Image credit – Jag_cz on Adobe Stock.

These two videos are from my new class over at LinkedIn Learning… I’ll share with you in a six-part article the entire part of the course about aerial panoramic images.  You can see the series here as it’s released on Photofocus or watch the whole class here.

Merging tough panoramic images in Photoshop from Learning Aerial Photography with Drones by Richard Harrington and Francis Torres

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Merging 360˚ panoramic images in Photoshop from Learning Aerial Photography with Drones by Richard Harrington and Francis Torres


Merging tough panoramic images in Photoshop

While this RAW workflow in Lightroom is fantastic, it doesn’t work all of the time. Francis, you’ve used Photoshop to merge a panel, it’s pretty solid, right? – Yeah, it’s pretty solid. Sometimes I get a few errors here and there, but, for the most part, it does a great job. – Yeah, and so why don’t we take a look at how you can tackle a series of images that merges a little bit differently in Photoshop. Lightroom does a good job, but Photoshop has its own set of merging technologies, and it even also has the ability to do 360, but we’ll talk more about 360s a little later. Let’s go to these here, these DNG files.

And it’s important before you invoke the merge that if they’re RAW files, you open ’em up and adjust ’em. Now, if they’re JPGs, you can also go to Adobe Bridge and do it there. The advantage here is that you can force something to open in Camera RAW, even if it’s not a RAW file. So, in Adobe Bridge you can navigate to that folder, and so you would select the images, right-click, and say, Open in Camera Raw.

This is gonna force it to go into Camera Raw. Now, for me, I always select the middle image, and just do a basic exposure. So, recover the highlights, adjust the exposure, get the shadows about right, play with things like clarity and vibrance, and make any of those adjustments. In this case, the sky is pretty consistent, so I feel comfortable using the graduated filter to pull that sky down a little bit more.

All we’re doing there is dippin’ the exposure at the top, and puttin’ a little blue in. Now, that image is totally different from these images. So, what do we need to do? – We need to select all of them and then sync ’em. – [Instructor] Yep, so Command+A or Ctrl+A, and we just say, Sync Settings, and we’ll tell it to sync everything. So now, the special thing is the local adjustment there is that graduated filter. So now they all take on that look. If we click Done, it’s gonna store all of those with the updated look.

And so now, back in Photoshop, we got two choices. We can invoke the merge here to HDR, so you can open all of those in Camera Raw, and, if you don’t have Lightroom, or aren’t using it, you can actually right-click and say, Merge to Panorama. That’s the exact same way as you would do it in Lightroom, so it’s using the RAW engine there. But, Photoshop has its own panoramic merge. It’s been around for a while. You can access it from the Tools menu in Bridge, or inside of Photoshop.

I’ll show you in a second. You just choose Photomerge, and this dialog looks a little different. What do we have goin’ on here as opposed to Lightroom where we only had three choices? –

Well, we have a bunch of choices depending on the style of panorama you’re shooting. We have auto, so if you just did a basic panorama you can just stitch that way. Perspective, cylindrical, looks like, from this image, it looks like you just did a cylindrical so that’s probably the one you’re gonna pick. And then spherical if you’re doing a 360 panorama. – [Instructor] Yeah, and that’s gonna help here especially, or if you did a multi-row where you’re panning the camera and shooting multiple rows, like you’ve done on some waterfalls, or large objects.

And sometimes the collage is just useful if you kinda just freehanded it, or flying around and wanted to piece together, like if you physically move the drone to cover a large area rather than just panning the camera, this would let you stitch, what I call, a walking panorama where the camera’s in a different place. This just takes multiple photos and overlaps them, and attempts to blend the edges. The point is is we have more options here inside of Photoshop than we do, because we’re no longer working with RAW files. We also have the ability to tell it, right here at the beginning, fix the geometry, remove the camera vignette, and attempt to do Content-Aware for me.

It is different than the other one, but it does some good things. We’ll hit OK here. We’ll try Auto, or, actually, you were right. This is probably cylindrical ’cause it looks like we just panned the unit so that it covered the scene. It hovered in place, but we used the control stick to do what? – [Francis] To make it Yaw. That way it turns a 360. – [Instructor] Okay, so, I don’t think we had a full 360 here, but we did get a wider field of view, so it’s gonna open each of those images up, and you see that all those settings from Camera Raw were applied to the photo.

