Stitching photographs: Microsoft ICE review

Disclosure: I’ve no relation with the creators of this software or the company. This is an opinion about a free software that I downloaded legally from its web page.

Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) is a free program to stitch or combine two or more photographs if and only if they overlap. Used usually for panoramas I use it for different occasions.

WHEN IT IS FOR

1. When your lens doesn’t cover the image you want

You want to cover more space than the angle of vision of your lens can give and you cannot, because time or space, move to another position:

Let’s take these two photographs:

Image a

plus…

Image b

Then we get:

Stitched from two photographs

But a caveat: if there are objects that don’t repeat in both photographs the program eliminate it from the final version. So actually I cut a bit of image b near the right side of the door so the running man could be in the final image. As you can see I hadn’t time to back up because the man couldn’t be there anymore; nor space because there were the walls of the houses. So my more realistic solution was to photograph with the goal of stitch. Of course you think “then take the photograph in horizontal” but with one I wouldn’t get the whole area I wanted and in horizontal I had need a horizontal more to cover the half top of the hotel and a third vertical to cover the corner at the left.

2. When you need more megapixels and detail

True, there are cameras with 36 megapixels but if you need that resolution just a couple of times in a year, you just can stitch when needed. Here I zoomed in and I stitched five photographs of the tree. The camera is a Sony R1 of ten megapixeles capable of A3 and perhaps beyond processing carefully. So I took five or six photographs and stitched them getting a final photograph with 30 megapixels of data:

See, a 100 % crop of the above photography, it’s from the right side approximately from the middle:

100 % crop

Of course I could sharpened just one photograph but nothing is free. Usually sharpened photographs can look unnatural and if printed bigger the harshness is quite visible.

It’s always better to have a detailed photograph instead a sharpened one.

3. When you need to control the perspective

Ok, let’s say that you have time and space to take some steps back and get the shot, but then you have to take in account the importance of the perspective.

In the next photograph if I had been farther the perspective would had changed into a smaller rock in the background against the hill in the background. But stitching, because the lens didn’t cover the area I wanted in frame, I got this:

You have to take the photograph, not the camera for you.

4. When you need to change the aspect ratio of your image

If you have a camera with a big sensor, and you can notice it if your lens is big, then usually the format is 2:3. Sometimes this proportion doesn’t help into the composition, in some cases it can look very skinny in vertical or quite tall in horizontal, so you can take one picture and crop, but this method can leads to an image degraded in its quality. Always is better to stitch than to crop. See the next photograph, is about a lazy bench taking a sunbath at the afternoon:

It doesn’t look so bad but notice how the light in the floor is very short, I didn’t take more distance because the perspective had changed and the frontal part of the bench barely can “breath” for the lack of space. That usually happens with the format 2:3, so I took another photograph to the left to stitch them and get this:

The outcome is closer to my vision. The light in the floor insinuate better the nature of the light and the aspect ratio is more proportional to the bench.

RECOMENDATIONS

  • Use more space in the extremes to cover the image you want. It’s due to the perspective. In the next image the corners didn’t cover the frame I wanted so the curve in the bottom is incomplete:

    • If you have to shoot a panorama if possible set the exposure and put your camera in vertical; and if you’ve to shoot vertical buildings or trees put your camera horizontal. The stitched image is going to have more space to crop. To this vertical tree I took three horizontal photographs:

    • Although a bit of wind doesn’t damage the stitching try to don’t shoot places with much movement. To get better results you have to turn the camera around a nodal point to reduce distortions. To put it quite simple if you have a zoom lens in its widest angle the axis is near the frontal lens and at its farthest position in the tele side the axis of rotation is closer to the tripod mount in the body of your camera. I take the photographs for that reason handheld. There are specialized tools but they are expensive and I haven’t felt the need for them in the photographs I stitched ;-) The next image is the most successful stitched image in movement, it was taken in a bus in the highway at dusk when you need slow shutter velocities:

