Category Archives: Panoramic Photography


[landscapephotograph description=”Sunset, Torres del Paine over Rio Serrano” photoname=”Torres del Paine” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]


There are a few scenic locales on our travel bucket list, but we crossed one off a few months ago – Patagonia. If you enjoy travel to beautiful mountains, then the mountains of Patagonia have probably caught your eye somewhere in magazines or the internet. We visited Peru and Machu Picchu three years ago and Patagonia was one of the next areas we wanted to visit after that. And, travel to South America has been growing on us, too, as it’s such a vast and beautiful continent. We don’t really speak Spanish, but we’ve not really had difficulties getting around with our little bit of Spanglish and we’ve always been able to laugh at ourselves when we have mangled conversations with the wonderful people we meet along the way.

Patagonia is a region of South America. Specifically, it’s the southern part of South America. It’s so easy to get there, too – not. Figure that you’ll need to take an overnight flight from somewhere in the US (presuming that you’re one of my Americano readers) to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. From those cities, you can then jump in to Patagonia in quite a few different ways.  In our case, we flew into Santiago and from there way south to Punta Arenas, Chile. We were extremely fortunate that on our flight to Punta Arenas the sky was mostly clear and we enjoyed some spectacular views of the southern Andes!
**As an important aside, Chile has received many blessings (and some curses) from the estate of Doug and Kris Tompkins. I’ll not go into detail here, but hope that you’ll explore what the Tompkins have done to protect Chile’s landscapes and increase Chilean tourism.**
We required about twenty four hours to get from home to Punta Arenas. We did sleep decently on the overnight flight, but we were still discombobulated from the travel (at least I was, which is typical for me.) Our first night was in a small B&B in the heart of the city and we enjoyed an evening walk to a nearby restaurant. In Punta Arenas, we were a few degrees further south compared to where we lived in Invercargill, NZ. The next stop south of Punta Arenas or Invercargill is basically Antarctica.

We rented a car in Punta Arenas from one of the only available places – EMSA Car Rental, which is affiliated with Avis. It is readily possible to create a trip to Patagonia by using the wonderful public bus transportation system, but we wanted the flexibility that a car offered (and, that flexibility cost us extra). On our first full day, we drove from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, making it there for lunch. It was a pleasant, modest drive, similar to driving in the western U.S. – lots of open space.
Puerto Natales is a tourist town that you can get to by car, bus, plane or boat. It serves as the jumping off spot for the tourist buses to Torres del Paine National Park (TdP). With the flexibility of our rental car, we could readily drive to TdP in a couple of hours and get to our (relatively expensive) lodging. There’s no gas, though, in or near to TdP, so plan accordingly. If you take a bus, then it also takes a couple of hours to get to the park, and then return to Puerto Natales in the evening to more affordable accommodations or you can camp or glamp at TdP. You’re either paying time or money, whichever you have more of. Our drive to TdP took longer than expected because we stopped many, many times to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Most of the roads to TdP, as well as all of the roads in the park, are gravel, so the driving is a bit slower because of those conditions. You’re definitely driving down the interstate anywhere in Patagonia.
I wanted to backpack and camp the famous “W” circuit in TdP, but I was outvoted by my girlfriend (she frequently has greater voting rights than me – go figure). We spent a couple of nights at the Hotel las Torres Patagonia – good food, decent room, great views. There are only a handful of lodging choices in and near the park, as well as a few campgrounds and glamping areas. On our first full day in TdP, we drove back through the park and enjoyed a couple of easy hikes, a lot of great mountain views, and watched the guanacos.

For those who might want to backpack the W circuit, it sounds wonderful and relatively pleasant and easy. The difficulty is that the “refugios” (sort of like campgrounds but with more amenities than backpackers usually get) don’t coordinate their reservations (yet?), so you have to contact each of the several refugios separately and hope that you can coordinate your itinerary.

Sunrise view of the Bases del Torres at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

