How to Create Panoramas Using Photoshop

Panoramas are fun and useful when you don’t have a super wide lens. Sometimes even a super wide lens isn’t capable of capturing the true glory of the scene that is in front of you. Making panoramas is actually a pretty easy straight forward process. Of course with most smart phones you just have to pan it and it will create a panorama for you. I still resort to my DSLR because I love my RAW files.

There are especially designed sophisticated robotic heads that will automatically take couple hundred pictures and create huge panoramas exceeding couple of gigapixels. What I’m describing here is the standard cheap method where you take seven, eight, or nine etc. pictures with your camera and stitching them together later. Due to a phenomenon called lens distortion, you can’t simply open the images in photoshop and overlap them. You have to automate the process. We’ll get to that later.

The Setup

All you actually need is a camera. However, a tripod is extremely useful. Orientation of the camera is something that is often overlooked when it comes to panoramas. Here’s the trick. If you are panning your camera horizontally, you want to have your camera in the vertical (portrait) position and vice versa. This way you capture more scenery. When you take pictures, make sure that you have at least 30% overlap between each two pictures. It is also advised that you switch your camera to manual focus in order to have the same focus throughout the panorama. Then you just click away!

The Workflow

I’m going to use 7 pictures I took recently for this demonstration and I’m using Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop CS6. Once you import your pictures into Adobe Bridge, you can select them and open them using Adobe Camera RAW. Then you can do all the global adjustments on one picture and synchronize the changes with the others by selecting them and pressing “synchronize”. Enabling the lens profile corrections is always a good idea especially if you shot your pictures with a super wide lens due to high distortion. You may do local adjustments on specific pictures to remove and fix minor errors if there are any. Once you’re done with your adjustments, hit done.


Global adjustment using Camera RAW

Back in Bridge and while you still have your pictures selected, go to Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge. This will open up a dialog in photoshop. I keep all of the settings default. There is no need to turn on “Vignette Removal” if you enabled the lens profile correction earlier because it would have removed most if not all vignetting. Then hit “OK”. This is going to take some time depending on how many pictures you have and the speed of your computer. Let it run its course.


Photomerge dialog

Once it’s done, you will get this odd shaped panorama. You simply have to crop it into the shape you desire.


Odd shaped panorama


Crop it out

Don’t worry too much about the sky because that empty space can be easily filled using a filter. You can try to fill the other areas using the same method but it’s either a hit or a miss depending on how many objects you have close by. The more cluttered it is the more difficult to fill. However the sky is almost always spot on. Once you’re done cropping, create a new layer on top of all the other layers. While the new layer is selected, go to Image > Apply Image. This will copy all you see in your photoshop document into the new layer. You can then remove all the other layers if you’re sure you don’t need them anymore to speed up the process. Then using the magic wand tool, select the empty space. Then go to Edit > Fill (shortcut: Shift + F5). Make sure you have “content aware” selected which is the default and hit “OK” and see the magic happens.

Content Aware

Content aware filter

Then you’re basically done. It is always a good idea to zoom in and see where the images overlapped and where you used the content aware filter to see if there are any minor distortions. If there are any, you can almost always use the healing brush to fix them and if not, you can just go through your regular workflow to further enhance your newly made panorama.


Final image before the regular workflow

There are obviously other software out there to create panoramas. Canon comes with a software called PhotoStitch. It almost looks like it was made for windows 95. I’m not kidding. Also, I find it weird that it does not support their own RAW files. It only supports JPEG, TIFF and several other formats. Furthermore, you can’t enter anything below 20mm as the focal length. I tried to create the same panorama with PhotoStitch but it spat out a horrible result which I’m ashamed to post here. At least they make damn good cameras. You may be able to find some good software to do the same job but I like to stick with Photoshop for the moment.

Arugam Bay

Final product

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new. Please consider sharing it if you think it’s useful. Thank you.