Have you ever dreamed of creating stunning panoramas or landscape pictures? With a little skill and patience you can create impressive images even if you don’t have a $2000 lens available for this purpose. How to do that? This article will show you step by step guide in order to max out your camera’s performance. This technique is really useful in cases when you need to deliver good results even though you don’t have the perfect gear to achieve that. While certain people among you will state that you can rent gear and make the job done. Still, gaining a new skill or a learning a new technique is always a good thing. This way you will be able to broaden your knowledge and accumulate experience.
In order to get the job done you will need the following:
- a camera, preferably with manual control
- a lens if you are using a DSLR or mirrorless camera
- a sturdy tripod or a solid body position
- a PC
- software: Lightroom, Photoshop
- a lot off patience
Although Lightroom and Photoshop are not free there are some alternatives that you can use:
- GIMP, a very good alternative to Photoshop
- Image Composite Editor for stitching the panorama, which is a really great program and it’s free
What are the steps of a great panorama?
For the purpose of this article I will present you a panorama which was taken in Germany, Wurzburg and is the Residential Palace.
Decide how big you want to your panorama to be. You can shoot both in portrait mode as in landscape mode. It really depends how many pictures do you want to stitch together in order to have the final panorama image. I prefer shooting portrait mode because due to distortions you will need to crop quite a lot from the image. After you have decide how you want to shoot is time to grab your tripod and set the camera up.
Once the camera is mounted on the tripod you will need to rotate the camera in order to shoot the whole image. As you can see in the image from above, this consists of multiple images. The more surface it is overlapping the easier will be for the software to stitch them together. The number of images presented above are only for exemplification. You can create the panorama from more or less images. One suggestion would be to have around 30% overlapping surface.
You need to shoot in manual mode. Why? Because if you leave your camera on auto you might have different exposures from one image to the other. Take some test images to see exactly what should be the values of your exposure.
You need to start from the left or right edge of the image. Here are the recommended settings for your camera:
- ISO: 100 – preferably even lower (some cameras have it as low as ISO 64)
- aperture: f/8-f/16 – we want our images to have as much in focus as possible, after all this is not a portrait
- shutter speed: depends on lighting conditions – if shooting on a tripod there is no issue having exposure as low as 1 second. If shooting hand held you should have the minimum shutter speed = camera crop factor x focal length of the lens you are using
- For 50 mm lens on crop sensor camera this translates into:
- 50 x 1.5 (Nikon) =75, the shutter speed is either 1/60th or 1/100th
- 50x 1.6 (Canon)=80, the shutter speed should be at least 1/100th
- For 50 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera this translates into:
- 50 x 1 (Nikon & Canon)= 50, the minimum shutter speed is 1/60th
- For 50 mm lens on micro four thirds this means:
- 50 x 2 = 100, the minimum shutter speed should be at least 1/100th
- For 50 mm lens on crop sensor camera this translates into:
- image format: if your camera supports RAW then I suggest to shoot using raw format because you will have more possibilities in post processing, otherwise JPEG will be fine.
The crop factor of the camera is influencing the field of you of your image. While you are still using a 50 mm lens on a crop factor camera, the field of view is much narrower. It is as if you would be shooting with a 75 or 80 mm lens on a full frame camera. If you want to know more about aperture I recommend reading this article.
Take multiple images for each section of the image. This will be used in the post processing. I recommend taking 5 photos for each section of the panorama, 5 images for section 1, 5 images for section 2 and so on. This will end our photography activity. The next steps will be done in front of the PC.
After we have downloaded the images in the PC it is advised to launch Lightroom and import the images. Select multiple images shot for 1 section and import them into Photoshop as Layers.
Our images will be loaded into Photoshop as separate layers. Let’s proceed to the next step which is aligning the images.
After you images have been loaded on a separate layers, we will need to align the images. This can be easily done. Select all the images and from the Edit menu select Auto-Align layers.
You can leave it on Auto as the software will handle it. Depending on your PC this process can take a while. Therefore patience is required.
After your images are aligned we can proceed to the next step which will be converting our images into a Smart Object. From the Layer menu from Smart Objects select Convert to Smart Object.
The next step is where the magic happens.
Once all our layers were converted to a smart object, this is where the magic will happen. From the Layer menu from Smart Object/Stack Mode we will select Mean.
What will this do our Smart Object? It will take the mean value of each pixel. As a result our images will look cleaner, you will see an improvement in the noise and will obtain more details. If you want to find out more about stacking modes I recommend this article.
We should save the resulted image preferably in TIFF format. Although it takes up more space than JPEG, you will have more data available in the image. For the next step we will repeat this process for all sections of the panorama. We will repeat the process from Step 5 till Step 8 until we will have all image sections averaged.
After all our image sections are prepared it is time to stitch the panorama together. For this I will present you 2 options for stitching our photos:
- using Photoshop
- using Image composite Editor
Stitching in Photoshop
You will have by this time all the images available for stitching. We will need to import all the images into a stack. How to do that? You need to select from File/Automate the option Photomerge.
You should browse for your files. As a suggestion I recommend to tick Blend Images Together and Geometric Distortion Correction. The option for Vignette Removal should be used only if your lens is casting a vignette on the photo. This happens for wide lenses la below 18mm. The other option of Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas tries to guess the missing pixels and fill the content with something. This is not always working. Hit OK and after a little time we should have the end result. Of course it will be distorted.
In order to fix this issue we can go to Filters/Camera Raw Filter and using the Transform tool to adjust the issues.
Once this is solved the only thing that remains is cropping the image and adjusting the colors. The end result should be similar to:
It still has the fish-eye effect but it is way better than what we originally had.
Therefor there is another software which is even free called Image Composite Editor. You can download it from Microsoft’s website, just pick your version of Windows 64-bit or 32-bit. While Photoshop is available also for Mac users, unfortunately the Image Composite Editor is only for Windows users. Let’s see how to stitch photos to achieve great panoramas in Image Composite Editor. What I really like about this program is the fact that it is super user friendly and very intuitive. This is great if you want to try out a new software.
Stitching a panorama in Image Composite Editor
The software has a really slick design. You will be able to make Panorama images, Panorama from video or to open an existing panorama. Let’s hit New Panorama and select all the images that we have processed. Once the images are loaded in the app you either can create a simple panorama or a structured panorama.
The simple panorama will make more or less everything by its own. If you want a structured panorama then you can set a lot of parameters. If you have a simple panorama with only one row of images it is better to make it simple. Just hit the NEXT button.
The software will automatically align, overlap the images and create the panorama. But before giving us the end result we can adjust any distortion that is in the image. This is where the software is performing better than Photoshop.
You can choose from multiple types of projections and with the help of your mouse’s cursor you can move the image to adjust it in the best way. The final steps are cropping the image and saving it into a file format. I recommend using the TIFF format because it contains a lot of useful data that can be used in the post processing of the file.
While this image was not as processed as the previous one, still the lines are much straighter.
As you have seen in this article there are multiple ways of create stunning panoramas with a little time, skill and patience. The technique of stacking multiple images can be used not only for panoramas. This technique can be used in the following situations as well:
- reducing noise for Milky Way shots
- food photography
- macro photography
The limits are endless and only depend on your creativity. Leave a comment bellow and tell me which panorama is more pleasant for your eye? The one stitched in Photoshop or the one stitched in Image Composite Editor. Both panoramas were generated from the same set of images.