The primary reason for going to TdP was to hike to the spectacular Bases del  Torres mirador (viewpoint). You may not know the name, but you’ll likely recognize it. We also wanted to enjoy sunrise at the mirador. We went to bed early, tried to quickly fall asleep and then the alarm rang at 1:30 a.m. We were up and out of the hotel by 2:00 a.m. – and there were other people leaving at the same time. We also were fortunate that there was a full moon that helped a bit to light the way, but our headlamps did most of the illuminating. It’s “only” about a five mile/eight km hike to the Base of the Towers, but it’s mostly uphill, and the last kilometer or so is at about a 45 degree angle. When we got to the last steep portion of the trail, the girlfriend left me behind (I’m older, slower and carrying photo gear) so that she could make it up before ~6:00 am sunrise (so, yeah, it was about a four hour hike – in the dark). She got there with several minutes to spare and I made it with just enough time to set up my camera – whew! And, it was spectacular (and cold). We also got to enjoy the moment with twenty to thirty younger people, some who had come from the beginning of the track and many who had slept at Refugio Chileno (sort of a campground with extras) that’s at about the half way point. It was still spring time in Patagonia and there was still some ice on the tarn beneath the towers. We stayed for about 45 minutes and headed out. One of the great things about hiking in the dark is that on the return trip nearly everything seemed new to us. Check out time at the hotel was 11:00 am; we got back at 10:30, showered and finished packing just in a nick of time.
Next stop was a hotel on the southern side of the park that we had sorta passed on our way in – the Hotel Rio Serrano. Again, the hotel was pleasant but, for some reason, on our second morning there, there was no water. A “luxury” hotel, but no water. We enjoyed a relatively quiet couple of nights at the Rio Serrano, recovering from the Tower hike. Our main expedition from here was a boat tour of Lago Grey and Glacier Grey, which was about an hour drive from the hotel.
From the Hotel Rio Serrano we drove to – Puerto Natales for gas! Then we were back on the road, returning to the vicinity of TdP to cross the border into Argentina at Cerro Castillo, Chile. It’s a remote border crossing with few services (we heard that we “might” be able to buy black market gas there, but it wasn’t worth the risk). We also were fortunate that we got to the immigration and customs officers just before a bus load of touristas arrived (there’s another advantage of having a car – not waiting in line with a bus load of touristas). A few kilometers later, we entered Argentina and the differences were stark. Fewer services, poorer roads, and a smaller, simpler customs and immigration station. We then cut cross country on Argentina Route 40 which was very rough. We saw one or two cars in the hour we were on this road, but saw hundreds of guanacos and sheep, and even a few rheas. It was then another long, quiet remote drive to El Calafate.

El Calafate, Argentina is another town that is overrun with touristas (i.e., us) – but, they’re mostly well behaved and there for one reason – the Perito Merino Glacier, a part of Los Glaciares National Park. The Glacier is about an hour west of El Calafate and is truly remarkable. This visit was about the closest that we’ve ever been to a glacier. The Argentinian parks service has created an extensive system of boardwalks and grated walks so that you can view and enjoy the Perito Merino Glacier from a variety of angles and viewpoints. One of the interesting parts of the trip is watching all of the visitors – including us – waiting for the glacier to calve and hopefully snap a photo of the process.
After gassing up in El Calafate, we drove around Lago Argentino to El Chalten, the tourist mecca for Mt. FitzRoy (a.k.a, El Chalten, “the smoking mountain”), which is a different area of Los Glaciares National Park. The town of El Chalten is relatively new and serves as a tourist basecamp for exploring the area. We stayed another twenty minutes “up river” in a glamping ecodome lodge named Patagonia Ecodomes.  We’ve never done that before!

Midday view of El Chalten/Mount Fitz Roy, Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

The next day, we were up at a reasonable hour, enjoyed breakfast and then hiked to El Chalten. It was another 16-18 km hike and well worth it. The hike was modest and only became difficult at the last half kilometer or so when it was necessary to climb 400 meters – that only takes about an hour. Once we got on top of the terminal moraine that we climbed, we enjoyed superlative views of El Chalten, its surrounding peaks and the ice-covered tarn below. And, it was extremely windy!

After seeing El Chalten in full daylight and hiking to the Bases del la Torres for sunrise, I can’t really tell you which I enjoyed more. Both types of lighting had their own appeal.

The following day we had one of our easiest hikes from the village to Laguna Torre. That being said, it was also the day with the poorest weather for our trip. We had decent weather on the hike up and down, but the clouds socked in the mountains and the wind was again ripping off of the mountains, over Laguna Torre and right into our faces. We were fortunate that we were able to find a large rock and sit in the leeward side so that we could sort of enjoy our lunch.

View of Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) at Reserva Cabo Virgenes (Pinguinos), near Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Region, Argentina

After El Chalten, we spent a night at an estancia (ranch) on the shores of Lago Argentino and then, on sort of a whim, modified our trip and drove to the Atlantic coast town of Rio Gallegos. The draw here is that a mere 120 kilometers further south, over some very rough roads, you’ll find a Magellanic penguin rookery. After enjoying all of the beautiful landscapes that we could take in, it was very pleasant (except for the long, tire eating drive) diversion to enjoy wildlife in abundance.
There are many more details that could be shared about this trip, but I’ll leave it at that. Patagonia, and especially the mountain areas, are truly spectacular. We enjoyed a relatively quiet trip with only modest numbers of tourists, some good food, laughs at our Spanish, and some beautiful, long drives that might be similar to visiting the open spaces of the Western US or Canadian Rockies. I also want to write that we definitely want to return to Patagonia someday (retirement trip?) and especially to enjoy more of Chile.


