I recently visited Rocky Mountain National Park. My purpose was to photograph wildlife in the snow with a particular hope of finding animals that represent spring, such as fox kits or mountain bluebirds. I love seeing the mix of seasons, and spring snowstorms, with a blanket of heavy, wet snow coating a spring landscape, are a particularly easy way to capture that in a photo.
As I drove through the park, I noticed that the clearing storm was leaving the snow-covered mountains rising above fog in the valley. I decided to drive up to Many Parks Curve to get a wider view, and the scene was gorgeous. It was perfect for a panoramic.
This is a pretty easy technique with the latest software from Adobe.
First, you must capture the images. This pano was created from 13 vertical images. I started on the left side of the scene, made sure I had a straight shot using the level on the tripod and the virtual horizon in my camera, and selected a point about 1/3 into the scene to help ensure as much of the shot as possible would be sharp. The photo was taken at ISO 100, f20 and 1/160 second using a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 16-85mm lens at 45mm. To reduce any further camera shake, I used a tripod, a remote shutter release and live view.
Each photo is overlapped by about 1/3 so that Photoshop has some common landmarks to stitch together.
Don't forget about composition. It is a little harder to envision the rule of thirds, foreground, middle ground and background content, and lines through the photo since you can't see the full final image. For a horizontal pano like this, the rule of thirds on the horizontal lines will continue to work. This image doesn't quite follow that rule mostly because some of the bottom was cropped off in the stitching process, but there are still distinct layers with the foreground trees, the middle ground mountains and the distant sky.
Second, I edited the photos in Adobe Lightroom. Because there is a lot of variety in the tones of this image - from the high key clouds to the dark shadows in the trees - proper exposure was tough. The clouds on the left were much brighter than those on the right but I made sure the histogram showed detail in those whites. I brought those whites down a little in Lightroom, added two Ligthroom preset filters (Scenic and Punch). Then I adjusted the saturation, contrast and applied the default lens corrections. Once the first photo was to my liking I copied and pasted the develop settings to the other 12 photos. The final step in Lightroom was to export the images as hi-res TIFFs.
Third, the photos were stitched together in Photoshop. The stitching feature in Photoshop is super easy to use but you cannot use RAW files, and thus the reason for doing the initial editing and exporting in Lightroom.
Open Photoshop, select File on the top menu, then Automate and then Photomerge. In the pop-up window, click on Browse and select all of the files you want to be included in your panoramic. There are several layout options on the left. I stick with Auto to let Photoshop do the best work. Sometimes the other options come out a little, well, odd. Check the Blend Images Together and Vignette Removal boxes and click OK. Then wait for the magic to happen.
Photoshop puts each image of the pano on its own layer and aligns them into one scene based on how the elements of the photo align. This will create blank areas on the outer edges of the photo. Using the crop tool, crop the pano into the your preferred look. You do not have to crop out the empty corners; the next step shows you an easy solution for that correction.
In the Layers panel flyout menu, select Merge Visible to merge the layers while leaving the transparent background on those corners. Select the magic wand tool and click in the white/transparent corners and any other areas around the photo edges that may be white/transparent. Holding the Shift key while you select each corner will select all four corners together. Expand your selection by 4 pixels by going to Select menu and under Modify choose Expand and enter 4. This will help with the overlap of content for a natural appearance.
Now, here is some more Photoshop magic. Select Shift - F5. The Fill dialog box opens. Select Content-Aware in the first drop-down menu. Leave Mode at Normal and Opacity at 100%. Then select OK.
Voila! Photoshop fills in those areas based on the nearby content. I do occasionally have to go back to these selections and refine the edges a bit to make it look more natural but each photo is a little different.
At this point you can do any final refinements in Photoshop, such as gradients, curves, etc.
Thanks to the technology in Photoshop, the longest part of this process is waiting for Photoshop to merge the images together.
Have fun creating your panos ready to grace the wall above your sofa!
Find more helpful photos editing and nature photography tips on my blog - www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com/blog
Contact me at Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com for information about private instruction in the field or on the computer.