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How to Stack Images Shot Without a Tripod

Published: 02/10/2007

Darren over at posted a tutorial that is if interest to RE photographers that are not using Photoshop CS3. The tutorial, called Stacking Images shot without a Tripod illustrated how to stack and align images using PTAssembler (shareware) or Hugin (free).

The problem is if you want to shoot several images so you can blend the sky from one image with the foreground of another image you need to have the two images perfectly registered (aligned pixel for pixel). There are several was to do this:

  1. You can shoot RAW and open the image twice once to get a properly exposed sky and a second time to get a foreground exposure. I know, there are many folks out there that choose not to shoot RAW.
  2. You can use a tripod and shoot bracketed images.
  3. You could use the PS CS3 auto align feature.
  4. You can use the technique described in the tutorial to align the images. The benefit of this technique is that it can be done with free software and no tripod.

Of all of these I still like 1. the best. With this technique you can extract multiple exposures many stops apart in exposure from one RAW image. When shooting panoramas when  this technique  is invaluable.

Larry Lohrman

9 comments on “How to Stack Images Shot Without a Tripod”

  1. Can you explain why shooting RAW is better than shooting JPGs in option 1? I have learned so much from your blog, I think it is fantastic. I have been doing multiple exposures now for all my shots, and editing them in PhotoShop so you can see out windows and so on. I've been doing this with jpg's though and I'm not sure of the benefits of shooting RAW.
    Thanks again,

  2. Sara,
    I keep forgetting that the new versions of Photoshop/Lightroom work on JPGs to. You will probably be just fine exposure adjusting a JPG like you are doing.

    Technically you are supposed to get a higher quality result if you do it with a RAW file. I haven't done it both ways to see how the difference compares but here are a couple of references on the subject:

    You have a good point, I think I'll shoot an comparison for # 1 and see if these difference is worth the extra storage space it takes to store RAW files.

    In a real estate shooting situation shooting RAW may not be worth it because the final images are relatively small.

  3. Because the final output is relatively small, and used for fairly low-end applications (e.g. even the printed flyers aren't printed at very high quality), I shoot medium JPEGS, and it's fine.

    However, when I'm shooting something that I think will be tricky to post-process, or when I know I'll have to use Photoshop or Lightroom to dig out a really deep shadow, I'll switch to RAW.

    While it's true that CS2/3 and LR will "work" on JPEGS and TIFFs, the functionality is MUCH better on RAW files - especially in terms of suppressing noise and other artifacts from the processing.

    Excluding real estate work, I would never consider shooting anything other than RAW.

    Oh - one other point: if you think you are shooting something spectacular that will end up in your portfolio or that you'll want to keep long-term -- don't shoot JPEG, or at the least, convert it to a .dng or TIFF as soon as possible. JPEGs degrade over time, because of the compression algorithm that's applied each and every time it's saved.

  4. Well, I think it's very important to do it "right" the first time. (Of course we all have our "right" and "wrong" way of doing things!). For me the "right" way is to shoot RAW and use a tripod. If I do this I have many more options available to me at post production time. (In thinking further the following image would have worked had I used JPG rather than RAW).

    I just did this today:

    The image was created by combining the 6 images together.

    This is a very difficult room for me to shoot. (I am sure some of you can do it with ease but for some reason I am having a difficult time showing that it's a sunny day outside. The view outside was important to the Real Estate Agent.

    Would this image have turned out better had I used lots of strobes inside? I only have one and am pretty tight on money at the moment so I have to be careful. I do like the idea of having about 3 strobes. Currently I use a Canon 580ex and really like it. Any opinions on this image?

    The other problem was the way the wood floor looks. I used a Tilt-Shift lens so the verticals are all straight but the floor and the angle at which I took the shot makes the room look like it's slanting to the right! I am not sure how to correct that given that the agent wanted as much of the outside view as possible!



  5. For me, the biggest advantage to shooting in raw is for white balance. The difference in image quality is negligible. When jpegs are loaded in to Lightroom, the original kelvin values are gone and you get an arbitrary scale that starts at 0 based on what the WB setting was when the image was recorded. Raw images retain the standard kelvin scale. This way, I can copy and paste color settings to all of the images and set images at exactly the same WB. This can't be done with jpegs. For real estate shots, I went from raw to jpeg...and then back to raw for this reason.

  6. As a user of PTAssembler to stitch mosaics, I was intrigued to see it's application toward registering hand held images. Brilliant! PTA is similarly useful in 'verticalizing' and 'debarrelling' difficult images that resist transforming in Photoshop.

  7. I have only used jpegs only and have learned to control my interior lighting pretty well, but I'm switching to RAW for all my exteriors from this post on. Thanks Larry for this thought for getting more exposure without using hdr.

  8. david that image is beautiful, and I can immediately get a feel for the room with view. How did you PP to get the sky so blue? I don't see that color in any of your 6 images.

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