SEARCH

How-To Geek

How To Make an Incredibly Easy Panoramic Photograph With Any Camera

IMAG0002

You might know that there are special cameras for shooting panoramic pictures. Today, we’ll put one together in seconds that we shot with a regular digital camera and a tripod. Grab your favorite image editor and camera, and let’s go!

Even if you don’t have Photoshop, you’ll be surprised at how easy it can be to take some good shots, merge them, and get a convincing panorama. With our simple tips, you’ll have a much easier time shooting the right kind of images, and splicing them together to make the perfect panorama. Keep reading!

Setting Up Your Panoramic Shot

take panorama

The most difficult part of creating a panoramic image with a non-panoramic camera is simply shooting the images—properly. Assuming some general guidelines are followed, it can be very easy to put together a great panorama.

The first part of the process involves getting a tripod that your camera can mount on and find a relatively level place to shoot your image. If you use an inferior second-hand tripod (like your author) pennies can make a great, cheap fix to level a wobbly mount.

sshot-25

Rotate your shot horizontally on a fixed axis and take multiple shots that overlap. Don’t stop at four if you want more! You can create a full 360 if you prefer. But when taking your pictures, remember you want to keep them consistent, so it is important to use the same focus, shutter speed, and aperture settings, so automatic shooting will make your life more difficult.

IMAG0004

Most lenses on DSLRs have manual and automatic settings, as shown above. Take a test picture with fully auto focus, then switch to fully manual to keep the lens from adjusting as you rotate on your axis.

If you aren’t using a DSLR, you may have to refer to your camera’s manual to see if you can disable the auto focus, or simply shoot around it.

IMAG0005

Similarly, you don’t want changes in light to affect your shots. Use your own manual settings, or take a test automatic shot, and copy those shutter speed and aperture settings. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use manual settings, you may want to start by reading HTG’s guide to the elements of exposure.

If your camera doesn’t have a full on manual mode, you can use program mode to control as many of the elements of exposure as possible.

Merging Your Pictures

sshot-6

As long as you bracket your images, you’ll probably end up with a set of good, usable pics to make a panorama from. Pick your best set of four or more (although you can merge as few as two!) and pop them into Photoshop.

sshot-9

Make sure all of your images are open in Photoshop, as shown here, all open in multiple tabs. You can make adjustments at this stage if you want to develop the Raw images—since you can adjust all the images at once, you can ensure they stay as consistent as possible. When they’re all open, you can proceed to the next step.

sshot-11

Navigate to File > Automate > Photomerge. This is a feature for newer versions of Photoshop, but don’t dismay if you’re using an older version or even the GIMP, we’ll address that later.

sshot-13

Photomerge has a dialog box like this one. We’ll add our files to the tool, then select how we’d like Photoshop to make our panorama.

sshot-12

“Add Open Files” is straightforward and saves you the time of digging through your pics again.

sshot-14

While you can use any of the various “layout” settings to get a panorama, we used “reposition” in this case. Try them all to check out the various effects included with the tool. Click “OK” when you’re finished.

sshot-15

This was our first result using only this tool—a perfectly acceptable starting point. We crop our image and we’ve got our panorama completed.

sshot-17

Seriously, after only a single crop, this is what we’re left with. Our panorama is high resolution, and pretty convincing. Let’s take a look at what’s going on to create the image.

sshot-19 sshot-20

Photoshop has aligned the images in a single file and created image masks to stitch them together nearly seamlessly. Here are two screenshots of two separate layers. You can clearly see where Photoshop fit the two layers together.

sshot-22

This is what your new file’s layers will look like. This is important, because you can do this manually, and you don’t even need Photoshop. Let’s briefly take a look at that.

What if I Don’t Have Photoshop? (or Photomerge?)

sshot-23

Even though Photomerge makes making a panorama ludicrously easy, it’s not terribly difficult to manually align and mask images in Photoshop or even GIMP.

