Automation

You can try to stitch all these images manually if you have an abundance of time and a masochistic tendency, but you probably have better things to do, so thankfully automating most of this process is pretty easy and several of them are free.

Software Options

Many image editors have the ability to stitch (Photoshop, Lightroom, Affinity, GIMP etc.). Although they’re not free, considering you’re likely to own one already it’s often a good place to start. If you've tried these options and find them slow, fiddly or lacking in features you're in luck because there are usually better options - here’s a list of some dedicated stitching apps:

     Platform Key

Windows Only

Win + Mac

Win + Mac + Linux

Performance

Since I just bought a new laptop and still have access to the previous two, I thought it might be useful to show how long it takes to process a panorama on these systems. I will show this using both a standard image editor (Photoshop) as well as dedicated software (Microsoft ICE). It's unfortunate, like most free software, the latter is Windows only.

DSC04776_stitch.jpg

 

This pano was built from 59 images, taken using a Sony 135mm lens on the Sony A9. This rotation was done hand-held (no tripod). 

 

2017 Laptop

  • MDL: Samsung Galaxy Book

  • CPU: Core i7 7200u (2/4)

  • GPU: Intel HN 620

  • RAM: 8GB DDR3 1800 (dual)

  • SSD: 500 / 400MB/s (SATA 6)

Process Time:

  • Photoshop: 21.42s

  • Microsoft ICE: 10:20s

 

2020 Laptop

  • MDL: Acer Spin 5

  • CPU: Core i7 1065G7 (4/8)

  • GPU: Iris Plus G7

  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 3200 (dual)

  • SSD: 3000 / 1000MB/s (PCIE-3)

Process Time:

  • Photoshop: 10:53s

  • Microsoft ICE: 03:30s

 

2022 Laptop

  • MDL: Acer Swift Edge

  • CPU: Ryzen 7 6850u (8/16)

  • GPU: 680M

  • RAM: 32GB DDR5 6400 (quad)

  • SSD: 6800 / 6500 MB/s (PCIE-4)

Process Time:

  • Photoshop: 11:15s

  • Microsoft ICE: 02:48s

 

2016 Desktop (Work)

  • MDL: Dell workstation

  • CPU: Xeon W-2155 (10/20)

  • GPU: Nvidia GTX 1080

  • RAM: 64GB DDR4 2666 (quad)

  • SSD: 3100 / 350 MB/s (PCIE-3)

Process Time:

  • Photoshop: 08:38s

  • Microsoft ICE: 02:10s

 

2021 Desktop (Home)

  • MDL: Custom Build

  • CPU: Ryzen 7 5800x (8/16)

  • GPU: Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti

  • RAM: 32GB DDR4 3600 (dual)

  • SSD: 6300 / 3000 MB/s (PCIE-4)

Process Time:

  • Photoshop: 06:36s

  • Microsoft ICE: 01:33s

NOTES:

  • These laptops are thin/light ultrabooks, no dedicated graphics (GPU)

  • The speed is mostly down to the CPU, RAM helps out a little

  • Neither software uses the GPU and SSD speeds are not very important

  • "Balanced" battery mode was used for the above results

  • "Best Power Efficiency" was a noticeable ~30% slower

  • Plugging the laptops in resulted in a modest ~10% improvement

  • Super fast SSDs required being plugged, but didn't make a big difference

  • Using 1/4 resolution images is recommended. Is ~30% quicker

  • Photoshop uses up to twice as much RAM, if it's available

  • ICE is efficeint with RAM & impressively performant when RAM runs out

  • Photoshop is 3-6x slower than ICE (depending on RAM & CPU)

  • Photoshop sometimes performs worse on AMD regardless of speed

  • Setting a scratch disc in Photoshop (2nd SSD) made it even slower (~3%)

  • Uncompressed TIF files made Photoshop ~15% slower (ICE had no slowdown)

  • ICE is better with blur. Photoshop failed to stitch 18 images here (top corners)

  • Photoshop is better at masking and blending, covering for slight mis-alignments

 

My takeaway from this is that if you're on Windows and haven't tried it already, definitely give Microsoft ICE a go (if you can find it). If you struggle with alignment issues Photoshop could help, but you'll ultimately be better off honing your pano rotation skills because the benefits are huge!

