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Just a stitch in time

A few weeks back I put a post on NMDP that jus not demonstrated my love for panoramas and photo stitching but also showed you how a basic stitch was done using Photoshop (or not) and Microsoft Image Composite Editor. If you missed this post and are still interested then take a look here. This is a very neat and tidy approach to stitching and the completed image looks “politically correct”.

One question I asked myself a long time ago, well before I started doing panorama stitching on the computer was “What is right and what is wrong?“. That’s one of those questions that just screams out “Oh my god here we go again…time for a debate”. Well actually I don’t want an argument or even a debate, I don’t even want opinions that is of course unless you want to offer one. Some of you will say that if two images were joined together then they should be seamless and invisibly joined as if it were just one photograph. Others might say…”well, maybe its a little surreal to make things look a little messy and untidy and its more like art”. Yes, both are correct. I do love a clean image one with straight edges and looks as if it could be taken to a bespoke framer for finishing prior to hanging on a living room wall. But, I also love the shabby approach. Below are two examples of what I am talking about.

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As you will be able to see they are two completely different concepts. Both have their own qualities and I would assume its just a personal choice as to which one you prefer. Once again I am about to refer to a previous post but please take a look at this entry here. Kevin has some great ideas when it comes to stitching and compositing images. He focusses on people photography and portraits with this particualr style in mind. Like I state in the post, I think they look absolutley superb. If you go out with the intention of shooting to stitch then you will go on forever. Over the next few days I am going to work on a couple of different ideas which lean a little bit towards David Hockney’s style and see if they work. Today I spent an hour down at Clarence Dock whilst waiting for a friend to finish at the hospital. Whilst I was there I took about one hundred images, some which were intended to be a stitch of a different kind. I had a ball, a passer by looked at me as I contunually kept tapping away at the shutter, she must have wondered what I was doing. In the space of two minutes I had the whole scene covered.

I am going to put a whole new approach on this one… I’m going to edit it with reckless abandon. No matching of exposures, no matching of edges and no trimming of edges…just a slap dash edit that looks like a work of art.

So watch this space folks. Eventually I will catch up and be able to post you any image. In fact, I might jump the queue and do it now. Thanks for reading, please come back to NMDP and see more. All comments welcome.

Back to the Peninsulas

Sunday brought along another trip to the lovely Lake District Peninsulas and a visit to Haverigg for a catch up with my parents. In light of the recent cold weather and the knowledge that the mountains were still covered in a layer of snow this proved to be quite interesting from a photographers perspective. Leaving Winterbourne Towers at 8:00 am we headed north-west towards Skipton and Settle and the dreaded A59.

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The Lake District Mountains

The two and a quarter-hour journey was flawless and the sight that greeted us as we hit the A590 at Milton just by the M6 was picture-book perfect. I could have spent my whole day in central Cumbria, the Lake District mountains looked sublime; every fell or mountain above  2000 feet was covered with a dusting of snow. It was quite unfortunate that places to stop on the A590 are few and far between and where lay-bys do exist the views were somewhat limited or restricted much to my frustration. I did however find a quick stop possible as we drove over the fells towards Grizebeck on the A5092. Between  Lowick Green and Gawthwaite as the road climbs towards the summit of the pass there was a lay-by with a very limited view over the central Lakes. As always, the view from a parking spot is never the same as what you observed a few minutes before and not been keen on blocking the road I decided to give that one a miss. I did however manage a couple of shots, above is a two image stitch of the view from a few miles down the road at Wreaks Causeway End Bridge on the A595. The snow on this image doesn’t look as intense as it did on the more central fells but I am sure you get the idea. The journey from Leeds can be split in to two sections; the first being the trip from Yeadon to Sedgwick on the A590 & A591 and followed by the trip west to the coast on the A595. Both segments have their own particular appeal, the journey to Sedgwick is mainly countryside with few towns and villages in comparison to the second  which is beautiful landscapes with the odd glimpse of the seaside flavouring the journey with a sweet topping.