    • ICE sometimes struggles with the waves of the sea and the trees under a moderate wind. And that’s all, other programs can be more successful in that area. I haven’t tried many more programs, perhaps three, because they aren’t free (I’m not a pro and don’t consider myself a photographer so I don’t need a sophisticated program) or are complex and eat so much time.  ICE instead is free and quite simple. For example I got something better in the next photograph with another program, but I deleted it from my list of programs because it was more complex from what I wanted (for that I don’t remember the name), so I accept the limitation and shoot according that, perhaps ICE now can stitch it but anyway, I didn’t considered the corners (it was one of my first photographs to stitch) so I cloned the superior corners:

(stitched with another software successfully)

* * *

These pictures can give you an idea about the uses of this software:

Three vertical photographs stitched

Two horizontal photographs stitched

Four vertical photographs

You can manipulate the perspective in ICE, in this case my goal was to get straight lines.

Two horizontal photographs stitched.

Three photographs stitched to show more of the background without lose the sky.

At dusk is common to meet long clouds. Two horizontal images stitched.

* * *

FINAL WORDS AND CONCLUSION

You can download it, free and legal, from here: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/

To use it just drag and drop the pics, wait that the program do its process et voilà, your photograph is ready ;-) You have to only be careful with don’t correct the vignetting from the source images and save at one hundred percent of quality file.

 And that’s all folks. With the mentioned caveats I’ve no problem in give a qhapaq of gold to ICE.

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14 thoughts on “Stitching photographs: Microsoft ICE review

    1. Hi sir, the program support RAW formats but I process them apart and usually use the jpegs because the output files from ICE are jpeg and tiff, so they could lose the flexibility to receive heavy editing.
      Thanks for your visit, good luck.

  1. madre de Dios, FR… I’ve watched your amazing pix twice and I’ve said to myself:”Mélanie chérie, tes photos sont vraiment nulles à côté de celles-ci… dilettante totale!”:-)))
    * * *
    bravo y buenas noches, super-FR!:-)

    1. Nuuuu! Don’t say that last part Mélanie -_-‘ thanks for the compliments but your photographs are beautiful because you put your heart in them, your photographs, specially the ones in Iceland, Japan and the French Alps, are unforgettable to me. Yesterday in one of your posts I wrote that I can see, read or hear any art but only if the artist put the heart in it, not desires of money. One million time I prefer your photos taken with affection and your soul of poet over any professional guy that speaks about pixels or dynamic ranges.

      There is just one professional photographer I see with interest and is him http://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/ and the other photographs I see are, among other people, the yours ;-)

      Thanks for find me so I could find you dear Freyja ^_^ Night is coming in France.

  2. Hello, Cześć Francis! Very much it being interested in information for photographers. I am not working my photographs. Recently at the exhibition of the photograph I found the inscription “Yo do not take a photograph. You make it.” ps. All your photographs are beautiful. These are the all poems. Pozdrawiam, I wish you a nice day my dear friend. Wanda

    1. Cześć Wanda ^_^! actually you are working your photographs. It’s notorious that you take your time to see something beautiful and take it with calm and get a nice composition. Instead being in front of a computer correcting soulless photographs it’s much more important have time outside to see what is beautiful.
      Your photos are absolutely beautiful and also are poems about you, I’d be happy just seeing your fairyland =)
      Miłego dnia for you too dear Wanda. Francis.

  3. I can’t have ICE as it doesn’t do for Apple Mac users, but I do have a stitching programme, have never thought to use it in this manner so you have inspired me to try this, when our weather improves!!

    1. Good point, I forgot to think most of people that would read this review actually would be Apple users. But I’m happy to give some suggestions about stitching, thanks kind lady.
      About the weather the light in those context looks quite good in interiors of concrete buildings or it could be a good time to go a trip to the Caribbean ;-)

  4. I’m downloading it ! It sounds fascinating ! I must try. But I need to go to a garden, I want to try something with flowers. I wonder if it’s possible to stitch together pictures taken with a wide aperture ? Like 1.8 (when I take my flower picture, I like to have the blurry effect).

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