Creating Panorama Photographs

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There is much more to the Panorama function than simply stringing together several landscape files in horizontal format. One can also create vertical panoramas as well as combinations of vertical and horizontal files. This is particularly useful when one cannot physically get far enough away from a subject to capture all of it, even with a wide angle lens. One can also achieve great Depth of Field (DoF) by merging foreground and background files which were shot in sharp focus. Since I use the Panorama capabilities of Photoshop CS3 for much of my work, I felt I could share my experiences with you. I shoot in RAW, and use a combination of LightRoom or Camera Raw and PS in TIFF format for post-editing. I work with a Canon 20D and my lens of choice is a Canon EF L 28 mm-70 mm F 1.28 zoom. I have found that I will first do the landscape at 28 mm as a single file, and then zoom in to 70 mm and take 3 or 4 shots panning the subject. In some cases I have needed as many as 6 or 7 shots to cover the entire scene, vertically and horizontally.

Taking the Picture

First, when taking the picture, I pan the scene from left to right. This is my personal preference, and it helps to later assemble the files in post-editing, since the file numbers are then in ascending sequential order. I use a tripod when I am shooting at the lower shutter speeds required to stay at ISO 100 and to get as small an aperture as possible to increase DoF and sharpness. For the sharpest images, I set the mirror to lock-up position, and use the self-timer option to eliminate any camera vibrations. You have to really be careful in setting up the tripod to make sure it is absolutely level, otherwise it will create an angle to the shot when panning. You can fix this by cropping, but the resulting image is that much smaller. If I have enough light, I hand hold the camera, taking care to make sure that it is perfectly lined up with horizontal elements in the subject such as trees and buildings.

Selective Focus

Use the Panorama function to increase DoF. I recently composed a shot of a long woodpile, having it begin about 5-6 feet away from me in the lower left hand corner of the frame and then going diagonally up and across the picture, ending several hundred feet away. By taking a series of shots, using a tripod and as small an aperture as possible, I changed focus as I panned up and across the woodpile. After merging the files I had an image that was in sharp focus across the entire length of the woodpile. In this case, I also panned across the bottom foreground as well to capture the entire scene.

Rectangular Panoramas

In another situation, I used about 6 files to create a shot of a 19th Century meeting house and maple tree, 3 up and down on each side of the image. Unable to get far away from the subject, I shot from across the street. I also shot at 70 mm, thus getting a needle sharp image with no objectionable distortion.


When shooting at right angles to morning or evening sunlight, especially with snow cover, one can have exposure issues, especially in the shadows at one side of the panorama and the other. To be safe, I always bracket these shots, especially with snow, where I have found that it is best to expose for the shadows, which means overexposing the TTL exposure meter by 2-3 stops.


Rather than do a mini-tutorial on PS, let me discuss some of the issues I have learned to deal with. I have used various editors in the past, and now use PS CS3 which has a fantastic automated process for merging the files. So this part of the process is a no-brainer in CS3. I other less developed pieces of software I had to deal with issues where parts of the image did not line up exactly, or one side was darker than the other. Sometimes you can fix these issues by editing the files individually and then merging them repeatedly until you fix it. One issue is just how much editing you want to do before you run the merge. Even though PS will automatically adjust the images in the merge process, it is good to have them all consistently exposed. By experimentation and from file to file, I decide whether to edit the files before I merge them, or after. By doing the editing after the merge, I can work on the entire image all at once, which is simpler and easier.

Once the images are merged in PS, I flatten the layers so I can work on the entire image at once. Then I crop the image, and straighten it if required (a fix for a lopsided tripod in the shooting phase). If the images do not overlap evenly, you may have some cloning work or copying work to do to fill in missing chunks of sky or foreground. If you have dust spots, and you use three files, you will have to look for 3 sets of dust spots to fix. I check the sky at 100% view, using the healing tool first, and then the cloning or healing tool as required. This is the time when you might want to use a mask to lighten up some shadows or fix some clipped highlights on one side or the other of the panorama. You can see my work in microstock photography at iStockPhoto.

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Source by Gene Krebs