I’ve mentioned quite a few times that I don’t like wideangle lenses because they are a compositional nightmare for me. I do however like wide views – panoramas. A stitched panorama shows so much more than a panorama crop of a picture taken with an extreme wideangle lens.
The biggest problem with creating panoramas is to create a seamless join between the frames. The left edge of the first frame is never a 100% match of the right edge of the second frame, so if you’re creating your panorama manually, it becomes very time consuming to manipulate the pictures in order to hide the seam. I’ve tried a few panorama programs in the past but nothing worked to my satisfaction (or the program was so complicated to use that I gave up) so I’ve been doing my stitching the hard way, which is not only tedious but also very time consuming.
So I decided to take some measures to improve the situation. Firstly, I ordered the Acratech Leveling Base which will enable me to level the ballhead, because a perfectly level platform is the foundation of a good panorama (I just got the thing so hopefully I can say something about it after this weekend). And then I also wanted to give stitching software another chance, especially after I heard that Photoshop CS3 is very good at it so I felt that I was just making things too hard for myself by stitching manually. Unfortunately, PS is not an investment I can justify in any way, so I looked for specialist stitching software instead and I started with Canon PhotoStitch which came with the camera. I gave up after the first panorama – total crap. PhotoStitch is best used uninstalled. I browsed some photo forums to find out what software other photogs used, and saw someone recommend Microsoft’s ICE (Image Composite Editor) which apparently is just as good as Photoshop. And the price is right – it’s free.
I loaded up my panorama frames and waited for ICE to do its thing. I was amazed – I couldn’t tell where the seams were, even when I knew where they were! I have now been throwing panoramas at it for two nights in a row (I had lots of unstitched images in my catalogue), everything from 2 to 13 frames, and it seems to deliver perfect results most of the time. There are two things which seem to be an issue sometimes, one of them makes sense but the other one is a bit of a mystery.
Firstly, although all the detail in the image is seamlessly joined, ICE doesn’t always seem to be able to compensate for uneven light from one frame to another. By this I mean that if one side of the frame is slightly darker than the other (it is so slight that you don’t even know about it until you start stitching), then in stitching you will notice this when the lightness of the picture changes at the seam. ICE allows you to export the panorama in e.g. Photoshop format with layers, so for critical work, you can use adjustment layers to fix the issue. You can see an example of this problem in the panorama below – there’s a sharp change in levels a little bit right from the middle, and then about 2/5 from the right there’s a wide strip with some lighter levels. It’s good enough for me because I won’t use this image for anything other than keeping in my catalogue (and using it as an example here), but if were to e.g. print it then I would take some time in an editor to sort out the levels.
Secondly, sometimes ICE leaves out a frame in the stitch for no apparent reason at all. Initially I thought it’s doing it because there wasn’t enough overlap between the frames, but then it happened again when there was definitely enough overlap. I re-loaded the frames but it did the same thing again. The really strange thing is that ICE knew exactly what size of slice was missing in the panorama, so it left a gap which was a perfect fit to fill in Photoshop without moving any of the layers done by ICE. Weird. This happened e.g. with the above panorama.
Other than these bugs, it really doesn’t get any easier. Launch the software, select the pictures, read some news while you wait (it doesn’t take very long anyway), select the crop and how you want to save it and that’s it. I never thought I’d say this but… well done Microsoft!
The only problem I have now is what will I do when I go over to Macs next year like I’m planning to? I somehow doubt that Microsoft will make a Mac-compatible ICE!7 comments