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.
(2019 update. there is a newer version with importan improvements: it completes blank corners in a realistic way and it has a better way to zoom without losing quality to check the stitch. You can see it here)
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:
Then we get:
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:
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.
- 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:
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These pictures can give you an idea about the uses of this software:
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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.