March 02, 2012

How to create panorama in Adobe Photoshop with Photomerge tool

Making panoramic photos is a great way to illustrate the beauty of a landscape or a wide angle scene which is difficult to cover in a single camera shot. That is why it is very often termed as wide angle photography ! So how to make those beautiful panoramas ? Quite obviously, this will need a little bit of post processing work to do. In this post, our guest contributor David walks you through all the steps to create your panoramic photograph using Adobe Photoshop.

Making a panoramic photograph in Photoshop is easy. Basically, you take three or four overlapping photographs and then run them through the stitching program within Photoshop that aligns them seamlessly to make one continuous panorama. But there are one or two things we can do before we even start stitching the images that will make the whole process more smooth and straightforward.

create panorama photoshop

How to take photographs for making a panorama in Photoshop

Photoshop is very good at identifying the same element in adjoining images, but it is not magical - even though is sometimes seems that it is.

  • First thing we have to do is to make sure there is a good overlap between the images. Just keep an eye on the edge of the frame when you take the shot: Then you will see what you have covered within the frame and you can then make sure that is also in the next frame as you move the camera around. I normally overlap my shots by about one third of the frame to give Photoshop a large area of work with when it aligns adjoining frames.
  • The next thing we have to understand is the concept of parallax distortion. Let’s imagine that we swing the camera around and taking a series of overlapping shots. We may have the camera on a tripod or maybe not. Either way, it is almost certain that we will not be rotating the camera about the entrance pupil or nodal point, which is the point somewhere within the lens where the image is focused. Every lens has its own nodal point and if we don’t rotate the camera about that point then when we line up two or three images in Photoshop, the resulting image will be distorted.
    You can get a good idea of what I mean by closing one eye and looking out with the other, and then closing the other eye and looking with the first eye. You can see how the scene jumps from side to side slightly. That is parallax distortion. Now the nearer the subject is to the camera, the worse the parallax distortion effect will be. So if you are taking photos of say, a row of buildings just across the road, you are going to see distortion unless you rotate the camera about the nodal point. On the other hand, if you are taking panoramas of distant landscapes, you can more or less forget about this problem because even if there is distortion it will not be obvious.

panorama in photoshop

How To Rotate A Camera About Its Nodal Point ?

There is only one way to do this properly, and that is to use a panoramic head on your tripod. A panoramic head (or ‘pano-head’) is an ‘L’ shaped bracket that hangs over the tripod. It’s got markings on it for different know lens and body combinations and it puts the camera body off-center behind the tripod head allows the nodal point of the lens to sit right over the center of the tripod.

How To Avoid Tipping The Camera Up Or Down ?

The next thing to be aware of is what happens if we tip the camera upwards or downwards when we shoot. We all know that if we point a camera up at a nearby building, then the shot will have converging verticals. It will look as though the building is tapering up towards the sky. The effect will be much worse if we stitch three or four frames together in a panorama. With a panoramic head we can take a series of shots swinging the camera about its nodal point and then raise the camera a few inches on the panoramic head bracket and take another series swinging the camera around. So, the take-away lessons from this are to take overlapping shots, to make sure you don’t tip your camera up or down, and if you want to photograph something fairly close, use a panoramic head.

How to Avoid Uneven Lighting While Taking A Series Of Shots ?

The next thing you should do is to watch out for changes in lighting. If you take a shot from a dark area around to a bright area of the scene, you are making it difficult for Photoshop to compensate and stitch the photos together so that the gradation from light to dark looks natural. The latest version of Photoshop (CS5 at the time of writing) is far superior to the earlier versions from five years ago. But it still pays to help Photoshop by getting the most even lighting you can. I normally put my camera on Aperture Priority and let it calculate the optimal lighting for each frame.

How to create the panorama in Adobe Photoshop ?

So now you have your three or four shots and you want to stitch them together in Photoshop.
Photoshop likes RAW images rather than JPEGs to work with. RAW images are 16 bit and they offer more flexibility to Photoshop to sync the images - both for light values and for color. The bad news about RAW images is that the file sizes are bigger than jpegs, and the stitching process is processor-hungry. So make sure you have lots of RAM in your computer so that the process doesn’t hang or abort completely.
OK we now have Photoshop open. Do not open your RAW images. You might think that is the obvious thing to do, but that’s now how the stitching program works.

photomerge panorama

photomerge layout
Instead, go to File, Automate, Photomerge. You will then see a window open like this. On the left are the options for Layout. I always use ‘Auto’ or ‘Perspective’ because they produce the most natural-looking panoramas. I have compared panoramas of the same set of images made using these two options and the results are more or less identical. In the middle panel you will see the option to Browse. Click that option and choose the RAW images you want to stitch together. I do not click vignette Removal because I hope that my camera has controlled the lighting well enough that checking off this option is not necessary. Nor do I check off Geometric Distortion Correction because I have not found it necessary.
Click OK and let Photoshop do its stuff.

layers for panorama
It will align the images and then present you with a layered PSD (Photoshop document). If you have the Layers palette open you will see the little thumbnails showing you how the layers have been aligned and laid one on top of the other.

layers for panorama
Flatten the image and you will see that you have something that looks a bit rough around the edges. Crop that with the Cropping took and you now have a completed panorama.

final panorama image photoshop
You will find that the file size is quite big - after all it is a combination of several images. You might not need that big a file, in which case you can resize it before saving. And that is how to make a panorama in Photoshop!

David Bennett

About the Guest Author:
David Bennett writes about photography and typography at Photographworks. To know more about David, do visit his photography website.