 

I am simply blown away by how bad Photoshop is at stitching images considering it's an expensive, subscription only option. Throwing a ton of RAM seems as if it gets used, but makes little practical difference. However feeding it uncompressed images or giving it two scratch disks (on two separate high-end PCI-E gen 4 SSDs) made it even slower. I'm really not sure how Adobe manage to make it perform so badly at this! Here are two different desktop PC's for further comparison:

So my old laptop performs this task nearly twice as fast in ICE compared to my cutting new desktop in Photoshop... that's crazy!

Pre-Stitch Processing

You can put your batch of images straight from the camera into the Stitching program. Most software will do a pretty good job of eliminating the issues, but for best results you can help out by doing this process manually beforehand. You don’t have to shoot RAW for this, although it does help. These are some basic steps I apply when saving the batch of RAW files as JPG:

  • Vignette removal

  • Distortion correction

  • Lateral Chromatic Aberration removal

  • White Balance changes

  • Highlights & Shadow Retrieval

  • Curves Adjustment

Stitch Settings

This will depend greatly on which software you’re using. I have not used them all, but here are some common themes to look out for:

  • Image Quality

  • Rotation Type

  • Automatic Lens Corrections

  • Blending

  • Projection

Post-Stitch Processing

After I crop the resulting stitch, I tend to take the image back in to Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) for a bit more processing. Your image is no longer a RAW (although you might be able to output a higher bit-depth, which will help), so it won’t open here by default. If your image is open in Photoshop CC this can be done by pressing ‘Ctrl+Shift+A’. I then usually apply the following changes:

  • White Balance (fine tune)

  • Post crop vignetting

  • Curves (fine tune)

  • Exposure Gradient

Hardware Requirements

You don’t need a powerful computer for this, but of course it won't hurt. It more depends on how long you’re prepared to wait. I’m not aware of any software that does this on a mobile device yet with any degree of control, so a proper PC (Windows, Mac or Linux) is a minimum requirement.

Photoshop has the ability to stitch RAW files so that might be a good option if you’re going for extreme quality, but bear in mind that even 6 megapixel images will make final results in the hundreds of megapixels, so you may not need it. My personal favourite currently is Microsoft ICE. Although it is free it is PC only. I find it easy to use, fast to process and it has the best projection options that I have seen, even emulating a perspective correction lens (shift lens).

 

Stitching single images of mostly blur often means they get left out with the software mentioned so far. Some software has the ability to align these through manually adding control points (Hugin). I find this tedius however, if you do as well then try AutoStitch. It’s very old & basic, has no projection options and only inputs/outputs jpgs, but it does a great job with very blurred images and it blends between each image extremely well when they don’t quite align.

 

NOTE: Many dedicated stitching software (Kolor Auto Pano, Serif Panorama Plus X4 & ArcSoft Panorama Maker) have been discontinued over the years, thus this section is much shorter than it once was.

Stitching Errors: Solutions

No matter how hard you try some stitches fail. There may be nothing you can do, but some times it’s fixable with some small tweaks. Here are some solutions that have saved my stitch from oblivion. It could be caused by a lack of overlap, a large amount of blank area in several photos (like over-exposed sky), motion blur, excessive camera movement (not pivoting around the lense’s nodal point), a failure to lock settings (perhaps your white balance or focus shifted). It could be any or many things.

 

If you’re convinced that there is no reason it’s not working there may still be hope. Of course you could stitch the images manually, but if that just sounds silly to you, here are some other options:

  • Use different stitching software

  • Remove potentiallly problematic images

  • Try stitching smaller parts of the batch

konserthuset_32228768207_b.jpg

Fixing Parallax Errors

Parallax errors are a break in the image alignment. Some of the details will not match up between frames, either because something in your scene moved, or more likely; you rotated / moved the camera incorrectly during the shoot (see right).

 

This will be easier for people with advanced knowledge of Photoshop. Even if this is the case it will likely be more time consuming than the rest of the process. If you don’t want to (or can’t) fix these kinds of issues in the post processing then do your best to avoid those errors early on (refer to ‘Camera Rotation’ ).

 

This issue usually isn’t easily noticeable in things like foliage. If you have some light wind affecting those elements in your scene you might be surprised at how little the errors show. Geometric detail alignment issues are the big issue here. Most of the time you will be able to fix a small issue by choosing a single image covering the affected area, pasting it over the top, aligning it and masking a small area over the stitch error. Bear in mind that aligning these areas will get more complicated the closer they are to the corners of the stitch when using certain projections methods (eg. Perspective).