Panoramas with HDR

This Memorial weekend, I got the chance to add some more raw footage to my 360deg panorama Sebago shots. Multiple rows. Wide exposures for HDR footage. The camera is a $130 cheapo, but does have manual settings, so I can control the exposure. We were gusting to 50 mph, so all the trees were moving, making it very difficult to get good shots for blending.

My rule is very simple: I am not going to spend any money on software. The tools have to be free.

This is a significant handicap, and it sure takes a lot longer to get things done.

But … can it be done?

I’ve tried all the free stuff. The best simple approach I know of is Microsoft’s ICE editor and the HDView plugin. Download ICE from here, and HDView from here

Forget the “Structured Panorama” option. It doesn’t work without special equipment afaik … it certainly doesn’t work with rough footage and variable overlaps.

The latest ICE is supposed to handle HDR, but it doesn’t work for me. So I have to merge each angle separately with another tool. (More on that elsewhere, perhaps. Basically I use FDRTools despite its ghosting limitation in the free version. You can use Gimp and layer tricks or other free tools, or Hugin itself.)

So, you drop all your photos onto ICE, wait a bit, and see what happens.

If ICE takes all your photos, you are done. Export to HDView.

If ICE cannot merge any single photo, then you are screwed. It would be wonderful if the next version of ICE allows you to manually position photos and help the matcher, but until then we need to look elsewhere.

The Hugin tool is supposed to the best open source option, and it is very impressive. It does multi-row panoramas AND HDR. Unfortunately, every time I’ve used it in the past, it was very time-consuming and very fragile. I’d spend hours working on something, make a small change, forget to save, and bang I’d blown it. I got so frustrated I refused to use the tool.

And the documentation is very limited. Also out-of-date. For example, the Stitcher tab (which produce the final output) has new buttons and controls which are not documented anyway. Grrr.

But now I decided I was going to figure it out. Develop a workable, repeatable procedure.

Totally free personal websites: A remaining hurdle

I own the domain and use 1and1 as my host. The website is essentially nothing but pictures and I find it very hard to manage. I keep a copy of the website on my local computer. Whenever I add pictures, I have to create my own html files and link everything in. I wrote a little program to do this, but it is still a pita. So much so that I only update the site about once/year, and I have to devote a few days to it. Very bad setup.

So I have been looking at alternatives. Price isn’t critical, but free is better. The website management tools have to be something I can add to whenever I want. Which probably means the management tools need to be web-based as well.

Blogger has been great. And if I want more structure, I can use Google Sites. Plus Picasa to manage my photos. I need to do some research into slideshows, commenting images, etc, etc, but I think that will all work out.

The remaining problem … and it is currently a fatal one … is that none of these tools lets me add arbitrary files/folders to the website and treat them as url paths.

For example, if I add a file to google docs, that file is not accessible as a URL. There is a URL to the google doc “representation” of the file, but no URL to the file. If I follow the google doc URL in my browser, I see google docs, not the file.

For example, add a jpg file to google docs and follow its URL and you’ll see this:

And if I click on the image, the browser want to me to download it or open it. It cannot view the image “natively”, and it cannot use the URL to display the image in another html page.

And that means I cannot currently add HDView panoramas to my blog.

Blogger will not let me upload arbitrary files and then link to them in my blog post.

Google sites lets me upload arbitrary files, but they are “wrapped with a view” in the same fatal way as google docs.

Which I suppose leaves me looking at file hosting sites. And there are plenty of free ones, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. But actually none of them are as convenient as my existing 1and1 host. So for now, I will post the arbitrary files to 1and1 via ftp, then link to them with blogger.