PROCESSING

Automating The Stitching Process

Thankfully this is very easy. You can try to stitch all these images manually if you have an abundance of time and a masochistic tendency, but seriously... you have better things to do. There are a lot of options here and several of them are free, but I will come back to this in the 'Software Options' section.​

Pre-Stitch Processing

You can throw your batch of images straight from the camera into the Stitching process. Most software will do a pretty good job of eliminating the vignetting and distortion, 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. 

  • Vignette removal (profiles or manual)

  • Distortion correction (profiles or manual)

  • Lateral Chromatic Aberration removal (manual)

  • White Balance changes (better with RAW)

  • Curves Adjustment (better with RAW)

Post-Stitch Processing

At this stage you’re at a similar point to where an image would come out of a camera. What I mean here is that it will be a little unrefined. Most likely your composition will be out of whack, so a crop will be needed. You might want to fine tune the white balance and colours now that you can see the whole image and there will be no vignetting. Some people might like the lack of dark corners, but almost never do.

So, after a crop 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, 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)

  • Curves (fine tune)

  • Split Tone Colours

  • Exposure Gradient

  • Post crop vignetting

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.

Software Options

There are several pieces of software that can automate the stitching process for you. Image editors that also have the ability to stitch (Photoshop, Lightroom, Affinity etc.) are not free, tend to be lacking in advanced features, give poor results and/or are slow to process the results. Here's a list of some dedicated options (all of which are better than image editors in many or most ways):

  • Microsoft ICE (Free)

  • Hugin (Free)

  • Autostitch (Free)

  • Kolor AutoPano ($100-200)

  • PTGui (Free / $100)

  • Panorama Plus X4 (£20)

  • ArcSoft Panorama Maker ($80)

  • PanoWeaver 9 ($100-300)

There are plenty of free options available here. I haven't tried all of these. I'm currently trying 'Hugin' and need to keep playing before I can say much about it. My personal favourite currently is Microsoft ICE. I find it easy to use, fast to process and it has the best projection options that I've seen for keeping vertical lines not just straight, but vertical (like a perspective control lens).

Reducing Processing Time

Most PC programs are good at reducing the processing time by changing a few simple settings. Autostitch (for example) allows you to choose the percentage size of your end result (50, 25, 15 or whatever you like). This massively improves your processing time and you don’t even have to down-sample the resolution of the source images either.

You could throw a lot of cutting edge modern computer tech at processing bokeh panos, but I’m not sure I would advise it. I’ve pretty much done this, so perhaps I can help tell you what to avoid wasting your money on.

  • SSD? – The fastest PCI-E drives don’t seem to make a difference here, so I would advise sticking to standard SATA SSDs (for less money, or more storage).

  • RAM? – I’ve seen Autostitch use up to about 20GB of RAM for a stitch, but it does OK with a lot less. Photoshop is a RAM whore however, so check as much at that as you like.

  • CPU? – This is the most important aspect that will affect performance here, but I’m not sure that many of these programs are well set up for muti-threading. I will do some tests here and report back soon

  • GPU? – As far as I am aware none of the stitching software uses the graphics card to process the results. Although this may well change in the future.

Potential Stitching Error 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 lenses entrance pupil), a failure to lock settings (perhaps your WB 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 that’s just silly… right? Other options are:

  • Use different stitching software (if it’s Photoshop, definitely try that)

  • Take out some of the images that could be problematic from the stitch and try again

  • Try stitching even smaller parts of the batch, like each horizontal strip (then restitching those or going the manual route from there).

Edward Noble

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