We arrived in Haverigg at 10:30 am and ready for a customary morning coffee. It’s always a lovely feeling coming here, its difficult to explain but it always feels like coming home despite the fact that I wasnt born here. There is a family connection that stems back many years but that’s another story. Haverigg is a village on the south-west coast of Cumbria, it is historically part of the original county of Cumberland. It has an extensive blue flag beach, a restored lighthouse and close the RSPB Nature Reserve at Hobbarrow. It is at the mouth of the Duddon Estuary, a protected are important for birds and other wildlife. The village is also very close to Haverigg Prison, a low security prison for males from all over the North of England.  Below is a photograph taken on Sunday of the harbour at Haverigg, it almost felt like Spring. I am sure you will agree, the landscape on a beautiful day is stunning.

Haverigg, Cumbria

Haverigg, Cumbria

When the weather is good I will always put a camera in the car. Well, nearly always… there have been instances when I have totally lost the plot and left it behind. It’s on those occasions that something worth photographing appears in front of me and laughs at me uncontrollably. Haverigg is very picturesque as I am sure you can tell from the photograph above, if you would like to see some more images of this beautiful part of the world then take a look at the set I put together on my Flickr pages here . Mum and Dad live very close the beach but a long way from the sea. There is no chance of hearing waves crashing on to rocks here. Haverigg is in the mouth of the Duddon Estuary so the sea very rarely comes up so high. In a total contrast to this, just 2 miles up the coast the sea comes in very close making great photographic opportunities.

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I made a mistake on Sunday. A huge one. One I regret, and will regret for a long time. I left my whole camera kit in the boot of the car which is something I never do. Before you start expecting me to say it was stolen, no it wasnt. But what happened next was just typical. The car was parked at the back of my parents home and the only entrance and exit from their house is at the side. We were sat having coffee when my dad informed me there was a bird of prey sat on the hedge just outside of the window. Not wanting pass off an opportunity for a photo I stood up and glanced out of the window. Stood on a perch no further than 10 feet away was a Peregrine Falcon. Yes, you read it right. I can honestly say I have never seen one before in the wild. But now I was in a pickle. Camera with 100-400 lens attached was in the car, the only way to the car was via the door. The minute I would open the door, said bird would be halfway to Windermere. I headed off to the back bedroom to get a closer look armed with my dads point and shoot digital camera. The curtains were closed in the bedroom which enabled a stealth approach…  I slowly peeled back the corner of the curtain and could see the bird in front of me no further than six feet away. It looked fantastic, I could clearly see the yellow beak and its beady eyes, its yellow claws looked huge. There were small feathers stuck in its claws, obviously a remnant of an earlier kill  All that went through my mind was I can’t believe I havent got my own camera in my hand. I got a little daring and slightly moved the curtain to unveil a better view. As I peered through the gap the Falcon sharply moved its head making eye contact with me and before I had chance to draw breath it was airborne and heading for pastures new. When I look back now, had there been an opportunity to grab the Canon it would have been no use. The minimum focussing distance on the 100-400 lens is 1.8 metres. This would have been no good to me as I was a lot closer with no ability to adjust my position. Despite all this, it was awesome to see one so close. It made me think how easily it saw me, all I did was move the curtain a couple of centimetres and its head moved like lightning. You can read more about the UK Peregrine Falcon here

Over the last few years the economic climate has had its effect on all of us, no more than this part of the country. South West Cumbria is very remote and the main employers in the area have either closed or had their work force cut. Cumbria is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the United Kingdom, with 73.4 people per km2 (190/sq mi). As a result, the restaurants and public houses are very quiet and as a consequence some have even closed their doors for good. A notable example in the locality is the Commodore, a great place on the sea-wall offering superb food and awesome views. My parents suggested we try somewhere different a little further out-of-town, so we set off to a very small village called Waberthwaite about 10 miles north of Haverigg. The destination was a local Inn called The Brown Cow. From the roadside, the car park looked full giving the impression that we may have a problem getting a seat let alone something to eat. We parked up and took a peek inside. I asked the barman if they could squeeze four of us in to which he politely informed us that the full car park didn’t reflect the number of seats in the restaurant as most of the vehicles had been left over from a heavy session the previous night. We had a great meal, I just looked on Trip Advisor for a review of the Brown Cow but it seems to have avoided either compliments or criticism.

