saved to your desktop, open back in photoshop, flatten it and do the final processing in photoshop as you would with
any other image.

If you need to use that cover water image you shot in landscape mode, go back to that image and open it in RAW with one of the other synced images…sync the new image with the old…open in photoshop and then open the stitch in photoshop as well. Using the move tool drop the cover image onto the stitch and change the blend mode to darken. This will make the cover image see through so that you can line it up with the background. A move in any directions with your keyboard arrows will move the image 1 pixel in all directions per click. When its close, change the blend mode back to normal and then click on the mask icon whilst holding the option key down. Rub in the bits of the image that work for you using a white brush if you have a back mask.

I have other techniques I use for manual stitching and multi row stitching and stacking that I will leave for another day!

Prince Regent River Sunset

The Kimberley is a vast area of some of the most amazing scenery on the planet but every now and then she turns it on for you just to show she has much much more up her sleeve for those who care to venture into her realm.

When we were cruising out of the Prince Regent River, home of the famous Kings Cascades, the wind dropped to absolutely nothing and then the True North Captain backed off the throttles to a dead stop so that we could all enjoy the ambience and the changing colours of the sunset.

Our wake caught up with us which made for some really interesting wave lines stretching off into the distance.

This is a 7 image stitch shot with my 50mm prime. My very good mate, Flembot showed me a very cool trick on how to blend such stitches which came in very handing for this shot.

In PT Gui, select the stitch option you want, which was Mercator in this instance. Then when selecting what to save as, select a PSD file and also Blended with layers.

The result will be a blended image with all of the layers showing and the masks showing. To blend the wave lines, it is simply a matter of clicking on each mask and getting the waves to line up.

Another tip I got from Flembot is how to straighten the horizon in PT Gui. Simply hold down the control key on a Mac and click on either side of the image and hold and then twist the image up or down. You can also bend the image if it hasn’t stitched correctly by clicking in the middle of the image and pushing it up or down.

I hope you like the image and the PT Gui tips!