This is a relatively large gallery of nearly 600 images (Adobe Flash Player required), so don’t feel like you have to stick around for the whole presentation! You may view the whole gallery at your leisure at   Patagonia Gallery

Also posted in Argentina, Chile, Mount FitzRoy, panorama, Patagonia, Perito Merino Glacier, Puerto Natales, South America, Torres del Paine

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part III of III)

Von River Valley, Otago, New Zealand

Von River Valley, Otago, New Zealand


So far, I’ve taken you through my process of using my camera to take photographs that I will use to create a panoramic photograph (Part I), and then the editing workflow in Lightroom and Photoshop (PS) that I utilize (Part II). If you’ve been following along, I hope that this has made sense so far and that you’ve been able to successfully implement the workflow for yourself. If you’re still on board and now want to learn how to make the process a bit easier, particularly if you want to produce many panoramic photographs at the same time, then keep on reading!


Creating Multiple Panoramas: I have one more tool in my quiver for making panoramic images and it’s a wonderful time saver. With the help of others, I have created/modified a PS “script” so that PS will run Photomerge without any further assistance from me. I can set up dozens of potential panoramic images to be merged overnight or at any other convenient time for me. I have created hundreds of panoramic photographs in this manner since I started using this script and it is one of the best things that I’ve done for my panoramic photography workflow over the past few years.


To implement this approach, you’ll first need to have the Panorama script, have it in its proper form, and properly inserted into PS. WordPress won’t allow me to attach the java script file for security reasons, so if you wish to pursue this avenue, you’ll have to do a bit of work on your own.  First, you’ll need to download the Adobe Extend Script Editor (if you don’t have it already) through the following link:  Adobe Extend Script Editor (download)


Once you’ve downloaded the Extend Script Editor and have it open, now “click” on the following “Panorama”.jsx link.  This will open a separate page that has the java script on it. Simply copy everything on the Panorama script page into your Extend Script Editor window.



After you’ve copied the script text into the Extend Script Editor window, save the file with the name Panorama.jsx into your Script folder in Photoshop. In my Mac computer, the path is Applications>Adobe Photoshop CC 2014>Presets>Scripts. The next time that you open PS, you should find the Panorama script under File>Scripts. Here are some tips regarding the script that you’ve just created. The script as provided will run Photomerge just as I’ve described it in Part II of this Panoramic Photograph Tutorial.  That is, it will merge files to create panoramic images with Auto Layout, Blend Images Together, Geometric Distortion Correction and Vignette Removal. I’m not going to go into the details, as they’re beyond the scope of this Tutorial, but if you’ve gotten this far I hope that you can edit your Panorama.jsx file to run the Photomerge script differently, if you wish. Again, experiment to your heart’s desire!


Path: where to insert the Panorama.jsx file

Path: where to insert the Panorama.jsx file


The process of using the Panorama script for your benefit is fairly similar to what I’ve already described but with some minor modifications. When I choose the series of files that I want to turn into a panoramic photograph I will “copy” those files into a new folder. For example, after my recent Peru trip, I created a “Panoramas” folder under my Peru folder. Within that Panoramas folder, I then created a “Machu Picchu 1” folder and copied in my first series of files. For every panoramic photograph that I want to create I then create a new subfolder under Panoramas and name that subfolder according to the subject and order (i.e., Machu Picchu 2, Machu Picchu 3, Cusco 1, and so on). (FYI, I created >75 panoramas after my Peru trip using my Panorama script and saved myself countless hours of sitting in front of my computer and waiting for the merged photos to come out of PS.)