Start by using the move tool and nudge the images until they more or less fit together as shown. They don’t have to be (nor will they be) perfect. All manner of things could cause problems—your lens could be distorting the image, your tripod could have moved, etc. Just do your best and trust that you can mask out the worst parts later.

sshot-24

Find these areas that appear incongruous in your image, create masks and use soft edged paintbrushes to gently blend them together. Don’t follow hard edges or the edge of your photograph! Simply paint weird organic shapes like the ones shown here in the selection to smoothly and invisibly mask out the parts of your panorama that don’t fit together perfectly. You’ll get a result very much like the automated image.

Results and a Final Image

sshot-26

You can tweak your image and spend all manner of time fixing it, just like any photograph, but you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised when you put your images together just how easy it can be, providing you take the proper precautions when you take your images. I really can’t stress how important that is.


Enjoy making your own panoramic photographs! Join the discussion, and address questions on the process or tell us about your own tricks and methods for making panoramas in the comments section below. And if you make some fun panoramic images, feel free to send them along to ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com, and we may choose your pictures to share with all of How-to Geek’s readers.

Image Credits: All images by the author, protected under Creative Commons, attribution to Eric Z Goodnight.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 12/12/11

Comments (26)

  1. Josh

    Better than doing it by hand: Hugin image stitcher.

    http://hugin.sourceforge.net/

  2. chess

    the clearwater causeway?

  3. |OvO|

    Windows Live Photo Gallery does an excellent job too. Simply add photos then select “Make panoramic”

    best of all – it’s completely free!

  4. ericssonfan

    Windows Live Photo Gallery + 1

  5. Flávio Veras

    We can have very nice professional results using three beautyfull free softwares. Hugin – http://hugin.sourceforge.net/ – Enblend – http://enblend.sourceforge.net/ and Gimp – http://www.gimp.org

  6. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Chess: Yup!

  7. MorFinBaZ

    Simply use Autostitch
    It is simple, straightforward and very impressive, yet very old…
    http://www.cs.bath.ac.uk/brown/autostitch/autostitch.html

  8. Michael

    Windows live Photo Gallery is good for a basic pamoramic. If you want more control try Microsoft ICE “Image Composite Editor” This is also free and gives you a lot of options for how you want your phone to turn out. I have never had a problem getting a good composite image with it, even shooting by hand.

    Another hint. Take a picture of your hand at the begining and end of the series of images. Makes it easier to find the series to stich.

  9. djdmrlcj

    The camera should be held on it’s side when shooting to get the widest possible finished panorama, they tend to be long and skinny anyway – Microsoft offer excellent free programs which produce seamless panoramas for both XP and W7

  10. Richard

    Great, BUT please, if you are going to go to all this trouble, start out right in the first place — which didn’t happen here. The absolute cardinal rule is to never, ever have a sloping horizon in a water shot (I have been a marine photographer on the St Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes). You can get a simple bubble level on eBay for pennies. It slots into the accessory slot on the top of your camera if your camera has one. Otherwise a simple level can be used. Some tripods have a bubble level built into them. It is better if the level is on the pan head itself, rather than on the main body of the tripod. Rotate the camera the full arc of the panorama to make sure that the camera is level from beginning to end. In the case of this shot, you can rotate it in Photo$hop to straighten the horizon. The downside will be that you will lose part of the image from all four sides of the pan.

  11. Steve Lawson

    I’ve also used Hugin. It works great (once you figure out how to use it–but the learning curve isn’t that bad. There are two paths, defaults and getting your fingers dirty. Even the “defaults” path produces great results). I’ve even used it for photos I took without a tripod and it still worked great!

  12. Lady Fitzgerald

    Panoramic photos taken with regular tripod should only be long distance shots. Ones taken closer in will have a humping effect on flat horizontal planes. A panoramic tripod or tripod head should be used to rotate the camera to ensure the rotation pivots at the right point. Most are very expensive (several hundred dollars) but one, the Panosaurus, isn’t too expensive. It looks Mickey Mouse, but it works well once one gets familiar with it. It also holds the camera vertically so the stitched photo has more height.

