One of the most amazing features of Photoshop ever since CS3 is the ability to create seamless panoramic images pretty much effortlessly. The tools inside Lightroom make managing the photos easy as well. Panos can capture the majestic vistas of a skyline, or give you much more detail of things you have a tough time capturing in one image. This blog is going to talk about 3 aspects of shooting, managing and creating them. Taking panoramic pictures requires a bit of planning. The software needs 15-20% overlap between images in order to stitch them together. Ideally, you will have a tripod for your camera and can get your horizon line nice and straight. You can pick a starting point, and just shoot, keeping track of the overlap in your viewfinder. It is important that your images all have the same depth of field so you want to set your camera to aperture priority. Typically since you are trying to get as much of the image in focus you want to set the aperture up at least all the way to 11, but f22 will keep the picture sharp from horizon to horizon. Since I tend to shoot a lot of pictures I want to remember which pictures should be included in each pano. So the first image I shoot has my hand in it, I then remove the hand and start shooting.
When I have finished, guess what? Yep, shoot the hand again to end the sequence. It’s digital, it’s free and it really helps when you get back 2 weeks later. That simple tip from the great Scott Kelby (photoshopinsider.com) has saved me a ton of time. If you want even finer detail, rotate your camera and shoot in portrait mode, the image slices will be smaller, but the vertical detail will be much greater.
One of the great organizing features in Lightroom, sits in the Library module. Once you’ve imported all your pictures, tossed all the bad ones, tagged all your metadata and are ready to roll, you can look over your grid view and, wait, what are those picture of your hand???? Oh yes, the mark the beginning and the end of a group of photos you intend to turn into something else. Highlight them all and press Control-G and wham, you have now created a stack. Or you can do the same thing by going to the Photo Menu, and select Stacking. All your pictures are collapsed into just 1 thumbnail. Stacks are great for other things as well, when you have shot a whole sequence of similar shots, you don’t need to clog up your entire screen. Just stack em up. You can move the one you like best to the top of the stack. You can expand the stack and collapse it at will just by selecting the little vertical bar on the top slide.
Now here is where the magic really takes over. Expand the stack, select all the pictures between your hand shots and go to Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This also works from Adobe Bridge. It will open all the files, hit Use and go get a cup of coffee. Photoshop will automatically align the images based upon your overlaps, it will create layer masks to pick the best parts, and will adjust the color and tone across all the images. If you shot it on a tripod you might have a little clean up to do with the crop tool. If you shot it handheld, you will likely have some gaps which might need to be filled. Be warned, this creates some big, huge, ginormous .psb files. Once you have cropped it to what you like, I then do the left side of the keyboard dance in Control Alt Shift-E which creates a new merged layer on top of all the individual images below. I then delete all of those images and just hit Save. The merged image is automatically returned to Lightroom and is there in your catalog. So to finish up, I add it as the top image in the stack. Here is the finished image from the stack above.