After I’ve created and filled as many subfolders as I need, I’ll open PS. Once PS is running, I’ll pull down the File menu and go to Scripts and then click on the Panorama script (File>Scrips>Panorama):


To start the Panorama script, go to File on the top menu, then Scripts and then Panorama

To start the Panorama script, go to File on the top menu, then Scripts and then Panorama


When you start the Panorama script, it will open a dialogue box. In that dialogue box you need to direct PS where to find your Panoramas folder that you’ve recently created that contains all of the subfolders with your multiple image files. In the case that I’m illustrating below, on a separate hard drive I have a folder for all of the photograph files from my Peru trip, and then have created a new subfolder called “Panoramas.” Within the Panoramas subfolder are several subfolders that I’ve created just for illustration:


Photoshop Dialogue Box: Selecting the Panorama script starting point

Photoshop Dialogue Box: Selecting the Panorama script starting point


When you’ve found your Panoramas subfolder simply click on the OK button. The next thing to do is to grab a cup of tea, a glass of wine, forty winks or whatever. The script will work its way through each of the subfolders under Panoramas and create a new panoramic photograph, flatten the image and then save that file with the name “completed.psd”. Again, due to the size of my files and the number of panoramic photographs that I might create this process can take a few hours for my computer.


Sunrise, Point Sublime, Grand Canyon National Park


As a warning, you can run into problems with this method if the files that you’ve collected for your pans won’t work to create a good image, just as if you were running the Photomerge script on your own. The script will “hang up” and stop, but you should have a good idea of what has failed and why. If you correct your mistake, make certain that you remove the panoramic photograph subfolders that have successfully worked before restarting.


When PS has created all of the panoramic images that it can, you’ll now need to open each of the “completed.psd” files in PS. My first step usually is to save the file with the correct file name – i.e., Machu Picchu Pan 1.psd and so on – and I’ll usually save it under my Panoramas folder so that I know that it has been completed (less confusing). From there, I’ll edit the panoramic photograph using the Warp tool to fix any distortions, as I detailed in Part II. From that point on, it’s up to you how you want to edit and improve on your new masterpiece!


Hopefully, this script will save you time and effort, and make your creation of beautiful panoramic photographs easier and more enjoyable.


‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…



Also posted in Lightroom, Photoshop Tagged , , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part II of III)

Panoramic view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Panoramic view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

In Part I of this Tutorial, I explored and explained how I create beautiful panoramic photographs with my camera – lenses, overlapping, compensating for movement and such. While the first part focuses on the mechanical and optical aspects of the camera and the shooting process, this second part addresses how I manage my individual frames to create the final panoramic image.

My studio workflow relies on Adobe Lightroom 5 (LR) and Photoshop 2014 (PS) (as of this writing). To me, these are two indispensable tools for my work recently I discover SodaPDF and it has been amazing tool. There are other software tools available, but I’m only familiar with the Adobe offerings. Most of my panoramic photo editing relies on Photoshop, so it’s readily possible to implement my workflow without using Lightroom.

Selecting Files in Finder or PS: If you’re not an LR user, then you can open the several image files that you want to turn into a panorama in PS either by opening the images in PS (Cmd-O on a Mac) or by selecting the image files in Mac’s Finder and then opening them into PS (Illustration 1)(you may “click” on the image to see a larger version in a separate window).

Opening files from the Finder into Photoshop

Illustration 1: Opening files from the Finder into Photoshop

Once the files are opened in PS, then go to the File menu, choose Automate and then Photomerge (File>Automate>Photomerge; see Illustration 2).

Opening Photomerge in Photoshop

Illustration 2: Opening Photomerge in Photoshop

The next window to pop open will look like this:

Illustration 3: The Photomerge dialogue box

Illustration 3: The Photomerge dialogue box

The files that you want to include in this panorama are already open, so now click on the “Add Open Files” button, and you’ll next see:


Illustration 4: The Photomerge dialogue box, filled with files to be merged

From this point, if you’re NOT using LR, the workflow is the same starting at Photomerge (Illustration 6) below.

Selecting Files in LR: Since I’m using LR, after I download my image files from my camera card to a new and unique folder on my computer, I import that new folder into LR. In LR I pick out the series of files that represent my potential panoramic photograph. This is where consistently shooting left-to-right in the field is helpful because it’s easier for me to pick out these left-to-right series in LR’s viewer. When I’ve identified a series of images that I want to turn into panoramic photograph, I will color code each file in that series, typically with a blue tag. I sometimes have image series right after each other and in that case the first series might be tagged blue, the next series tagged green, the third series back to blue and so on, so that I can readily distinguish between those series.

If I’m creating just a few panoramic photographs I will select (Cmd-A on a Mac) a series of images in LR. In the Library or Develop module I will then select from the top menu: Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop (Illustration 5a). More frequently, I will simply find this menu option by right clicking the selection with my mouse button while my mouse pointer is sitting above the files that I want to merge (Illustration 5b).