That’s the advantage of pre-processing the RAW images. Now, you could have done that in Lightroom as well. Lightroom does have the ability to send things to Photoshop for stitching. For example, back here in Lightroom, if you decided that Lightroom’s method didn’t work, you could select a series of images and you can tell this that you want it to edit this, and you can choose to edit it in, and you’ll see here that we have Merge to Panorama in Photoshop, so the same thing.You can send from Lightroom to Photoshop’s photo merge, or use the photo merge here, and they’re totally different.

This one in Lightroom, or Camera Raw, makes a DNG file. And because it’s still RAW, it can’t do things like Content-Aware fill, ’cause you can’t do that on a RAW file. Or, you can send to Photoshop, or do the same thing that we did of invoking it through Photoshop or Bridge. And, you see all those areas there? All that stuff we did manually with Content-Aware before. It just did it for me. What do you think? – [Francis] That looks really nice.

It did a really good job. – [Instructor] Yeah, so it stitched it together. It filled it all in, and I bet if we take a look right here, it’s probably a little crazy. Yeah, to expect there. It didn’t know what to do on the parking lot. The roof was probably not here on the parking lot. – [Francis] (laughing) no. – [Instructor] So, let’s just grab the clone stamp tool, s for clone stamp, option+click, and we can fill in a little bit of that parking lot there. But, it looks like we have a driveway, and those are some stairs there. We’ll just fill that parking lot in.

But, this is not that much work to do to just fill in a problem zone. That looks pretty good to me.That looks good, we’ll just get rid of the sign there. Yeah, I’m not expecting any problems in the cloud area. It’s pretty easy to generate new clouds and sky. It’s usually when you have strong, recognizable details like buildings that it gets screwed up. Let’s check the road there.

– [Francis] We got a little discrepancy right there. – [Instructor] Oh yep, you’re right. That’s probably where the merge happened. It just didn’t line up quite right. Good catch. So we’ll sample here, and we’re option+clicking with the clone stamp, and it gives us the new pixels. There we go.Just sort of blend that together, and, to me here, this gets a little tricky but it’s very solvable. What we’re gonna have to do is rotate. So when I clone stamp here, I’m gonna open up the Cloning panel so I can see that, and I could rotate the brush.

So let’s rotate that two degrees. We’ll go positive two. And that’s helping. And so, we just have to sort of blend that together, and using the rotation there, there we go. That allows us, you see how we rotated the brush, to sort of get the two pieces to merge together. Yeah, you definitely saw one more there. But, by rotating that a couple of degrees, it forced it to sort of compensate so that we were cloning pixels, but we did it at an angle.

So yeah, you were right. Always good to check things like roads or hard lines, ’cause sometimes the panorama doesn’t quite get it. – [Francis] Yeah, especially if it’s an aerial panorama. If there’s wind blowing, it’s gonna create those little discrepancies. – [Instructor] But, I gotta say, for a process that was 95% automated, that was pretty good. – [Francis] Yeah, it’s really good. – [Instructor] So you can have the best of both worlds. While I love the merge to DNG in Lightroom,there are times that Photoshop, which has been merging panoramas for about 10 years more than Lightroom, there’s times that it does a good job.

Particularly where you wanna take advantage of Content-Aware fill so that you don’t lose any of those edges. You can see here without that Content-Aware fill, we would’ve had a much smaller panorama. We would’ve had to basically crop to there, losing all of that sky. We would’ve had to have cropped all the way up to there, actually even more there, if you look at that edge. So, that would’ve gotten to be, we would’ve essentially lost that building. That probably isn’t what we wanted, so rather than having to clone and do everything by hand, the Content-Aware fill option let us have a wonderful image with a lot more detail.

And I see a few more areas here, like, looks to me like this cloud, no, that’s actually the cloud, alright, well. Sometimes the little details can be cleaned up. What are you seeing? – [Francis] Follow the horizon, usually you can see little discrepancies in the horizon when you do panoramas. – [Instructor] This one’s looking okay to me. Oop, there’s one. – Right there. – [Instructor] Yep, and that’s, again, as opposed to traditional panorama shooting when we’re on a rock solid tripod on the ground, what’s the issue here, Francis? – [Francis] The issue here is parallax caused by the wind.

