Have you ever wanted to capture a beautiful landscape but the scene is just too big to fit into your frame? Then creating a panorama is definitely the way to go. I want to give you some tips and how to shoot a panorama that gives you the most freedom when processing it, as well as how to make the processing stage as quick and easy as possible, allowing you to get back out in the field!
The very first thing is to make sure that you are shooting in RAW, as this will immediately give you more control over the processing stage of creating a panorama. I would recommend shooting in full manual mode. The reason for this is that the exposure for each image will be exactly the same. If your lighting changes as you pan across the scene, your camera might adjust the exposure and that will be very noticeable in the final panoramic image. Next, you will want to make sure that you hold the camera in a portrait orientation and not in a landscape orientation. “Portrait? But we’re shooting landscapes here!” you might say, but there’s a very good reason for this. Let’s use this example of a sketch of Table Mountain.
If you shoot in a landscape orientation, you will end up with a long, narrow final panoramic image like this:
If you shoot in a portrait orientation, the shot is “longer” which allows you to include more foreground elements or more of the sky in your final panoramic image.
Great! So your camera is set to manual mode, you’re holding the camera in a portrait orientation and now its time to shoot away! I usually start from the left hand side of my scene and I include part of the scene on the extreme left of my scene that I most likely won’t use in the final panoramic image. The reason for this is that I have extra cropping room in the post processing stage.
I shoot from left to right and shoot as many frames as I think I need, remembering to have enough overlap in each image so that Photoshop can stitch it together. I usually look for an object in the frame, whether it is a tree, a house or a specific shape and use that to guide me between shots. For example, if there is a distinct tree on the right edge of my frame in my first shot, I will make sure I can see that same tree on the left side of my frame in the next shot. I continue using this method until I have taken all my shots of the whole scene, including a final shot to the extreme right of my scene (I will most likely crop most of it out) as I did with the extreme left hand side of my scene.
I’ll review the sequence of images on the back of my camera to make sure that I’m happy with the general exposure across all the images. You may need to make adjustments and re-shoot the sequence if the exposure is off. Once you have your images, it’s off to Photoshop!
Here is a real example of an image I shot in Sea Point, Cape Town in 2014, using the exact same method as described above. I’m going to show you how I put it together.
Here are my original untouched RAW files.
The first step is to open your files into Camera RAW in Photoshop and to process each one of them in exactly the same way. It might take a little trial and error to get the exposure correct across all the images. If there is a change of light across the images, I usually process the middle one and copy the settings across. I’ll fiddle and copy settings again until I’m happy with all the images as a whole. You’ll want to make sure they are processed exactly the same to avoid noticeable exposure shifts in the final panoramic image. The easiest way to do this is to copy your RAW settings and paste them onto the other images.
For my selection of images, I settled on the following settings.
Then, to copy and paste the settings on the other images, you select all the other images on the left hand side and click “Synchronize”
You then select all the settings and click OK.
Next, click Open Images at the bottom right hand side of the Camera Raw window to open the images into Photoshop.
Once your images have loaded, go to File > Automate > Photomerge…
Next, select the Add Open Files command to open the individual images that you loaded into Photoshop, and select Auto under the layout options. Photoshop does a pretty good job of selecting the right algorithm for your panorama. You can experiment with different layouts to compare the results if you like. I generally check all the boxes at the bottom as I find it yields the best results.
Photoshop will create a new file that looks like this. Notice that all the layers have layer masks in order to blend them together seamlessly.
Next, right click on one of the layers and select Flatten Image to create one layer.
Next, crop out any unwanted parts of the image, where there is either no data or parts that you want to exclude, like the person standing on the extreme left for example.
And there you have it! Shooting a landscape panoramic image, from shoot to final image.