Illustration 5b: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop, starting from the top menu

Illustration 5a: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop, starting from the top menu

Illustration 5b: Merging to Panorama in Photoshop using a "right click" on your mouse

Illustration 5b: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop using a “right click” on your mouse

Photomerge: After selecting my files in LR and choosing Edit>Merge to Photomerge in Photoshop, Photoshop opens and soon the Photomerge menu screen appears:

Illustration 6: The Photomerge dialogue box, ready to start

Illustration 6: The Photomerge dialogue box, ready to start

Based on my workflow, I set the Layout to Auto and turn on the options for Blend Images Together, Vignette Removal, and Geometric Distortion Correction. When I use a wide-angle lens, there’s always the possibility for vignetting and lens distortion, so these Photomerge options are very helpful. After all of these boxes are checked I click on the OK button and let ‘er rip. In my case, it usually requires several minutes to create a panoramic file because I’m working with large image files.

As an aside, if I find that my final panoramic image doesn’t look good, then I may choose a different Layout option and create a second panoramic photo. Again, experiment to see what works well for you. There also are times when Photoshop seems to be unable to create a panorama with the files that I’ve chosen. If I feel that my images should work, then I’ll try again. Frequently, though, I’ll find that I’ve included a file on one end of the series that shouldn’t be there and that’s why Photoshop wasn’t able to create a panorama.

Below is a final result (Illustration 7):

Illustration 7: The merged panorama

Illustration 7: The merged panorama

In the lower right of this screen capture you can see that the panoramic photograph is composed of pieces of the individual frames that have been selectively masked by Photoshop. If you feel the need to still work on each frame, you can now save (Cmd-S on a Mac) your new file as a .PSD file (or, .PSB if it’s very large).

However, if you haven’t determined whether significant editing might be necessary to the individual frames (and, it is very likely that no further editing will be necessary; you can always regenerate the layered panoramic file by starting this process again), then it’s time to “flatten” your panoramic photo. To do this, you can either click on the drop down menu to the right of the Layers window in PS (circled in red in Illustration 8a) to reveal the Flatten Image command (Illustration 8b) or you can simply right click with your mouse when your pointer is over the list of layers in the Layers window (Illustration 9) to reveal the Flatten Image command:

Illustration 8a: where to find the dialogue box button on the Layers menu

Illustration 8a: where to find the dialogue box button on the Layers menu

Illustration 8b: The "Flatten Image" command on the Layers dropdown menu

Illustration 8b: The “Flatten Image” command on the Layers dropdown menu

Illustration 9: The "Flatten Image" command using the right button on your mouse

Illustration 9: The “Flatten Image” command using the right button on your mouse

After the image is flattened, I prefer to save the panoramic photo and give it an appropriate name that includes the phrase “Pan” (e.g., Machu_Picchu_Pan1.tif) in a new subfolder labeled “Panoramas.”

Since I started this process in LR, this new panoramic photograph now appears in LR. (If you’ve saved the file to a new Panoramas subfolder, make certain to import that folder into LR!) I can then do my normal edits in LR, or can do further edits in PS which will appear in LR when I save the edited file. You will note that the final image that appears in Illustration 7 (above) obviously needs cropping to eliminate white edges and this cropping can be done either in PS or LR.

The example panorama that appears in Illustration 7 was created using a telephoto lens with the camera on my tripod. It has come out fairly level and requires only typical editing – color, temperature, contrast, etc.

However, many of the panoramic photographs that I create utilize my wide-angle lenses. When I run a series of files through Photomerge that were captured with the wide-angle lens, the result is quite different. Check out Illustration 10:

Illustration 10: A completed pan exhibiting "arcing"

Illustration 10: A completed pan exhibiting “arcing”

Quite distorted, eh? Now we get to the reason for my workflow. If I had photographed this series of images on a special panorama attachment for my tripod, this panorama might look better, but not likely.

After I’ve flattened this strange looking panorama I’ll apply some PS “magic” – I’ll use the Warp tool to straighten the image and get it to looking great!

The first thing that I’ve learned to do is to reduce the size of my image in PS by using the Cmd-[-] command (i.e., the “command” or Apple key along with the minus key, on a Mac). To do this, I’ll “select” my image (Cmd-A on a Mac) and you’ll see the marching ants running around the image border. From here, I’ll to the Edit menu and then down to Transform and then Warp (Edit>Transform>Warp).

Illustration 11: The Warp Transformation

Illustration 11: The Warp Transformation

Once I click on Warp, a grid appears over my image with some “point” handles:

Illustration 12: Image with Warp ready to be applied

Illustration 12: Image with Warp ready to be applied

The fun begins as I have to warp this image to return it to its proper appearance. Using my mouse pointer, I can point to anywhere in the image and then hold down my mouse button to “grab” that point and move, bend and stretch the image to the desired shape. (I encourage you to stop reading and open PS with any image of yours and play with the Warp tool for a few minutes so that you get a feel for what I’m trying to explain.)

