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Do what the man says….

Yaaay …. I’m back ! Well, the PC is back. Its alive, its working and all is good in the hood. A massive thank you to Andy, its been a long time since we saw each other but this guy went out of his way to help. In the end, it wasnt as serious as first thought and a small purchase from my favourite PC retailer solved it. RAM or random access memory if you are not in the know. What does it look like..well let me show you.

So there you go. That was the problem. I was trying to squeeze a double-decker bus under a low bridge in record time doing 70 miles per hour and it just didn’t like it or fit in the buses case. I can understand why now. I don’t know about you but opening a box containing circuits and hard drives, fans and wires, lots of wires actually, coloured ones as well scares the living daylights out of me really. I can identify what all the bits do, I was brought in to computers in 1982 by a very nice teacher at school called Mr Gaffney. If I recall we were the first school year to have this type of education back then. It was fantastic learning about flow charts and binary, it made sense at the time but it was very difficult to associate it with anything outside the classroom. Logic…now that’s a word isn’t it? That’s what it’s all about. Anyway, without drifting off track; I absolutely loved Computer Studies, it taught me how to program and how to understand computers. And in the end I came out with a GCSE and an A grade. I find it really funny now, since my first computer which was a Sinclar ZX81  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZX81 ) people not in the know have always seemed to turn towards me for help. I wonder if computing over the years has always been and still is one of those “you either know it or you don’t” scenarios. Over the years its done me well, don’t get me wrong here I don’t know it all, in fact thats quite rash because I know sweet Felicity Arkwright compared to most after all you only need to read what happened over the last few days to work out that I needed help and I will be the first to admit it. Many times I have been offered a couple of quid or a freebie of some variety for popping round and performing the simplest of tasks on the hosts PC, walking away feeling very happy with what had been a simple task for me and my pockets lined with english pounds.

To give you an example of my incompetence, before Christmas I installed Windows 8 and I loved it, I then went on to have a new hard drive installed and that’s when it went wrong. My initial thought was to blame myself for something I had done, this is despite the fact I hadn’t done anything. It seemed an easy way out. Elaine has seen me like this before, she know what it does to me when the PC is not playing ball. I become quiet and seem to retract inside myself if that makes sense and as much as I will deny that anything is bothering me she knows, it’s a wifes intuition I am sure of it. The very sad fact is, I know what I am like, I don’t think I am happy until it’s the way I want it, and the repercussions of this involve me messing and tinkering until it does what I want. The internet is a massive resource for finding things out but it’s not always the best. In past instances its proved to be my downfall; believing what I read and standing by it until it all goes tits up and then there is no one else to blame but yours truly. This is all by the by now as my machine is alive and kicking. No screen flickers, no sudden shut downs and an up turn in performance.

January was a terrible month for photography. In past years I have managed over 2000 images, blue skies and sunshine been the reason. When you have taken images of places in all weathers it’s very hard to muster up ideas for something different especially when you seem confined to barracks wrestling with a poorly PC. This has an added effect of ” What will I do with the images if I take them as I have no PC”. It’s a non starter really, so I didn’t bother. For almost one whole month I have had my photography brain switched off and used what very little I have had in ideas on writing this blog. But, and that’s a big but…Here I am ready to start editing. And, in the future I am going to try listening for once and doing as the man says……… I think!

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It’s not a secret…but this is how its done

A few years ago I dabbled in making panorama images using Photoshops’ Automated photo merge tool. As the tool is integrated in to Adobe’s CS5 package; unless you have mega memory it tends to be very unreliable and in my experience has a habit of closing itself down halfway through its operation. I found this so frustrating I decided to look elsewhere for some stitching and panorama software. This was when I stumbled across an early version of a program that was going to change the way I saw things. From 2:3 ratio to Panorama !

Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) is a free, yes FREE piece of software for Windows that will stitch overlapping images. And because its dedicated to stitching it works very quickly and is very accurate too. It can be used stand alone so you don’t need to own a copy of Photoshop to turn out panoramic images of excellent quality. Obviously to adjust and edit your finished piece a copy of Photoshop or any other editing and manipulation software is essential. I am going to show you the process of a simple panorama image, from the RAW images to the finished piece. Hope you enjoy, and remember to try it yourself, you can do it with a mobile phone app these days, but trust me when I say…this way is so much better.