– [Instructor] Yeah, so you’re right. Looking for those seams, sometimes you’ll see little blemishes, but that’s why we zoom in at 100% or so, and just pan around looking at the horizon lines,cleaning up as we go. But, that was a good fix.

Merging 360˚ panoramic images in Photoshop

Now we’re gonna take a look at a dedicated tool called PTGui in a moment, but Photoshop can kind of deal with 360 degree panels. Let’s do that same process we just did. You have a great 360 panel. Where would you shoot them at? – [Francis] Here I’ll shoot them over thevery expensive Coronado Estates in San Diego California. – [Instructor] And sort of a luxury area,beautiful skies here. And it’s looking a little bright to me so I think we should open this in Camera Raw first, and just see what we can do to sort of recover.

So we’ll hit auto, now we can’t do any of those gradiated filters because you’re shooting 360, so the sky horizon line is gonna change from image to image, but we can recover the highlights,bring the exposure down a little bit, lift the shadows, add a little vibrance, that’s definitely looking close. There’s the before and after. Is this close to what you had? Or what did you see? – [Francis] Yeah, this is pretty close, because this was around evening, magic hour – [Instructor] Okay, so one of the other tools that a lot of people forget about is there’s a great tool called the targeted adjustment tool.

And this allows you to make hue saturation and luminance changes. So for example, the luminance, I can click on the sky, and you see how it’s pulling down the blues? So it’s making the blue sky darker. And I can click her on the water, and it adjusts that, which is a mixture of the blues and the aquas. And then we can say we’ll do a targeted adjustment using saturation and click on that orange in the sky, and then it moves the orange slider. And a little more blue. And that allows you to really dial in things using hue saturation or luminance.

If we don’t like the color of the water, I can click, and it’s gonna move those, and a little bit of the sky there, but I think that looks more like a natural blue sky now, just a slight shift. So that’s a great tool because unlike the graduated filter tool, this doesn’t need a selection or a brush, so now that we did that, what do we have to do to all the other images? – [Francis] We gotta select them all and sync the settings we’re gonna use. – [Instructor] Alright, so we’ll sync settings, tell it to do everything so nothing gets missed, and hit OK.

And I think a quick scroll through your list here is probably warranted. Now, there’s a few here that are a little hot, but not bad, and we kinda just gotta go for the average value, that’s a beautiful scene, I’m jealous that you got to shoot that. Those are great clouds. So I see you sort of panned around, and you got a little bit on the ground here, so it looks like you did a multi row too, – [Francis] Oh this one’s a full 360. – [Instructor] Now, Photoshop is gonna have a hard time doing a spherical 360, which is what you have here right? You shot the sky, and the ground.

– [Francis] Yeah I shot most of the sky, and shot all of the ground. – [Instructor] Right, ’cause you can’t flip the copter upside down. So, I’m gonna use some of these images to do a 360 cylindrical in Photoshop, but then we’re gonna do the spherical method, that you created for those other ones in a moment. Let’s just see what happens here. We’ll click done to store these, and for giggles, we’ll try this here, we’ll try using all the images first, but I think Photoshop is gonna have a hard time, with these here where you panned the camera down. But let’s see what happens.

We’ll choose “Tools”, “Photoshop”, “Photomerge”, and we know that this is a spherical one because it’s rounded. It’s not just going around the inside of like a can, it’s going around the inside of a ball. What’s the difference there? – [Francis] The difference is that, think of unpeeling a tangerine. The tangerine peel is gonna be the images stitched together. Whereas the can, is just a circle. – [Instructor] So sort of like the label on the can.

– [Francis] Yeah, the label on the can. – [Instructor] This image is spherical. So, we’ll tell Photoshop that it’s spherical and ask it to do the merge, and there’s a lot of data here so it’s gonna take a second as it opens all of those images. So let’s give it a moment to finish. I think it’s safe to assume, while it did successfully find all the data, this is not the result you had in mind. – [Francis] No, not at all. – [Instructor] So, lets close that for a second. And we’ll deal with another applicationthat’s particularly designed for this.