In Illustration 13 I’ve tried to demonstrate where I’ve “grabbed” the initial image (seen in Illustration 12) and then the general direction that I’ve warped the image from that particular point using the red arrows. As you can see, there are only five places in this image that I’ve needed to warp to get the image to its final shape. When I’m content with the image’s shape, I hit the “enter” key to commit to the warp transformation that I’ve created. (At this point, I might also crop the image in PS to remove any areas that don’t contribute to my final image, like the remaining bit of white in the lower right.) Finally, I’ll save the file and this will be the version of the panoramic photograph on which I’ll now perform my final edits.

Illustration 13: After the Warp has been applied; red arrows show where the image has been warped.

Illustration 13: After the Warp has been applied; red arrows show where the image has been warped.

In different panoramic photographs that I need to warp, it may be necessary to warp the image in numerous places. It’s also important to review your warp transformation when you think you’re finished, looking for instances where buildings or people appear skewed or distorted. You may need to go back and fine tune some of your transformations.

Cordillera Urupampa, Peru

Cordillera Urupampa, Peru

Quality Assurance: And, you’re still not quite finished. Again, you’ll need to apply your final editing – color temperature, lightness/darkness, contrast, luminance, saturation, etc. My “final” step, which I may perform before or after the editing steps that I just mentioned, is to review the panoramic photograph at 100% enlargement or larger. I typically work left to right over the whole of the image looking for obvious seams where the merging/masking was poor (not very frequent) or where an individual frame(s) is blurred from camera shake (more frequent than I wish). The camera shake issue is a big bugaboo and I can’t emphasize enough how necessary it is to review the quality of the panoramic photograph. I will also will empathize with you if you’ve gone through all of these steps only to find that your final pan is crap – it’s happened to me too many times. Yes, I could thoroughly examine each individual frame at 100% in LR before I merge the frames, but as frustrating as it is to find the problem at the end rather than the beginning, it is easier, in my view, to select the frames that I want for a panoramic photograph and go through the whole of the merging process and then do my image quality assurance. Since I’ve overlapped my images a fair amount during the capture phase, I’ll go back into LR, figure out which frame(s) is the problematic one and then determine if I feel that there’s sufficient overlap in the remaining images to run Photomerge again, and that’s usually the case.

A final QA issue that I’ll consider if I’m examining a pan that I’ve created that contains moving objects is whether those objects are distorted by the merging (i.e., the overlap occurred at a critical juncture) or whether a very noticeable object (car, person) appears in the image multiple times. If I discover a problem like these, then I’ll rerun Photomerge on the individual frames. But, before I flatten the image, I’ll work with the individual masked layers and determine if I can mask out the problem through hand editing and sometimes it’s possible.

In both of these major QA issues (blurring, movement) where I detect problems, before I rerun the Photomerge I’ll step back from the panoramic photo and honestly ask myself if it’s worth the effort to run it again – and sometimes, it’s not!

Again, there you have it. Once you start to implement this workflow (or something similar that meets your needs), all of these steps will “flow” for you and make more sense. It’s a lot to take in at one time so be patient and work through it. Feel free to ask questions, too!

In the final exciting installment of this tutorial, Part III, I’ll share with you one of my prize “possessions” for making panoramic photographs and making them more easily. Stay tuned!

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…

Also posted in Lightroom, panorama, Photoshop, technique, warp Tagged , , , , , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part I of III)

Eggshell Arch, Arizona

Eggshell Arch, Arizona



Panoramic photographs are my favorite way of expressing my photographic vision because this is how I tend to see the world – in these long, horizontal panoramic strips of scenery. There are so many places that I visit where I have a broad vista in front of me and there’s no way to really express the awe-inspiring beauty well in a standard, “small” rectangle of an image. I frequently use a wide-angle lens in my work, but I often get more sky or background or foreground in my image than I really want. While I could take my wide-angle images and crop them to create a panoramic image, the final image size is still relatively small and I (and my clients) can’t print it to such a size that it creates the impression that I (and we) want.


Many simple digital and cell phone cameras have a sweep panoramic mode built into them and they can create some truly remarkable photographs! My older son has outdone me on more than a few occasions with his phone while I’m using my digital camera. But, he isn’t able to print a great big photograph, so that’s the benefit of my approach.


