But That’s Not Panoramic!

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I love creating panoramic images. In my first post, I mentioned how I’m not after images that look “real” because nobody sees the world through a static rectangle. Our eyes move back and forth all the time and our brain automatically stitches all those images together so that we get a better perception of the world in front of us. A panoramic image, then, can reasonably be considered one of the best ways to capture a scene if the objective is to show the viewer your perception of that scene.

But I don’t think panoramas have to always be these incredibly wide viewports to the world. After all, the computer screen in front of you is only a static rectangle. So I’ve started experimenting with stitching together images even when I’m not creating a true “panoramic”.

Here is the image I’ll show you how I created using a panoramic technique:

[lightbox shadow=”590×534″ thumb=”×534.jpg” full=”×534.jpg” title=”Stone Door” /]

First I’ll start off with the reasons why I feel I had to use this technique to capture what I was seeing.

  • The rocks on both sides of me created a very narrow passage, limiting the flexibility for me to move around and compose the shot that I wanted.
  • The tree is very tall and there were nothing but rocks behind me, so backing up and taking the photo in landscape orientation was out of the question.
  • I only had my 24-70mm lens (on a crop frame 60D), so I couldn’t get as wide in camera as I would need to take it all in.
  • I think even if I would’ve had my 11-16mm, I would’ve left this lens on to capture the scene with as little barrel distortion as possible.

Step 1: Capture the images with a LOT of overlap.

The tree was very close, so its curve changed pretty drastically from photo to photo. Due to this, I made sure there was plenty of overlap so Photoshop could find as many similar pixels as it could.

Step 2: Open one of the images in the Develop module to apply primary adjustments. I prefer to shoot Raw, so this is the first step I take before taking ANYTHING to Photoshop. I prefer Ligthroom. You could do the same adjustments in Camera Raw, but you’ll see in a second why I prefer Lightroom.

Because I was shooting on the wide end of my 24-70, I made sure to check “Enable Profile Corrections”. This is to remove any vignetting and distortion created by the lens, which gives the Photoshop Stitch tool a flatter image to work with.

Step 3: The biggest reason I use Lightroom. Once you’re happy with your primary adjustments, right click on the image you’re adjusting in the film strip and under Develop, click “Copy Settings”.

You will be presented with the pop-up window below.

Make sure all the options above are checked, especially Lens Corrections. As long as the images were captured in full manual, the settings should be identical from image to image. Again, this is to ensure Photoshop has the most accurate data to calculate the stitch. If any of the settings are different, the adjacent pixels in Photoshop will not match, which makes things harder down the road.

After you click copy, you can select the other images in your panoramic and click “Paste Settings” under the “Develop Settings” drop down. As they say in France, Voila! Now all the images have identical settings.

Step 4: Now to let Adobe do their magic. From within Lightroom, select all the images you want to stitch together in the film strip, right click and choose “Edit In -> Merge to Panorama in Photoshop”.

If you haven’t updated to the newest version of Photoshop or if Camera Raw is out of date, you may get an error message telling you this might not work, but I’ve never had any issues, so I typically cancel out that message.

Step 5: Photoshop will open and ask you to select a style of Panorama to choose from. I always just leave this on Auto. If you’ve captured the images with enough overlap and made sure all the exposure settings are identical, Adobe should have no issues figuring out the best way to stitch them together. Your results my vary, of course :)

After a few minutes (depending on the speed of your system), you should be presented with a completely stitched image. This is where you’ll see just how good of a job you did capturing the panorama.

As you can see, I didn’t do that great of a job keeping everything level, so I ended up losing a bit of the image above and below the tree. This is bound to happen if you’re trying to shoot a Panorama handheld like I was, so as long as you know that this isn’t a big issue. For this image, I had more of the sky than I needed, so I wasn’t too bothered by it. If I had do it over again, I would try to keep things more level and give myself more room at the bottom so that I could include more of the ground.

What’s next?

That’s all I have time to go into today. Obviously I did some more color correction and editing to get to the final photo above, but I’ll have to save that for a later post. If you have any questions about the process above, feel free to leave a message in the comments. This is my first time doing an in depth tutorial like this, so feedback is welcome.