Excellent and free panorama software: MS ICE

Panoramic pictures are a great way to convey the scale and beauty of a scene, but building a panorama requires a good set of tools. Fortunately Microsoft Research is giving one away for free.

For the longest time I kept Microsoft Digital Image Suite on my computer only for the purpose of stitching panoramas. My photo editing tool of choice is Photoshop, but Photoshop CS’s panorama stitching was so cumbersome and ineffective that I didn’t even try CS4 until I was writing this. Digital Image Suite does a good job… but only if images are really well lined up. Thankfully, however, Microsoft Research released Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE).

I’ve compared the results of Microsoft Digital Image Suite, Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS4 and Microsoft ICE.

Photoshop CS did only a passable job at creating a panorama. Items weren’t lined up and there is obvious banding where the exposure differs between pictures.

DI did a beter job of lining up the pictures and blending the exposures, but still not great.

Photoshop CS4’s Photomerge feature does a nice job both of lining up the images as well as adjusting the exposure across the frame.

Microsoft ICE generated very similar results to Photoshop CS4 on my set of test images. Both CS4 and ICE had trouble lining up the railing in the center of the picture (probably a result of me shooting the sequence without a tripod). CS4 has a more even feel to the exposure and the perspective feels less warped.

Bottom line: ICE is by far the easiest tool to use of the set and generates results comparable to the $700 CS4. While I still live in Photoshop for image editing I use ICE for stitching panoramas. It’s a smaller application and has nice features like "autocrop" which automatically removes the inevitable curved seams on a stitch.

Getting better pictures without getting more gear

After bemoaning the fact that my wife’s little D40x does a better job capturing pictures than my D100 I immediately starting thinking about how I could go about getting a new camera body. I am, however, cheap and certainly don’t have a couple spare Grover Cleveland’s to throw in Nikon’s tip jar. Fortunately, there’s a solution: just be a better photographer.

My first step: take Scott Bourne’s advice to heart. Scott has published a list of 10 ways to improve your photography without buying gear. Scott’s suggestions were inspired by David duChemin, but David’s tips cost $5 (I refer you to paragraph one for information on my fiscal leanings).

My second step: start taking pictures. I know it’s the only way to get better, and yet I still don’t do it. From now on, more pictures, I promise (I promise myself, that is, most of you really don’t need any more pictures to look at).

Blur of fur
Blur of fur
My greyhound spazing out at with .5s shutter speed and rear curtain flash

Sometimes things just work out

My phone’s camera has a mode where it takes a 3×3 or 2×2 grid of images by snapping pictures in series. Press the shutter button and it starts going. There’s the typical camera phone lag to get started and then it takes pictures on its own schedule. I tried it on Finney and here’s what I got:

Autopilot for picture taking ain’t too bad. It just reinforces the same old “take lots of pictures, you’ll get something you like.”

My current favorite picture

Because I’ve become “one of those people” I’ve been taking a ton of pictures of Finney. When you take lots of pictures you often end up with something you didn’t quite anticipate.

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I took this while he was in the middle of playing with a rope toy. I’ve decided he doesn’t look angry, just mildly insane… and that pleases me.

image

What’s entertainment for a greyhound? Paula took a little video to give you a fairly clear picture: