Adobe Lightroom has come a very long way in recent years. Photoshop was once the king of manipulating images but is that still the case?
Hopefully, in this article, I will shed a bit of light on the process of putting together a panoramic. I will also show you how to fix the most common annoying issues that can arise.
Before we take a look at the software, let’s see how we can take better panoramas with the camera.
There is no go-to composition for panoramas. There are however a few things you can try to make life a little bit easier. I usually try to avoid any really close objects in the foreground. The change in perspective from rotating the camera is much more pronounced on a close object. Many great panoramic shots have no foreground subjects at all.
Don’t worry too much about the placement of the horizon. With Panoramas, you can generally put the horizon wherever you want.
It’s not clear how much of the final panorama will need to be cropped away, you won’t know until the software has done its magic. I’ve had a few images where I have had to just accept losing bits of the image I liked. I often make big composition decisions in post-processing, the final image is usually so big you can afford to lose bits.
The most important thing you can do is a make sure your photos all have the exact same camera settings.
You can either do this by making sure your camera is in manual mode or by locking the exposure down. Locking the exposure can be fiddly and if you forget the camera will reanalyse the light and change the settings. I highly recommend shooting in manual mode.
You could fix this issue in Photoshop or Lightroom by compensating for the change in exposure, but it’s a very annoying task and it’s much easier to avoid it.
Use Manual Focus
If you use Autofocus the camera will refocus every time you reposition the camera for the next shot. This would result in a panorama which has different areas in focus. This is nearly impossible to fix.
You can shoot panoramas handheld if the lighting is good but for the best results, a tripod is a must. Photoshop and Lightroom are good enough that they can adjust a horizon that doesn’t line up perfectly.
In order to get the best results, it’s a good idea to make sure each photo overlaps by roughly a third. If there are any distinctive elements like a tree or a building, I would advise making sure it sits in the centre of the photo (when possible). This reduces the risk of distorting the object too much and it makes the software’s life a bit easier.
Let’s make a panoramic
The main advantage of using Adobe Lightroom is that the end file is a DNG. A DNG file is a Raw file which means you don’t lose the ability to apply and save Camera Raw settings. This is a huge plus because when Photoshop creates a panoramic image it becomes a simple Jpeg / Tiff image.
Select the images you want to convert into a panoramic. Once you have the photos selected go to the top menu and find, Photo>Photomerge>Panorama.
You will be presented with 3 projections. For a full explanation of these, I have covered them in the Photoshop section further down the post.
Auto Crop or Boundary Wrap?
Auto Crop will reduce the size of the image by cropping away the empty white areas. Boundary wrap will scale/skew the panorama to fill the empty spaces. The downside with boundary wrap is you may distort the perspective too much.
Luckily mine came out with no errors at all, so all I did was head to the transform panel and make sure the horizon was straight.
If you are happy with the end result then brilliant. Have a zoom in and check for any stitching errors if you don’t find any then you don’t really need to use Photoshop.
You can now edit and play with the settings like you would with any other RAW file.
If however you do find some errors or you are unhappy with the result then it’s time for Plan B.
The problem with Lightroom is that it doesn’t always work. You are unable to easily fix any stitching issues and you have fewer options compared to Photoshop.
Photoshop is still a much better image manipulator than Adobe Lightroom. Photoshop has the tools necessary to fix the issues which can arise when stitching together a complex panoramic image. Unlike Lightroom, you will be unable to export a DNG raw file so you need to get your camera raw settings set up before you create the panoramic.
To do this pick one photo to edit preferably the most troublesome and then right click and copy and paste the develop settings to the rest of the photos. Above Lightroom, Below Bridge.
If you apply vignette removal in the Raw editing now, you won’t need to worry about selecting it in the photomerge panel.
Creating a panorama.
With the photos selected in Lightroom select photo from the top menu but this time select: Edit in>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.
If you are in Adobe Bridge you need to find Tools>Automate>Photomerge.
If you did it from Lightroom or Bridge your photos will already be loaded up.
The Tick Boxes
Blend Images Together – It will detect and automatically blend the edges of the images together with layer masks. The end result resembles a jigsaw of shapes that fit together. It will also blend the colours together.
Vignette Removal – Removes the dark areas you sometimes get in the corners of your photos, caused by the lens.
Geometric Distortion Correction – Compensates for lens distortion, like Vignetting this can be fixed prior in Raw editing.
Content-Aware Fill Transparent Areas – Fills in any transparent areas using the surround textures and colour.
Blend images is selected by default and it’s usually all you need. The more you select the longer it takes to process.
To demonstrate the different layouts, I recreated the same panoramic using all the layouts (projections).
Layouts and projections are the same thing for some reason they are named differently in Photoshop.
The different layouts are:
Photoshop will analyze the photos you have selected and then decide the best layout to apply. Automatic will either pick Perspective, Cylindrical or Spherical depending on which produces the best result.
This is a good place to start and Photoshop will get it right quite often. “The best” is subjective and you may prefer another layout. This is why you should also consider playing with the other layouts below.
Perspective will prioritise the view of one photo usually the middle image. The adjacent images will then be stretched and distorted as much as is needed to create a panorama around the centre image.
Perspective is great for producing a panorama with depth that pulls you in. The downside of this layout is that the outer images can often be distorted too much.
Cylindrical also prioritises the centre of the panorama but makes the edges peel away into the distance slightly. This is the opposite of what perspective usually does, it often applies a more balanced overall effect to the image. The best way to visualise how it works is to imagine a cylinder being unfolded flat. Or a rolled up piece of paper being flattened out.
Cylindrical works very well with big wide panoramas.
Spherical creates a panorama which resembles the inside of a sphere. This mode is the best layout for 360 degrees panoramic images. It still works great with many traditional panoramics though. Spherical layouts can sometimes look very similar to perspective layouts.
If you want an example of spherical panoramas look no further than google street view.
Collage aligns the images and tries to match up the elements in the photos. Collage will rotate and scale the images as necessary to create a consistent image.
Re-position also aligns the images and tries to match up the elements in the photos. Unlike collage it will not rotate and scale the images.
It may sound as though collage and reposition is not capable of successfully creating a panoramic. This is true sometimes but occasionally they can do a better job than the other layouts. If you use either of these modes be prepared to do a bit more manual work to finish it off.
You will notice in my example above that collage completely failed to create a decent image.
Fixing the stitching
Rarely will you create a perfect panoramic with no areas that distort, overlap or are misaligned These programs do a fantastic job but you should always be prepared to get hands on.
If Photoshop has done a decent job and you only need to make minor fixes I recommend flattening the layers. The jigsaw of mask shapes it creates can be very difficult to work with. Tools such as Content-Aware can only work effectively on one layer.
I nearly always recommend duplicating the original layer when you edit a photo. Panoramic images are the exception though, this is because the file size is huge and if you copy the layer, you double the file size. This could be an issue for those of you that have less powerful machines. In this situation, I would recommend duplicating the file or exporting a copy as a backup
Sometimes the horizon or an edge can have a bit of overlap if the photos do not line up perfectly. This often looks like a step, but it can be easily fixed.
You may be familiar with the content aware tool. The content aware tool analyses the surrounding area and then automatically fills the space to fix or remove any issues. It’s an awesome tool and does a brilliant job. However, it is not very good when there is a clearly defined edge. So we will be doing something else here.
I have a very simple way of fixing this if the photo will allow it. All I do is copy and paste another part of the image over the troublesome area and blend it in. Take a look below.
Copy a piece of the image which has no errors.
Paste the selection over the problem area, tweak the levels or colour a bit to match the surroundings.
If you need to: you can scale, rotate or skew the new layer to make it fit. (I didn’t need to)
Create a layer mask – Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All.
You can do it with the eraser tool if you don’t want to mask it, however, you have less freedom to undo changes.
With a soft brush set to black gently paint away the edges to blend the area in.
Another big advantage of doing it this way is that you can keep the layer you created. If you decide to do it again you can simply delete the layer and start over.
This technique can be used on many other issues.
A piece of cake to fix, this is what the content aware tool was designed for. Simply make a selection with the lasso tool and then go to EDIT>FILL and under the drop-down menu select content aware.
This will do a good job most of the time if it fails, try copy and pasting bits as I demonstrated previously. Content aware is best used on small corrections in areas with less detail.
Content-aware only works on one layer.
A Big Fix
So what do you do when things go very wrong? In my example panorama, 3 big areas failed to stitch up properly. I cannot simply use the clone tool and I cannot delete the areas. What do we do?
Don’t forget you always have the original photos to take bits from. So I’m am going to locate the photo which this part of the panorama was created from and use it to fill in the mistakes.
Find the photo which best fits the area you want to fix.
Copy the correct area from the photo.
Paste the new area into a new layer in the Panorama file.
I drop the opacity of the layer to about 50% to help align it
Because the panorama process distorts the photos I need to warp my copied area a bit to make it fit better.
To use warp: (with the layer selected) go to EDIT > TRANSFORM > WARP
I repeat the process I demonstrated early in this article where I masked the edges with a soft brush.
All done ! I tweak the levels and the colour a little to make sure it all blends in nicely.
To finish this image off, it is just a case of repeating the process on the other elements which didn’t stitch correctly
So which is best?
Adobe Lightroom does a great job and the ability to apply RAW editing to the final panoramic is awesome. However, it does lack a lot of options and if things go wrong (which they do) you will have a much harder time fixing them.
It all comes down to how much control do you want?
If you want as much control as possible use Photoshop.
If you are more concerned with the ability to edit the RAW settings afterwards use Lightroom.
The solution is to try Adobe Lightroom first and if you are not happy with the result head on over to photoshop. Photoshop has many more options and you can fix almost anything using the versatile tools.
Lightroom is awesome but Photoshop was designed from day one to be image manipulating beast.
I recommend reading my article about Adobe Bridge if you are using Photoshop frequently.