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How To Stitch Panoramas In Lightroom

Lightroom CC can stitch panoramas, and having this function at my fingertips has completely revolutionized the way that I shoot. I used to use ultra wide angle lenses to get more scene in my picture, but now I just keep my normal or even telephoto lens on and make a panorama. I end up with a higher resolution picture of my scene, and I get to keep the proportions from the telephoto I love. Here’s how to use Lightroom to stitch your panoramas.

Shoot for Panos

Lightroom does a great job putting the pieces of a panorama together, but there are a couple of things you can do to help it along.

First, overlap each frame of your panorama by at least 25%. To simplify that, turn on the grid overlay in your camera’s viewfinder. When you take the first picture in your pano, pay attention to the objects sitting under the gridline on the right side. Now turn your camera to the right until those objects are sitting under the gridline on the left side. You could also use the focus indicators in your viewfinder to help overlap. This will make it easy to get enough info for Lightroom to work with.

Next, while it’s best to shoot from a tripod, you can absolutely do it handheld. The important thing is to make sure that the focus doesn’t change between shots. To aid in that, focus on the primary subject, then switch your camera or lens to manual focus and don’t bump the focus ring as you pan the camera. This will ensure that each frame keeps the same focus.

Try to keep the camera at the same level as you pan. If you’re on a tripod, level the tripod legs so that when you pan the head it will stay in the same plane. If you’re handholding, stand in the perfect spot to photograph the last frame, then swivel your hips back to the position to make the first frame. For some reason, this works better than swiveling your hips toward the last frame. If you don’t keep the camera fairly level, you’ll end up with a diagonal skyline. Lightroom has a cool feature to help compensate for that, but it has limits.

Also, consider tilting your camera to the vertical orientation when making a horizontal pano, and keep the camera horizontal when making a vertical pano (yeah, you can make vertical panos, and they rock). Especially if you’re handholding, this way you’ll have plenty of sky and foreground to crop and eliminate any unevenness in the skyline without losing essential parts of the picture.

Lastly, panoramas are not limited to being three shots in a row. You can make them as wide as you like, and even better is making them from a grid of pictures. It really expands the feeling of being there, and that’s what I’ve done for this picture. Here’s another article about making panoramas from grids.

Stitch ‘Em Up

I really can’t believe how easy it is to put panos together. In Lightroom, select the frames from your pano by clicking on each one while holding down the Ctrl/Cmd key. Then go to the Develop Module.

In the Develop Module, go the Photo Menu and choose Photo Merge > Merge Panorama. Or you can right click on one of the frames and choose Photo Merge, or, on a Mac, you can simply press Control + M (yes, the Control key, not the Command key). This launches the Panorama Merge Preview Dialog.

There are three choices for Projection methods. I wish I could tell you which one to choose under which circumstances, but I click on each one every time and choose the one I like the best. They will look different depending on how many frames you shot, how much you moved the camera, and what kind of lens you used. Just try them out and see which you prefer.

You can see that in this picture my framing of each shot wasn’t exactly the same between rows, so there is some white area around the picture that is crooked; this is also a result of the projection method. Clicking Auto Crop will simply crop the picture to the tightest dimensions that eliminate the white space, and you can always change the crop later with the normal crop tool.

Alternatively, you can use the Boundary Warp slider to fill in the white areas. Lightroom will utilize some special magic from it picked up from Photoshop and extrapolate from the photo to fill in the white places. It works incredibly well and can save you from having to crop important areas of your photo. If you’ve got really big white areas, you may notice some distortion (level your tripod next time!).

Now just click Merge and watch the magic happen.

You can see some vertical shaded areas in the sky in this pano. That’s not a problem in Lightroom, it’s a problem with the way I shot. I used a telephoto lens wide open to make these frames, and as with most lenses shot at their widest aperture, there’s a little bit of vignetting around the edge of each picture. To mitigate this problem, you could either overlap each frame more or stop down the lens a little. I shot at f/1.2 in order to emphasize the monolith with shallow depth of field in front and behind it, but if I had stopped down to f/2.8, there would be no vignette on each frame and no vignette stripes in the sky. As it is, I used the spot removal tool set to a medium opacity to reduce the impact of those stripes.

It’s still a RAW photo!

Probably my favorite thing about using Lightroom to make my panoramas is that the resulting file is a .DNG, and if you started with RAW files you’ll still have all the RAW options available, like full white balance control and terrific tonal range. Lightroom doesn’t compress those things out of your picture. Perfectly Clear is a terrific tool for finishing RAW panos. It brightened this one without adding noise and especially without blowing out the sky. It brightened only the dark areas that needed brightening, and it did it without any kind of selections–it’s a time saving and picture saving tool. When you send the picture to a plugin like Perfectly Clear or MacPhun, send the full sized uncropped version so you’ve got full options for cropping later. Here are my finished crops and my settings in Perfectly Clear (click to view larger).

Conclusion

Making Panoramic photos will expand the way you shoot and expand your vision. Knowing that you can stitch a panorama later and keep all the information from your RAW files will give you more options while shooting, and that’ll stimulate your creative brain to give you more of your best photographs ever. I make panos and stitch them in Lightroom as often as possible, and I’m excited for you to get started doing it, too.

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