    With all the stitching programs available for free online and often included with cameras, one should never have to stich anything by hand. Most of those programs will stitch multiple rows (a panoramic head is needed to take the multiple rows when using a tipod to avoid distortion), which allows taking megapixel photos and can substitute for the lack of a sufficiently wide angle lens. Some stiching programs also have viewers that will automatically pan a photo when viewing it and allow continuous rotation beyond 360 degrees.

  13. JBM3238

    I just stand and shoot in all directions making sure to overlap images, Then load into MS ICE it works wonders. A great use is shooting something that you can’t get back enough from to get all in the shot. Just take shots of portions and then let ICE put them together. Panorama doesn’t have to mean just wide or tall scenes stitched in a row.

  14. Laves

    ICE +1
    Also, shoot with largest file setting possible. That way, if you want a large format output of that most beautiful pano, you’ll have the detail to support it.

  15. clb92

    ICE is the most accurate one I’ve ever used. ICE is actually the same system built into Live Photo Gallery, but if you just want ICE as a separate program without the Windows Live cr*p, google “ICE” :)

  16. Dda

    The other nice thing about Microsoft ICE is that you can export directly to photosynth.net and get an awesome interface to visualize and share panoramas. (And other types of photosynths).

  17. Neil

    I have also had great results with Microsoft’s ICE – without even trying. I have done 360 degree pans from a church tower, tiled pictures to get greater field of view, and even done a family photo where I took one picture, my wife another and stitched them together to get us + children. It even figures out how to stitch the photos together – the first time I used it I was amazed that I could just drag and drop the pictures and the organising & stitching was all done. Try it!

  18. Carroll Hanks

    Looks like you should have paid a bit more for a level! The photos are at an angle!

  19. Aloriel

    Hugin is much easier.

  20. Dave

    Why buy a level, you had one right in front of you…. use the water Luke.

  21. Frank Henderson

    In order to copy an 11×14 family portrait I scanned it into three sections and then went looking for a stitcher. I found Hugin and have never looked back. It’s fascinating to watch it do its thing. And the output was a perfect rendition of the original . . . only smaller. I could’ve printed it bigger, but 8.5×11 is the maximum my printer will print.

  22. Euph0ria

    As many others have mentioned. Hugin is the way to go, along with Gimp for any touchups.
    The problem with the photo examples I see above are terrible exposure and white point mismatches. Hugin does a fantastic job at correcting problems like that. Photoshop can do this as well but it’s not addressed in this article. Simply Google Hugin and GIMP and grab the software. You’ll have some reading to do because it’s truly some very advanced software, with applications that go well beyond panoramic photo stitching.

  23. Harry

    I disagree on almost every point you make! I much prefer quickly shot hand-held images (obviously, I take care to try and keep the camera level, unlike you – look at that sea in your image!). More important, though, is that I strongly disagree with the idea that you have to fix the exposure. That way your software has an easy time of it, but you lose all sorts of detail in a large panorama. I shall be submitting a recent example as soon as I can find it (I’ve just returned home after a few days away and I haven’t yet completely mastered the art of transferring all the right files from netbook to desktop machine). After all, in real life the light changes depending on where you look, so why shouldn’t the camera’s eye change as yours does? It is also possible to achieve some slightly surreal effects by letting the camera do its own thing: for example, a vertical panorama of a canal in which the reflection in the water is just as clear as in real life – whereas if you fix the exposure the image in the water is too dark to see. Of course there are cases when high variation in light can cause an over-obvious join between images, but even a fairly simple program like Panorama Maker 4 or 5 will get round that – and you can aid the process by using more images and thus making the transition more gradual.
    Cheers,
    Harry

  24. mean

    i’ve seen better

  25. Rick S

    Now this is educational. Thanks for all the tips guys. I was wondering how to do all that stuff and now I know where to start.

  26. Gerald St Germaine

    very informative i will give it a try

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!