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Panoramas with Microsoft ICE

This isn't a great photograph...

...but it is a great job of stitching three shots together to make a single panoramic photograph. This is my first attempt at panorama stitching with Microsoft's Image Composite Editor - ICE. I shot three shots in vertical format to get this shot which is about 1.67:1 aspect ratio. I can't see the join.

I started taking wide-aspect photographs a few years ago. My Olympus OMD-EM10 can be set up to record a 16:9 aspect shot and when you do this you see this aspect in the viewfinder, so you can compose in this format. This is a really nice feature of an EVF but 16:9 isn't very wide. There's no particular standard for wide-screen aspect ratios (though 16:9 is common in television) so it's a question of aesthetics. Having looked at various people's work and trying various crops of my own shots I decided to try 2.55:1, which is almost the original Cinemascope format.

I think a wide aspect like this is a very natural way of seeing. When we look at a view we tend to look towards the horizon and from side to side. We don't tend to look up and down much. So I think a wide-format picture satisfies our natural way of viewing a scene.

Microsoft ICE is free software. It's trivially easy to use and quite fast. It gives some options that I don't really understand, especially the projection options, but choosing the defaults created a perfect result.

I shot in vertical (portrait) format and took three shots, hoping to get about a 2:1 result (this being just a test). To get 2:55:1 I'd probably need four or five shots, when you take into account the overlap between them. I should have shot in manual mode to make sure to have the same exposure value for each. In fact the right hand shot is half a stop darker than the two others. You can barely notice this in the result but it was a mistake. My new Nikon d610 has a level indicator that shows any tilt so you can make sure the camera is absolutely level for each shot.

I imported the results into Lightroom and processed the left hand shot. I then copy/pasted the edits to the other two to make sure each shot looked identical. This means you can't apply any brushes or radial or graduated filters because you might end up with, for example, the sky looking different colours or tones in each shot. So I suspect that having got the finished stitched file you might then import this into Lightroom and do further processing.

Stitching the shots in ICE was trivial. Just open the files and follow the arrows through each stage. It took a few seconds to create the stitch. The result is a 190Mb tiff file.

The big artistic difference shooting this way is that effectively you are shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens. The lens on the Nikon is 24mm. Shooting a single horizontal and then cropping to 2.55:1 means you crop off top and bottom leaving a thin strip in the middle. With this stitched shot I not only get the full 24mm but I get it in vertical format so I get a lot of foreground.

Ultimately I really don't know what I'll do with all this. I really like the results and I really like this aspect ratio but I'm not sure I want to sell them. The whole point of stitching instead of cropping is to have massive resolution to make massive prints but I can't physically fit bigger prints in the car when I go to art markets. I'm also not sure I want the expense of having to carry more frames in stock in this format. And then there's the extra time and effort of processing.

So, watch this space and we'll see what happens.


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