Panoramas. “How To” in Photoshop and Lightroom
Panoramas are typically wide, sweeping landscapes that encompass far more of the view than your camera can see in one shot. They are created by taking multiple photos of your view and stitching them together end to end to create one much larger image.
Nowadays, there are a lot of different computer programs – some free – that will do the stitching for you, making panoramas incredibly easy to create. All you have to do is go out and shoot them, and this is incredibly easy too!
You don’t need any fancy equipment, nor any special panorama setting on your camera. You don’t even need a tripod, nor to be in full manual mode. All you really need is the ability to keep your focus and exposure the same in each shot you take, which can easily be done on most cameras just by keeping the shutter button pressed halfway down between shots.
Of course, having a tripod, or being in manual mode, leaves less room for error so if you have those, and are comfortable using them, then go right ahead and use them.
RAW or JPEG?
Before we start shooting, the question you should now be asking is, do I shoot in RAW or JPEG?
RAW, of course, gives you the best quality image, and both Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC can handle creating panoramas from RAW files. Many of the free panorama software, however, cannot. So just be mindful of this. The other factor to consider is that shooting in RAW leaves you with much larger files, and the Photoshop process to stitch and merge however many of these large files together will take much longer and may even slow your computer down to a standstill. Your panorama will also end up being an extremely large file which will be harder to work with for the same reasons.
So if you’re just learning or playing around with panoramas for now, I’d suggest shooting in JPEG, or at least resizing and converting your RAW images into a JPEG before you stitch your panorama together.
Once you’re outside and you have a view you want to photograph, set up your camera in portrait orientation so you’re shooting vertically. It’s important to frame your shots with a lot of extra space at the top and bottom for reasons we will see later. Now you want to expose and focus your shot correctly for whatever will be roughly in the centre of your panorama. So point your camera towards it, press and hold your shutter button half way down, and don’t let go.
(If you’re in manual mode and you’re not going to do the shutter button trick, once your camera is focused, put it into manual focus so it won’t change on you between shots.)
Then, keeping your camera level, simply turn to the far left and start taking your individual shots, one after the other, turning gradually from left to right.
While you’re doing this, it is absolutely essential that each individual shot overlaps the previous one by about a third. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s best to have more overlap than less, as the software you use later to create your panorama needs a good amount of overlap to know how to properly stitch the shots together.
How many shots do you take? It’s completely up to you. You can take two, or five, or ten, as long as they are consecutive and show a bit more of the landscape in each one. Just don’t forget to keep that shutter button held down halfway between each shot! If you’re in Auto mode and you accidentally release it, you will likely end up with some images that are exposed and even focused differently, and your stitched together panorama will look very strange indeed. If that’s the case, you will have to start over.
Be careful with horizons that aren’t flat, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of moving your camera up or down to follow the horizon. That’s one of the benefits of using a tripod: it will keep your camera perfectly level.
Now you have all your shots, you can go into Photoshop or Lightroom and load them all up. If you want to, you can edit your individual shots first, just make sure you apply the exact same edits across each one.
Panoramas in Lightroom
In Lightroom, once you’ve imported your images, select all of them by clicking on the first one, holding down the Shift key, and clicking on the last one. Then go up to Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama.
Lightroom shows you a preview of what your panorama will look like, and even has an option to auto crop it for you. Feel free to click on the different options to see how it will affect your panorama, or just keep Auto Select Projection ticked on.
Hit the Merge button, and when Lightroom is done, it will put your finished panorama in the same place as your individual photos. You can then crop or edit further like normal.
Panoramas in Photoshop
In Photoshop, there’s a little more to it. First, you want to go to File > Automate > Photomerge.
This will bring up the Photomerge dialogue box where you can Browse for, and select, the shots you just took. There is no need to change any options here at all, as the defaults will be fine for the majority of cases. All you have to do now is click OK, and Photoshop will do the rest.
You will get a strangely shaped image that isn’t rectangular. This is a result of lens distortion and perspective differences between your shots. Depending on your lens, focal length, the number of shots you take, distance to your subject, and how wide your angle of view, you may get a much more distorted shape, which is the reason for shooting vertically and having a lot of extra space at top and bottom.
Don’t worry if you see any strange cracks in your image like this:
These are merely rendering artifacts that will disappear if you zoom in, and also once you finish merging your panorama together. So go up to Layer > Merge Layers.
Now you can crop and edit your image like normal.
Panoramas are most often of beautiful, wide, sweeping landscapes, but they certainly don’t have to be. You can take panoramas of buildings or people, you can take panoramas vertically instead of horizontally, and you can create panoramas that go both vertically and horizontally. You won’t always get pleasing results if you do these, of course, due to distortion and perspective, but it can certainly be fun to try, and the results can be fascinating.
When panoramas are so easy to create, and don’t need any special equipment, there’s really no reason not to try.