How to make panoramas

Mats Image processing, Learning Leave a Comment

Have you ever tried making panoramas? Maybe you’re not sure what panoramas are? Well, it’s when two or more images are merged together to form one extra-wide image. They’re not that difficult to make actually. Spend a few minutes and i’ll show you how to do it.

You will need Photoshop

There is other software out there to make panoramas, but in this post, we will be using Adobe Photoshop. You may think it’s too expensive for you, but it isn’t. This post explains that.

Same exposure

It all starts with you, the photographer, in front of your subject matter. You will be taking a sequence of pictures, either from left to right or from right to left. To help Photoshop stitch your images together, they should overlap by at least 25%. Since you will be merging them into one, it’s very important that the exposure is the same on all of them. It’s also important that the focus is at the same distance in all of them. Here are two examples that explain what happens if you do it wrong. First, in this sequence, the exposure has not been set to manual. As the camera is turned, what’s in the image is lighter or darker and the camera adjusts to that. This results in three diferent exposures and it doesn’t look pretty when the images are merged into one.

Three different exposures

This will become a panorama where there are noticeable differences between the left, center and right part. Photoshop does a pretty good job stitching them together but if you look closely, you can see the line between the parts.

Panorama withthree different exposures

To solve this, you will need to set your camera to manual mode and dial in a combination of exposure time and aperture that is good for the subject. If you’re unsure of how exposure works, this post will explain it in an easy way. A good way of doing this is to begin by putting the camera into aperture mode (A) and looking at the entire area you want to photograph through the camera. Press the button half way and you will see the different exposure times in the viewfinder. If the exposure times are different in different parts of the picture, figure out an average time. Now set your camera to manual mode (M) and dial in that exposure time along with the aperture you selected.

Same focus

Also, you want the focus of your images to be at the same distance. This is easy. Just focus your camera at where you want the focus in the panorama to be and then shut the auto focus off on your camera. This is often done with a switch on the lense, marked A/M for automatic/manual. Flick the switch to M, and the focus will stay in the same place. If you don’t do this, you might end up with a panorama where in the example above, the left and right images may be focused on the castle and the middle one would be focused on the statue.

Take the pictures

When you take the pictures, you want to keep the horizon line in the same place in all the frames. Also, you want your frames to overlap by about 1/4. This will make it possible for Photoshop to find what it needs to stitch the images together into one. Don’t take just one sequence of images. Take a few to make sure you have what you need for your Photoshop work. You may want to vary the exposures between image sequences to ensure that you have at least one that is good. Having the camera mounted on a tripod will help, but it is not a requirement.


When you’re back home at your computer, the fun begins. Download your images from the camera. If you’re using Lightroom and Photoshop (highly recommended), select one sequence of images, right-click on them and select Edit in->Merge to panorama in Photoshop. This will open Photoshop and a window named Photomerge, where your selected images will be listed.

Photomerge dialog

Just press OK. Now Photoshop will begin merging your images together. This might take a while. Just wait patiently. If you are not using Lightroom, just open your images using then File->Open menu and then choose File->Automate->Photomerge to open the and merge the images just as described above.

What Photoshop does

Photoshop will align your images as layers and create a mask on each layer that seamlessly blends them together. Bring up the Layers panel (press F7) and you will see one layer for every frame in the panorama with a mask next to it. If this seems confusing, you might be happy to hear that you don’t need to understand it. Right-click on one of the layers in the layers panel and choose Flatten image. Now you have a single layer with your entire panorama.

Making your panorama rectangular

As you may have noticed, the panorama doesn’t have straight edges. This is because the perspective is different between frames. The next step is to fix this. Most of the time, there will be empty areas over and/or under parts of the photograph. These empty areas show a checkerboard pattern. Bring up the crop tool (press C) and drag out a crop that cuts away the emtpy areas. If you’re unsure about how to use the crop tool, check out this post, which explains that.

Crop panorama

There are also ways to fill out the empty areas, but we’ll leave that until a later post.


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