A panoramic image is, by definition, a picture that has a minimum dimensional ratio of at least three to one (3:1). That is, the width is at least three times the height. Thus, for example, for a 36” wide image to be considered panoramic, then it’s maximum height would be ~12” and it could be less than 12”. When I first started creating panoramic photographs, I used a Fuji 617 film camera and the negatives that this camera created were 6 cm tall and 17 cm wide (yes, not quite 3:1). That camera was a bit of a bear with which to work as it was large, moderately heavy and slightly unwieldy. That camera also limited me to that 3:1 ratio and it wasn’t readily possible to make a wider panoramic image. I sold this camera several years ago because it became easier, more flexible and cheaper to create panoramic images with my digital cameras, but there was a learning curve involved. I hope that this tutorial will help you to reduce your learning curve.


First of all, there are several different ways to go about this process. I’ll try to be flexible in my description, but I’ve honed my process to be most successful with my workflow. That is, from beginning to end, all of these steps contribute to my creation of a digital panoramic photograph. The process that I’m going to describe requires that you:

  • are competent user of a DSLR;
  • have a tripod; and,
  • have at least a modest understanding of Photoshop.

While it may well be possible to use my approach without using Photoshop, I can’t describe those steps because I am not familiar with them. For example, there are other photography software programs available that can be used to create panoramic images (e.g., PTGUI, AutoStitch), but I’m not sufficiently familiar with them to be of much help to you. The camera process that I describe may work well for you if you modify it to fit with your photography software editing process.


My typical equipment starting point is my digital camera and my tripod. My second consideration is my lens choice, which also is extremely important. My primary lens for making panoramic photographs is a wide-angle lens. My main digital camera for panoramic photos is a Pentax 645D, and I like to use an older Pentax 67 55mm f/4 lens. This lens is equivalent to about a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, so it’s considered a moderate wide-angle lens. It’s also one of my sharpest lenses. Another consideration here is that since this is a wide-angle lens it is easier for me to hand-hold the camera and shoot decent images (but not always). I also use an even wider angle lens (Pentax 645 35mm, equivalent to a 21 mm lens), but I get more image distortion if I use this lens. I also like to use normal and telephoto lenses for subjects that are further away, but these lenses of have the problem of shaking if not handled well, which results in blurred frames that make for an unusable panoramic photograph.


Starting with the camera, lens and tripod, my shooting process is pretty basic – the K.I.S.S. principal in action. I’ll first evaluate my situation with my eyes to determine what I think should be the left and right margins of the subject for my panoramic photo. I might also heft my camera and look through the view finder to get a sense of what the camera will see with that particularly lens and move the camera from left to right on my expected scene. Composition is as important with a panoramic photograph as it is with any photograph. At this stage, I’m also checking the shutter speed on my camera so that I can consider how the shutter speed will affect my image, and whether I can shoot the scene handheld. Usually, though, I have my tripod available and will use it. Through experience (i.e., mistakes, rushing myself), I know that I’m less likely to create a decent photograph of any kind if I hand hold my camera. And, I’ll level my camera in my hands or on the tripod.


Camera Orientation: Here’s one of my specific issues – I shoot the large majority of my panoramic photographs with my camera in a vertical orientation. I do this because it gives the greatest possible height in my final image since that is a limiting factor. Why? The great majority of my panoramic photographs are crafted from a single row of individual images. Second, I can always shoot as many photographs as I want from left to right to create my panorama, but the height of my panorama is limited to the angle of view of my particular lens. The exception to this is if my lens is unable to take in everything that I want and then I’ll shoot two or three rows of images. And in these situations, I know that the likelihood of creating a successful panoramic image is greatly reduced – more variables and chances of error are being introduced.


Frame Overlapping: The other major issue that has to be considered at this point is how I overlap my individual images to create a decent final image. There are a few schools of thought on this issue, but the minimum overlap that is usually suggested is at least 25%. If I’m shooting from left to right, then my second frame overlaps my first frame by at least 25%, and each subsequent frame you do similarly. In this approach you’re only capturing about half of the frame with the subject, while the left and right quarters represent the overlap.  (You may “click” on the following image to for a larger view in a separate window.)


Frame overlap example

Frame overlap example


In practice, though, I overlap my frames by at least 50% and sometimes more. With digital cameras and cards, I have a practically unlimited supply of “film.” And, from experience, I know that some of my individual frames might not work. There might be evidence camera shake (blur) in the photo if I’m hand holding and I’ve too frequently shaken my camera even when it’s on my tripod. The more that I overlap my frames, then the better chance that I can eliminate a bad frame(s) and still create a decent panorama. Most of my panoramas are created with a minimum of eight individual frames in a single row, and I commonly create panoramas from twenty and thirty frames. My limiting factor in the number of frames is the slow write speed of my camera to the memory card (after about fifteen frames my memory buffer is overwhelmed) and the fact that really wide, narrow panoramic photographs (e.g., 10:1 width to height ratio) are less appealing to me than 3:1 to 6:1 panoramas.