To download Microsoft Image Composite Editor click here

The first task is to capture a series of images that overlap. The overlap is the important bit here, in matter of fact it’s quite essential as ICE (Image Composite Editor) relies on data being matched in order to stitch the images together. One thing to note is that the images don’t have to be in a landscape format, they can be in a square or even in a random shape. Which ever way you decide to compose your images the same rule applies…they must all overlap for the ICE to work.  I have selected three sunrise images (Fig.1) all taken within 10 seconds of each other. You can probably see the obvious overlap on the photographs before we even begin to stitch them together. This is very important.

Fig.1 – These are the images I am using for this demonstration

Open your images from your camera either in to Photoshop or straight to your hard drive if you have no photo editing software (Fig.2). If you have no editing software then skip to the next step and open ICE. One thing to bear in mind when shooting the images is to get the exposure as accurate as possible and be consistent over the series you shoot. This will help you considerably when editing and finally stitching the images.  If you find that one of the images is over or under exposed it will clearly stand out amongst a stitch of several images. Its much easier to get it correct first time than go back and make adjustments and have to do the stitch all over again.

Three sequential images opened in Photoshop CS5 for editing

Fig.2 – Three sequential images opened in Photoshop CS5 for editing

The images should all be sized to exactly the same size. Most of my images are edited for the web and Flickr so they are resized at 1600×1200 pixels at 72 pixels per inch. With the images edited to look similar in exposure, contrast, brightness and depth its a simple case of saving them to a location on your hard drive. The next step is to install and run Microsoft Image Composite Editor. You will then be presented with an interface as shown in Fig.3

Fig.3 - MS ICE Interface

Fig.3 – MS ICE Interface

You now have a choice; you can either drag your images from the saved location as a selection (i.e. all 3 at once) or you can click FILE, NEW PANORAMA and select the images this way. In all fairness the latter is probably better as you can ensure from previews that you actually select the correct images. see (Fig.4)

Select your images for import in to ICE

Fig.4 – Select your images for import in to ICE

Once the images are imported in to Microsoft Image Composite Editor the program will start working straight away. Depending on how many images you have selected for your stitch and how complex they are will affect the amount of time the software takes to produce the output. A simple 3 or 4 image composite should only take a few seconds to complete. During the process you will see a screen like Fig.5

Fig.5 - ICE is generating your stitch

Fig.5 – ICE is generating your stitch

When the program has finished you should be presented with a composite image of all your selected photographs (Fig.6)  I did mention earlier that the system is not 100% accurate and occasionally errors do occur. I cannot suggest a solution to errors as I don’t yet have one. I did try selecting a smaller number of images for the stitch, then doing a second stitch with the remainder. Then finally stitching the two stitches, if that makes sense. This does overcome the problem slightly but once again is not guaranteed. Ok, so you now have your stitch, and it should look something like Fig.6. As you can see its look is very unfinished and scrappy. I do call this a “Tatty Stitch” and occasionally I will pop this final image in to Photoshop as it is and make an image from it. An example of this can be seen in Fig.7 below

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Fig.7 – An example of a “Tatty Stitch”

6. Clicking Automatic  crop will frame the image

Fig.6 – Clicking Automatic crop will frame the image

The crop boundaries can be adjusted according to your requirements, once you are happy it just a case of saving your image to your location of choice. This is done by clicking “export to disk”. So there you have it. A very easy and effective way of creating either a landscape panorama or a general photostitch. There are many possibilities with stitches, not just landscapes but in general photography. It can be great fun to capture a group of people, particularly a few who are moving around, occasionally you can find the same person in the stitch in more than one location. Below is the final image (Fig.8) I created from three single frames using the steps above. Hope you like it, any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me or leave a message in the comment box on here.

Fig.8 - Final Image

Fig.8 – Final Image

If you like the idea of photo stitching and would like to see some more of my attempts, please take a look at this specific set I create on Flickr just for composites : Click HERE

Thank you for reading this post. If you have as much success as I have doing this, please contact me and show me your stitches, I would love to see them.

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