|Lake Tahoe - Emerald Bay|
Occasionally, and I really mean just occasionally, I take a sequence of shots with the intention of putting them together to make one larger image. Then, occasionally, I actually get around to putting them together.
I always tell myself that I'm going to work on doing more stitched panoramas, but then I don't really end up doing it. It's not that it takes that much time or effort to put them together, and it only takes slightly longer to take a series of image instead of just one.
A few years ago I came across a piece of FREE software that I really like for doing automatic stitching. I'll admit that I'm no fan of doing the stitching manually, even though I could if I had to, and I have done so.
I've used a few different software programs over the years. Some of them required you to set reference points so that it would know which areas actually were supposed to match up. I've had relatively good success with Canon's PhotoStitch software which comes with all of their cameras. ArcSoft made a good little program that I had gotten with a cheap digital camera about 9 years ago. They have since updated, and I'm sure it's decent, but it's not FREE, and I'm cheap.
So, about this FREE software; it is the Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE). I've never been a huge fan of Microsoft as I think they charge way to much for software programs such as Office when I can get OpenOffice for FREE, and it's just as good if not better. In this case I have to say that Microsoft has done a great job on a little piece of software that they offer for FREE.
ICE does a great job with handheld shots, though I'm sure that results could only improve if a tripod is used. I'm generally too lazy to use a tripod, so handheld it is for my shots.
Using the ICE program is extremely easy. Just open it up and you can drag and drop you files into it, or just go to File -> New and select your files. From there the program does all the work. How long it takes will vary depending and number and size of images you are using, and, of course, the speed of your computer.
Once ICE has completed your image you can adjust the cropping and scaling to your liking before exporting it. You can export the image to several common file types: JPEG, TIFF, Adobe Photshop (PSD - flat or layered), Deep Zoom Tileset, Windows Bitmap, PNG, and HD Photo.
You also have the option to publish the images to Photosynth. This requires a separate download as well as Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in, also completely FREE. Once published these images can be viewed in full detail by anyone that has the Silverlight plug-in. I have published the following two images to Photosynth.
If you don't want to deal with Photosynth site and downloads to let people view your panoramas in full detail, you can also try Zoomify. There is a FREE Express version that is available for anyone to use. It allows you to create all the files needed to host a Zoomified image on your website. I used this for the Lake Tahoe image at the beginning of this post. It works wells and lets you control how you post your image.
There are other uses for the ICE software as well. I frequently use it at work when I need to duplicate a print that is larger than the scanner bed. The beauty is that the scans do not have to be the same size or even the same orientation. As long as there is some overlap, the software seems to do a great job. The largest print I've done was approximately 16" x 20" and it turned out great. (The scanner bed was a standard letter size.)
If you need to get the big picture, check out Microsoft ICE and see how it works for you.