But I do want to do a merge here. Let’s go ahead and do that merge again. We’ll go back to Bridge,this time, only selecting the 360 degrees, but the cylindrical here, not the spherical. So, Photoshop should be able to handle this correctly. We’ll go ahead and invoke that, with the photomerge command here. So “Tools”, “Photoshop”, “Photomerge”. And this time, we’ll selectthe cylindrical method.

And we’ll tell it to merge those together, getting rid of the vignettes and the geometry, but not doing content-aware fill, that could be problematic when dealing with 360s. So, this should be a little bit easier for it to merge. This is a much more traditional 360 degree photo. Like the one’s that have been done for years for the VR industry. So we’ll let that merge and then we’ll line it up.So what’s gonna ultimately happen, is when this is unwrapped, the left edge and the right edgewon’t exactly line up but in order to view this interactively we;re gonna need to get that to become a loop, right? – [Francis] Yeah.

– [Instructor] So, for that, I’ve created an action. Now, what it’s gonna do is its gonna evaluate the left edge and the right edge, and determine the overlap, and try to stitch it. So you’ll find that action inside the folder. So we’ll do that as soon as this is done merging. Now that they’re all loaded into one document, it’s gonna do the blending. Takes a just a second, but it’s looking for the overlap. And as long as you’ve got at least 10, 15% overlap it should find everything. So yeah, we’ve got telltale scalloping, but relatively consistent, and now we need the left edge to line upwith the right edge.

So this out-cropping is the same as this out-cropping over here, right? And so this little bit of the island is this island we’re seeing. So we basically need, just like how all of these had overlap, we need to get this edge to overlap over here. So we’ll just merge all these layers together, And now it’s one layer. And if you open up that action, that’s in your downloadable files, I have an action for panoramics. And so you’ll just click the load button, and open up that action, and choose “Load Actions”, navigate to your lesson files, and you’ll see the Panoramic Action there.

And this is one that I wrote a while ago, that’s basically gonna cut the layer and figure it out. So it goes through, and it cuts the image in half, and it moves this piece over here, and this piece over there, and it looks for the overlap. So let’s run that. Have the layer selected, choose the action, and click play. I already merged, so it’s just gonna tell me that that step can’t be done. So I’ll click continue.

It does the split, pulls the two pieces apart, and looks for the overlap. There we go. And so now, if I hit continue, I see that that Island has been rejoined. And that little piece there. Now the key is to see if this edge and this edge line up, and what I like to do, is there’s a filter under the other menu,which is where all the other rejected Photoshop filters go to, called “Offset”. And we can just adjust the horizontal offset, and it’s kind of like you’re panning around the photo, and looks seamless, Francis, I don’t see a problem there with any of the edges.

– [Francis] Looks like you did a really good stitch. – [Instructor] Yeah, well, Photoshop did the stitch, you did the shooting, all I did was push the right buttons, So, Photoshop can handle cylindrical 360s just fine. And, so if we hit cancel here, now it’s just a matter of “Where did those other pixels come from?” So for me, I’ll command click on that layer to load it, select the inverse here, and just modify a bit. Let’s expand that by 80 pixels.

Make sure the layer is selected. “Edit”,”Fill”. Content-Aware, And it’s gonna make new pixels, and the only trick here, is that this edge and this edge might not line up when we do content-aware, so we need to run that offset filter and pay attention. So it looks to be that sort of, keep an eye on those boats there. So we’re gonna offset this just a little bit, so we can sort of see, and then those are the boats there, right? So this is the area where the new pixels got filled in, and what we have to be careful of is that the content-aware fill didn’t cause any problems.

So this doesn’t line up perfectly there, So I think a little bit of clone stamping might be a good idea. Because, that’s where the two sides were independent, so we’ll just fill that water in there.That looks pretty good. There we go. And looking at the top, yep. So it was just really where that overlap was, the left, right edge. But now, we have a 360.

And we can save this out and post it to any of the online sharing services where you can view 360 degree cylindrical panos, you can save this out and upload to Facebook, you have to do a couple of trickeries to force Facebook to treat it as a panoramic image, but this can work, and you can view this interactively online and other places, but as we saw, it failed badly on the 360 So for that, you have a favorite app. – [Francis] Yes, I use PTGui to create cylindrical 360s.

– [Instructor] So why don’t we take a look at that next?