Here's a frustrating situation nearly every photographer has experienced: finding the perfect scene for a photo but not being able to fit it all into shot. If that sounds familiar, our walkthrough will be right up your street.
By taking lots of photos, each covering a part of the scene, then stitching them together, you can create a ‘mosaic' of the whole thing. This is an extension to the well-known method of shooting panoramas but with one important difference: a panorama is wide, but it's not particularly tall - you take a row of photos and stitch them together side by side.
In a mosaic, you capture a scene that's both wider and taller than one shot allows by moving the camera up and down as well as left and right.
We'll look at two methods of a mosaic. One approach is to do the job manually with a photo-editing suite; the other is to use software to create a mosaic automatically. For the latter, we've chosen AutoStitch, not least because it's free. It's also a powerful piece of software that's been used in commercial applications. Note that AutoStitch doesn't install the way most apps do, and it won't appear in the Start menu. You simply execute the downloaded file each time you want to run it.
Using AutoStitch is the easiest way to produce a mosaic, but doing the job manually tends to be more satisfying, while giving you an appreciation of what automated tools do behind the scenes. More importantly, it allows you to fine-tune odd perspectives and angles.
Another advantage of DIY mosaics is the opportunity they give you to get artistic. For example, you might want to make a feature of the fact that the montage is made up of lots of smaller pictures.
We've used Corel's Photo-Paint X3 photo editor (this is bundled with the CorelDraw X3 suite), but you can use any package that supports multiple objects. This includes most consumer photo editors, but not Windows Paint.
Consider a suitable resolution and megapixel count before you begin. A higher resolution will enable you to print off an attractive montage, but you'll need plenty of RAM.
Create a mosaic by hand
1. Choose a suitable scene for your mosaic. Avoid moving objects such as people or traffic. You've probably seen some odd effects on Google Street View - if a person is in two or more shots they'll appear more than once in the mosaic. Also try to ensure the lighting is similar for each shot.
2. Now take plenty of shots of your chosen scene; you won't be able to fill in any gaps later. Work systematically - perhaps work from top left to bottom right, row by row, to cover the entire scene. AutoStitch needs plenty of overlap between adjacent shots to match them up. Aim to provide at least a 30 percent overlap.
3. Create a new blank canvas in your photo-editing program. Specify the same resolution as your photos, and make the width and height large enough to fit in all the individual shots side by side. Name and save your file, and continue to do so at regular intervals throughout the editing process.
4. Import each photograph as a separate object. To avoid confusion, work on them in the same order that you took the photographs. Drag each one to its approximate position within the overall scene as it's imported. Even at this early stage you will start to get a feel for what the end result will look like.
5. Accurately line up the second picture with the first. The overlap will help you here, but you'll need to zoom in for an accurate match. Continue until the top row is complete, then move to the second row and so forth until all the shots are in the correct place. We suggest you save your work after placing each image.
6. If the lighting was pretty much even, the job will now be done and you can save the final image - possibly having cropped it first. But there will often be a discrepancy in lighting between adjacent images. If so, use the brightness-adjustment function in your photo-editing program to smooth out the joins.
>> NEXT PAGE: Create a mosaic automatically
Create a mosaic automatically
1. Take your photographs as described earlier. Now launch AutoStitch and select Edit, Options. Specify a suitable width and height for your final image as before. Under Scale, enter a percentage that takes into account the combined dimensions of the individual images. Click ok.
2. Go to File, Open, browse to the images you want to stitch together and click Open. You can import multiple photographs by holding down Ctrl as you select a file - this causes that file to be added to the files already selected. Alternatively, pressing Shift allows you to select a group of consecutive files.
3. AutoStitch will immediately begin stitching the files together - you need to kick-start the process manually only if you want to create another mosaic from the same files after changing the options. AutoStitch will then display the finished mosaic.
4. AutoStitch will save the final image as a file called Pano, in the same folder as the individual photos. Rename this file to prevent it getting overwritten next time you use AutoStitch. Finally, use your photo editor to crop the mosaic to a regular shape.
>> NEXT PAGE: Advanced photo-mosaic artistry
Advanced photo-mosaic artistry
1. You can use mosaics to create interesting artistic effects. For example, rather than cropping your finished montage, you can leave it as it is, with all the component images clearly visible. This works best if you select an area of particular visual interest and create a cluster of shapes around it.
2. To emphasise this ‘jigsaw puzzle' effect, you might like to try experimenting with discreet borders around the individual shots. If you don't like the effect, you can always reverse it. Remember that this is art, not an exact science, so feel free to experiment until you get the effect you're looking for.