Great panoramic images don’t require a twenty thousand dollar camera and a team of experts. You can stitch together any series of images from any camera (even your phone!) with some planning. And Photoshop. And preferably a tripod.
Here’s a step-by-step outline of my process for creating high resolution panoramics.
Step 1 – Find a great scene. This pano consists of 10 shots taken in Arches National Park in Utah.
Step 2 – Set your camera to manual exposure and manual focus. You don’t want the meter of your camera changing exposure on you as you take your shots. You also don’t want to risk autofocus changing focus on you.
Step 3 – Use a tripod if at all possible. You will get an extra level of quality if you can stabilize your camera for all of your exposures.
Step 4 – Try to overlap your shots by about 20 to 30 percent. Again, easier if you use a tripod. In the sample shot below the darker block in the middle is the overlap (maybe a bit too much overlap in this case but better too much overlap than not enough).
Step 5 – In order to best utilize all the pixels offered by my Canon 5D Mark III, I shot verticals. I could have shot fewer frames in landscape but I’m looking for maximum quality here. I shot 10 frames total in this series. (See screenshot in step 7.)
Step 6 – I don’t make it to Utah every day so I shot several series just in case. Unfortunately that means more images to store, process and sort. I suggest you shoot in a pattern (I always shoot left to right) and you mark a new series by holding your hand in front of the camera and grabbing a shot as a separator.
Step 7 – Once downloaded to your computer it’s time to find the hero shots. In Adobe Bridge I find the start of a series, then, using the first file’s name, I add the word “stitch” to the entire series. In the screenshot below the first shot in the series is named “conway-20121029-0240,” so I select it and the additional 9 images and add a keyword “stitch-20121029-0240″ to all of them. This is going to make it much easier to find the files that belong together at a later date.
Step 8 – I make a test pano from a series of small images first to make sure I like the series. In Adobe Bridge I select a series of images and use “Export to Hard Drive” to quickly sample down the series to 1000 pixels on the long edge. Large enough that I can judge quality but small enough that I have a sample pano in just a couple minutes. I also settle on modes and settings while working with the smaller images (see dialog box in screenshot below). If I like the sample, I select the full size original images in Adobe Bridge, go to Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge, enter whatever settings worked well for my sample, and I let my laptop chug away for 15 to 20 minutes. I always try auto first and I’m usually happy with it about 95 percent of the time – Photoshop has really good judgement.