Stitching photographs: Microsoft ICE review

blue night

 

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:

photograph to stich a

image a

plus…

photograph to stich b

image b

Then we get:

running at night

stitched from the two previous 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:

legion

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

100 per cent crop

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

Seat taking a sunbath

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:

just an empty seat if you are not there

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

  • 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:

threeshold to a world in darkness

 

 

  • 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:

tears

 

  • 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:
the dusk and the beach

(stitched with another software)

* * *

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

a road in earth a road in the sky

three vertical photographs stitched

the high parliament of trees

two horizontal photographs stitched

meadow

four vertical photographs

barely a shadow in the shiny day

you can control the final perspective in ICE, in this case my goal was to get straight lines.

the art of adobe

two horizontal photographs stitched

mars countryside

three photographs stitched to show more of the background without lose the sky

a light that doesn't want to see the sunset

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.

Highlight Recovery

flavours

flavours

Time ago I published a technique that exploits the option of highlight recovery in raw converters. I use Photo Ninja, the option highlight recovery is quite strong and a few times I’ve to turn off it. But also it allows me to get a certain mood. I’m sure it’s possible with lightroom, capture one, dxo or any capable raw converter. This post is for amateur mates, I guess it’s one of several techniques taught by professionals but I haven’t found a name or anything related, perhaps high-key photography but it’s not the same.

This is the deal: when you shot a picture and increment the exposure till the picture seems to be in white then you apply an aggressive highlight recovery in your trusty raw converter then the photograph can recover colours but not textures, this can help you to get ethereal meanings. This cannot works in jpg because it hasn’t the same flexibility, it can bear so much aggressive editing.

That’s the technic part, now about the, I’m not going to say art, intention. My intention is try to express an idea of lightness, or an emphasis in the essence of the sunsets.

This is absolutely different to ETTR whose goal is to increment the exposure just enough to avoid clipped highlights to get noiseless shadows but having the highlight data in the raw file.

I think it works better with abstract subjects, where the mind has not to wonder why it looks strange and just accepts that it’s something different.

hidden order

hidden order

candy colors

candy colors

la mer rouge

La mer Rouge

humble reflection

humble reflection

spider

spider

DSC09039v2-XL

say me blue

And this last (that I published alone before), I think I got a dreamy look. Although here I didn’t use so much of the effect because I wanted to show it more natural, to recover the reflections.

DSC00246v1-XL

Criatura

Passenger: Cotahuasi

time-space compression

 

Passenger is a series of photographs I do; taken behind the window of a car or plane in movement. I don’t believe in such thing as a perfect photography (sharpness, dynamic range, accurate color reproduction, clean noise, etcetera) but in perfect ideas. My idea is to use the movement to change the image taken, I could use a higher ISO or use shutter priority and after that recover shadows in raw; but as I said I’m not searching the perfect photo but to represent an idea. This is a simple idea, the technic is pretty simple. Just relax the mind and take the landscape taking in account the velocity of the car and the moment just to shoot. Similar to a Japanese archer when is going to shot an arrow while galloping in a horse.

Ideally to notice some shapes before they look completely blurred the time should be less than a second. If it’s more you should move the camera to follow the subject (panning). 1/100 of second the distant objects could look static what usually looks not good because it seems a half idea, neither it’s not blurred nor it’s static. As always the rules are to be broken (when you know them perfectly)

black clouds upon the face

black clouds upon the face

u and me

u and me

tree at dawn

tree at dawn

remember the sea

remember the sea

till to cover the world

till cover the planet

Sol y Luna

Photo02_2v1-XL

 

I’m still experimenting with the Canon EF film camera, and with rolls of expired Kodak ProImage 200. I saw Mitsubishi and Samsung rolls so I’ll give them a try.

What you are seeing is actually a double exposure: two different images projected in just one single frame of film. With the Canon EF I can shoot multiple exposures, not just two. In this case I mixed a sunset with the moon (it’s the white shape above the tree almost in the bottom middle where was previously the sun) It has a nice result: the blue sky has mixed and colored with blue the shadows and clouds and give to the warm sunset tones a cool effect IMHO. To put the moon in that specific place I used the aperture marks in the viewfinder as a guide. If it would be a slide I would have to change the ISO to compensate but with the negative latitude that’s not necessary.

Well, it has to be a nice photograph because it was EXPENSIVE, lol. You’ve to buy a roll, take it to the lab, import batteries and a long etcetera. I am not sure if the longitudinal marks are from the camera (I think not) or from the lab (perhaps) or from the expired film (I hope so)

Anyway, I’ll see if I can take sea photographs, tomorrow I’m travelling to the coast. It would be fantastic to go to the beach a bit ;-)

Degradé

 

DSC09084v1-XL

 

I learned that overexposure is a word to say when somebody does an exposure misinterpretation letting pass an excess of light. So an overexposure is a mistake.

Not if it is your intention, in that case u are controlling your camera and your exposure to be one with your vision.

In this technique that I guess it’s used for photographers around the world, but I cannot find if it has a specific name (it’s not ETTR) I intentionally increment the exposure so the sky for example is near white; I save the image in raw; open the file and recover the highlights.

If you wonder the difference between this and to process a photo with normal exposure is that I want to lighten the textures to a maximum, till almost they are just colors more than objects, as you can see in the photo of tonight.