On the return journey from our visit to the Brown Cow we took a small diversion to a little shoreline location called Silecroft. With the sun out and it being quite low in the winter sky the lighting was superb. I took a slow walk on to the beach to grab a few shots. More of these will appear on my Flickr stream within the next few days. Meanwhile. here is one to keep you going.

Silecroft

Silecroft

I am sure you will agree with me when I say it was an opportunity not to be missed. As you will already know, I have no fear of shooting direct in to the sun. The results can be a little hit and miss but quite often you can come out with something really striking. I love lens flare…it adds another dimension to an image, of course that is just my opinion and like anything, it’s not to everyone’s taste. I managed to tap off about 65 images from the shoreline and returned back to the car quite happy. The short five-minute trip from Silecroft back to Haverigg culminated in me jumping out of the car in the harbour area to grab a few more frames. Once again, the lighting towards the end of the day was just spectacular. It’s always difficult to come up with something fresh when you revisit a location. This is made even harder when you have similar images from the same time of year and under the same lighting conditions. Despite this, I managed to get a few more shots in before we said our good byes and head for home. We were a little pushed for time as we had to be home before 7pm as our beautiful grandchildren were coming to stay for the evening. This meant leaving Haverigg at the very latest 4:30pm.

Sunset was due at 17:21 and given the choice I am sure you know what my option would have been. But which ever way you cut it that’s much too late to be leaving when you have a journey time of 2 hours 20 minutes. So then sunset would have to wait for another time. I had totally misjudged the timings for the afterglow as I had estimated that we would get somewhere near the view over the Duddon Estuary which would have been ideal. Instead, we got much further on. Beyond Kirkby Lonsdale in fact. Because the road is quite undulating and as you are heading away from the North-West it’s quite difficult to keep an eye on the setting sun once you get past Lowick as it disappears behind the mountains. It was just by chance that I took a glance over my right shoulder whilst Elaine was driving to see a wonderful glow. We pulled over on the A59 just past Kirkby Lonsdale. I wanted to capture something with a little bit of foreground without it detracting from the glow of the sky.

Sunset Photo-stitch

Sunset Photo-stitch

The sunset brought a perfect end to a perfect day out. Hope you enjoyed the photographs (more on Flickr later) and thank you for reading (if you got this far).

I actually did it….. 33 days late

I finally decided to remove my “idle plug” and get on and edit a photo (or two). I posted this to my Flickr pages in only my third posting of the year. The first was the lovely winter scenes that I managed to capture a couple of weeks ago and the second was the crane that toppled in to the canal. Since then nothing. It’s not down to my enthusiasm.. well, maybe a little bit; I can’t even put it solely down to the weather, actually its more down to me deciding to be more selective. Over the last few years I have uploaded just shy of 11,000 images to Flickr and I have loved every minute of it.  But, and that’s a big but, I have learned that quantity doesn’t override quality and as much as I have time to take and process images I have decided my time would be better used being more selective. So there you go…and here I am, the more selective me. So, for today “Saturday” I removed my idle plug and edited a photo (or 3 as this is a photostitch) and uploaded it to my Flickr page. Just for information, the image is taken with my Canon G9 and stitched using Microsoft ICE. The three images were taken at quite an extreme angle hence the angle of the buildings in the foreground (Left & Right). It was quite difficult to balance the exposure between the highlights of the sunset and the shadows of the foreground. A quarter of an hour later and here we are….enjoy. Thanks for reading. As usual, all comments welcome.

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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