Imagine you are out shooting at a gorgeous location and cannot decide where to point your camera, the scene is breathtaking and your camera’s field of view is just a tiny portion of your grand surroundings. Such was the situation I found myself in last Sunday, while shooting the sun setting over Sydney from Mrs Macquire’s Chair. With my Fuji x100s and it’s fixed prime 23 mm lens (35 mm full frame equivalent) I could capture a beautiful shot of the Sydney skyline and the striking clouds overhead, as you can see in the image below. However, there were plenty more gorgeously lit up clouds left and right that did not fit in my view finder. So I decided I would shoot several overlapping images and stitch them into a panorama later on using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC.
In the past, whenever I shot multiple frames to merge into a panorama I had to use Photoshop to stitch them together, as Lightroom did not have that functionality. Fortunately, the latest update of Lightroom CC added this feature to the already long list of amazing things this software can accomplish. Not only does this mean that I no longer have to switch back and forth between Lightroom and Photoshop every time I want to merge a panorama, but it also means I can merge the RAW files and generate a RAW panorama!! I particularly like this as I use Lightroom for almost all my editing, and only go into Photoshop when I want to do heavy pixel manipulation (like cloning large objects or making tiny planets, for example).
When I had to make my panoramas in Photoshop my workflow would start in Lightroom by editing the RAW files and exporting them to JPEG, which I’d merge in Photoshop, and then import back into Lightroom for the final touches. This process seemed to me not only time consuming, but also somewhat difficult as I found that editing all the separate RAW files in the same way was not trivial (despite synchronizing their changes in the Develop module there would still be differences). Now that my whole panorama workflow is done in Lightroom I find it so much easier and less time consuming. The drawback is that it takes my computer a lot LOT longer to merge the panorama in Lightroom than it did in Photoshop (probably several hours, I haven’t timed it), but as I cannot use my computer for anything else in the mean time I usually leave them to merge overnight, and it gives me a reason to get up the morning!! hehe
In this post I am going to show you how to create a panorama using Lightroom and some tips and tricks to make sure you capture great images on location that will easily merge together later on 🙂
Step 1: Take the photographs
When you are on location and getting ready to take all the frames for your future panorama there are several things to keep in mind. First, and most important, is to make sure the content of adjacent frames overlaps. In the example below you can see 18 images, the buildings on the edge of each frame overlap with the frame next to it. You want to aim to overlap about 20% of each image, so that Lightroom has enough information to stitch the frames together. That being said, you might have noticed that I chose to overlap much more between the top and bottom rows of these images. I decided to include the city buildings in both rows because I wasn’t sure if clouds alone would be enough for Lightroom to stitch the images, so rather than risking it not working I decided to overlap more.
It is also important to make sure you are shooting in full manual mode: manual focus, manual aperture, manual exposure, manual ISO, and even manual white balance (WB). Again, that being said, if you are shooting RAW like I did here the white balance setting is not that important as it can be adjusted later in Lightroom. For this particular panorama I left the WB in auto, and hence the first on the left and 3 last on the right images turned out with a slightly different colour in the JPEG file than the centre ones, but this did not matter to Lightroom.
When deciding what aperture, exposure and ISO to use I pointed my camera towards the brightest part of the sky, to make sure that I wouldn’t blow out the highlights. An f/stop of f/2.8, exposure time of 1/125 seconds and ISO 200 gave me a good exposure so I dialed that into the manual mode of my camera. While it is a good idea to have all frames of your panorama with the same exposure in camera I would venture a guess that Lightroom can correct that up to some extent when merging the panorama, but I haven’t tested it.
Next, pointing towards the centre of the view I let the camera auto focus, which I then changed to manual focus so it wouldn’t refocus for the different frames. I would say that keeping the focus locked for all images is critical, as you don’t want different sections of your final panorama being focused at different distances. In this particular case, since the whole skyline was far away and at similar distances it probably wouldn’t have made much difference but I did it anyway just in case.
Finally, I captured all the images for my panorama, from left to right, and quickly so the clouds and boats didn’t have time to move much in between frames.
Step 2: Merge the panorama: Ctrl + M
Once you have imported your images into Lightroom select all the frames you want to merge together. Since Lightroom will create a RAW panorama with no compression I do not edit any of the images before stitching them. You can merge the panorama both in the Library and in the Develop modules in three equivalent ways:
- Keyboard Shortcut: Ctrl + M
- Click on the top menu Photo –> Photo Merge –> Panorama
- Right click on selected thumbnails, then choose Photo Merge –> Panorama
You will then see the Panorama Merge Preview window appear with a loading bar, while Lightroom generates a preview of what your stitched panorama will look like. The projection used to merge the images has three options to choose from:
- Spherical: optimal for 360 degree panoramas
- Cylindrical: best suited for creating really wide panoramas
- Perspective: the resulting panorama usually looks like a bowtie
There is also the option of letting Lightroom choose what it deems the most appropriate projection, by ticking the Auto Select Projection box, which works really well. In most of the panoramas I have done the suggested projection is Spherical, but the result achieved using the Cylindrical projection is very similar.
Within the Panorama Merge Preview window it is also possible to crop out the white edges of the panorama by checking the Auto Crop box. If selected, Lightroom will apply a non-destructive crop to the panorama, which you can later modify within the Develop module without loosing any information in your image.
Once you are happy with the preview simply click on the Merge button and wait for Lightroom to do it’s magic 🙂 The panorama will be merged in the background so, technically, you can continue working on other images in Lightroom in the mean time. However, my laptop needs all its resources to merge the panorama so if I try to do anything else at the same time (in Lightroom or other programs) it freezes, hence me leaving my panoramas to merge overnight!
Note that if you want to create an HDR panorama you will first need to merge the different exposures of each frame into an HDR image, and then merge all these images into a panorama. For a more detailed description of the Lightroom CC panorama merge feature check out this video tutorial by Julieanne Kost.
Step 3: Edit the panorama
The panorama created with Lightroom will be a new DNG file with its name ending in -pano.dng and located in the same folder your individual frames originated from. This is an uncompressed raw file that has no information loss from the original RAW files, hence why I do not edit any of the images before merging them into a panorama. The Develop module has lots of sliders to play with and I find it easier to decide which ones to tweak when seeing the complete panorama view. In this case I brightened the image while keeping the details in the highlights, and added some clarity and vibrance. Voila! Here is the final result:
Another great location in Sydney to shoot panoramas is from atop the Harbour Bridge pylon lookout. Winter is my favourite time of the year to visit the pylon, as the sun sets around 5pm, just before they close. Looking towards the South one sees the Sydney Opera House and the Central Business District. Facing the North, the Harbour Bridge is the centre of the show, and one can even see the people climbing up to the top. Shame they can’t take their camera!
Thank you for reading!!
xx Ana 🙂