Photographing landscape panoramas.

27th June 2017
When stitching photographs together in Photoshop, or indeed any other post processing software, in order to achieve decent panoramas you will have a much higher percentage of success if you pay strict attention to detail when you are taking the shots. This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but very simple mistakes at this stage will cause the photographer huge and sometimes insurmountable problems at the processing stage.
The first thing to consider is whether the scene or panorama you are looking at is possible to stitch together, don’t forget the human eye is far superior to any camera lens and what you are seeing could be very difficult to recapture on camera.
Secondly pay critical attention to exposure because having two or even three images with different exposures will look false when they are stitched together.
Thirdly always make sure that all the images to be stitched together are level, check your tripod after each exposure because ‘panning’ your tripod head can change the level.
If the above points are not adhered to, then you will have at best, large areas of the stitched image missing at the corners, with parts of the image much darker or lighter than the others and at worst a message saying that the images are not compatible.
There are limits to what software can achieve!
Keeping these factors in mind it is nevertheless a fairly straight forward process to create an impressive panorama. People create these panoramas because they have not got a wide enough lens to capture the scene in one shot and once you go below about 14mm then you are in Fish-eye lens territory and although some photographers like the images produced using these lenses, the images are curved and for me are not realistic, but you pays your money and you takes your chances!

So on to taking the shots:
After setting up your kit looking at the scene to be stitched, establish your aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focal length.
Typically shoot between 30 - 40mm, at f8 / f11 and try and keep your shutter speed down and use if possible a low ISO setting e.g. 100. You can do all this manually, (if you can’t achieve these combinations then just use what you can get away with).
After these settings have been established and the scene is in focus switch the lens to manual focus.
Check that your camera is level and take your first shot, I always pan from left to right, it just feels better for me. Overlap each exposure by about 30% or at a particularly salient point in the scene. Check the camera for level before each exposure!!
Take the exposures as quickly as possible to avoid drastic light changes or even typically someone coming and standing in the scene, it happens!!
Check the histograms on the camera rear screen for reasonably close uniformity.
If you are happy then proceed to the processing stage.

These are three images taken left to right and as you can see they are overlapping by about 30%

In Photoshop CS6;
Go to file / Automate / Photomerge.
Keep the mode on Auto.
Browse the files to be stitched.
Select all the files a click open.
The images will be automatically merged by the programme.
The corners of the image will be missing and will be replaced by chequered shading, this is normal. This is where your previous lack of attention to detail will come back to haunt you. If you have followed the strict guidelines then the missing corners will be small if not they will be huge and will render the image useless.
You can try to adjust the image by clicking custom function and also adjust the image distortion if any but if again you have adhered to detail in the beginning this shouldn’t be necessary.
Click on the crop tool symbol in the tools palette and in the two available boxes type in the ratio which most suits the image, typically 3:1, but do try other combos and you will see that the bigger the difference e.g. 5:1 the more your image will look like it is viewed through a letter box.
Crop the image after choosing the best combo ratio.
Firstly save the image as a PSD (photo shop document).
Then save the image as a copy only, (untick the layers box to do this).
I always save images as TIFF’s because I shoot in RAW.
If you are a Jpeg shooter then Jpeg is the only option.
When you do this you will still retain the stitched image and you can replace one or more sections if necessary.
You are now free to work on the copy image Tiff or Jpeg.
Any blemishes in typically the sky can best be removed using the spot healing brush.
Fill in the corners using the clone stamp tool, again the smaller the areas to clone the easier it is, (attention to detail in the beginning).
Process the image as you would normally.
This is the finished Panorama, it is inevitable that the finished image will be reduced in area, there is no alternative to this. You can choose to crop as little as you like, I felt this 3:1 crop suited the scene.

Obviously this image will be a lot bigger on a full screen.