So, that’s the basic, straight-forward approach. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.


The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ

The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ


Movement/Motion: One problem with blending multiple images into a single final image is how subjects might move between those individual frames – people walking, cars moving, trees and flowers blowing. In those situations, it’s hit and miss. I usually try to gauge the “flow” of objects in my scene and work to photograph the scene in the opposite direction so that I know that something moving in or through the scene is captured at least once in the middle of a frame. So, if people are mostly walking from left to right in my scene, I’m more likely to shoot my scene from right to left so that an individual is less likely to appear in subsequent frames. Or, if I’m shooting a landscape on a windy day (not an ideal situation) and there’s a tree in a particular part of the scene, then I’ll make certain that that tree is centered in at least one frame. Panoramic scenes with movement are not easy to successfully create, but it is possible. I have successfully created panoramic photographs that involve waves and moving water at the shore, but it’s not common. You have to experiment to understand the limits of your technique so that you know when and where to best use it.


Light Variation: Another major issue with creating panoramic images is how light changes across your scene. A scene that encompasses 90 to 180 degrees of your field of view can have a significant variation in the amount of light from one edge to the other. If you’ve used a wide-angle lens then you should have experienced this issue. With a panoramic photograph, light variation/gradation can be further magnified. This is not an impossible situation with which to work, but it does take some care and practice to overcome it.


To accommodate light variability across your scene, you need to wisely choose your camera mode. Most digital panoramic photo tutorials will recommend that you shoot in manual mode (i.e., strictly setting the aperture and shutter speed and leaving them set). In this approach, I try to choose a middle area of my subject and use my camera’s light meter to determine the shutter speed. (If I have my hand-held light meter available, then I prefer to use it, but I seldom carry it any more.) From there, I’ll manually set my aperture and shutter speed, and then shoot all of my frames across my panorama with the same manual setting. This approach works, but it takes more thinking and patience, and I’m not convinced that it’s more effective. You can still see significant light variation across your final image that will need to be fixed in Photoshop with grad filters.


My typical approach is to set my camera mode to aperture priority and then let the chips fall where they may. There is a method to this madness, though. First, it’s easy – K.I.S.S. Shooting in aperture priority mode my shutter speed is likely to change across the frames and scene, and I will see some light variation across my individual frames. However, since I’m overlapping my frames by quite a bit, I feel that the light variation is less noticeable in my final panoramic photograph. This is because in the Photoshop Photomerge stage (see Part II of this tutorial), Photoshop is choosing relatively narrow sections of each frame, so the light levels across all of the frames is fairly consistent.


Polarizers: If you’d like to intentionally introduce light variation and “banding” into a panoramic photograph then use a polarizer, particularly on a wide-angle lens. Polarizing filters can be used to create a panoramic photograph, but they must be carefully and judiciously used. If you create your digital panorama with a wide-angle lens, then using a polarizing filter will greatly reduce the likelihood of obtaining a satisfactory final image. A polarizing filter on a wide-angle lens nearly always yields significant light variation across the frame, particularly if you’re photographing a clear sky. It’s best to NOT use a polarizing filter with a wide-angle lens when you’re creating digital panoramas. It is possible to use a polarizing filter with normal and telephoto lenses, especially if you overlap your frames by more than the minimum and the subject represents a relatively small portion of your normal frame of view. But, using a polarizer is one more way to reduce the likelihood of creating a satisfactory digital panorama. Thus, I rarely will use a polarizer on my wide-angle panoramas and may use a polarizer with my normal and telephoto panoramas.


Levelers and other tripod attachments: If you have experience creating panoramic images or have performed some research on the issue, then you’ll likely notice that I’m not using special adapters on my tripod to level my camera or keep it from creating an arcing image. Again, K.I.S.S. and the whole of my work flow. However, if you aren’t going to employ the whole of my panoramic workflow with Photoshop, then these devices may well be worth it to you. You’ll just have to keep reading to make that decision.


So, there you have it – my initial camera workflow for creating a digital panoramic photograph. In summary:


  • Keep it simple;
  • Wide-angle lens to telephoto lens;
  • Vertical camera;
  • Tripod;
  • Lots of overlap; and,
  • Aperture Priority.


In the second part of this tutorial, I take you through my steps with Photoshop to yield the final digital panorama, so I hope that you’ll keep reading.



‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…



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