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How to use Lightroom’s new Photomerge: HDR Panorama

Making panoramas is a wonderful way to photograph a scene with the best perspective. Shooting brackets for HDR is a wonderful way to get the best exposure for a scene. So why not do both?

I’ve been doing both for several years, but it’s always taken a lot of thought and process on the computer to get the pictures all put together. Do you do the HDR first, or stitch the panorama first?

Lightroom’s Classic’s latest update brought the two together, and it’s pretty awesome. Lightroom has processed HDR brackets and panoramas separately for several years. Having them together in one place is convenient and powerful.

Is it good?

Lightroom does a good panorama — it’s not the best thing out there, but it’s in a tool you already own and it’s extremely convenient. It works well, but it’s a little bit slow. Still, it’s fine. Lightroom also does a good HDR — it’s not as powerful or as creative as Aurora HDR, but again, it’s built-in. My favorite thing about both of these tools is that they output a DNG file which retains full white balance control and camera profile options.

This new HDR Panorama is a compilation of the two tools. The results appear to be exactly as good as they have ever been from Lightroom, just combined.

The biggest drawback for me is that it’s slow. It takes a while to cook these complex files. But you can speed it up a little, as I’ll discuss below.

Select the frames

In Lightroom’s Develop module, select all the pictures that belong in your HDR panorama. This could be a lot of pictures. If you shoot brackets of seven pictures each one stop apart and then do a four-frame panorama, you’re looking at 28 frames to select. Using all those pictures is what takes so much time.

Save time by using fewer frames from your brackets. There’s a good chance that using only the darkest, middle and brightest frames from your brackets will yield as good a result as using all seven frames, but it’ll process much faster. You could potentially reduce the number of frames in your pano, but you should do that while shooting. You only need to overlap twenty to thirty percent. If you’re overlapping eighty percent of your image with the next image, you could shoot fewer frames and save stitching time.

Use Photo Merge

After you’ve selected your frames, just right-click on one of them and choose Photo Merge > HDR Panorama.

Once the preview is generated, you can choose from which style of stitching looks best for your picture. I don’t have any secret to which Projection (Perspective, Cylindrical, or Spherical) looks best under which circumstance — just try each one.

Uncheck the box for Auto Crop and try out the Boundary Warp slider instead. As you turn your body or your tripod while shooting the pano, you probably end up moving a little bit crookedly, leaving white space above and below on at least one side of the picture. Also, the different Projections will leave different amounts of white space at the edges as they change the distortion of the picture. Boundary Warp automatically fills in that space with the existing picture and it’s amazing how well it works. Remember that it’s distorting the picture to fill in the empty space and don’t just set it to 100% all the time. You can always crop it without distorting.

If you choose the Create Stack option, it’ll take all the frames you used and collapse them into a stack in the library so that they don’t all show all the time. I like this feature because it keeps the library neater and easier to navigate.

Now just click the Merge button and go get a snack.

Finish the file

You can finish this picture just as you would any other picture. You can even send it out to Aurora HDR and Luminar for more creative control (check out how to use Aurora on a single file right here). But having the option to stitch both the HDR and the panorama at the same time inside Lightroom is pretty cool and saves some of the processing headaches. I’m not sure it’s faster to do them this way, but until Aurora HDR starts stitching panos, I’ll probably be utilizing this tool frequently.

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