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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.

Sync

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

Photomerge dialog

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

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Odd shaped panorama

Crop

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

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.

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Final product

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

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Dos and Don’ts in Photography

I composed this list of Dos and Don’ts after observing/experiencing certain practices in photography. I personally am guilty of doing some of these in the past or I’m still trying to kick off an old habit. Some things in this list annoy me more than they really should, some are mildly irritating and some I really like. Always keep in mind that photography is an artistic medium and you have the complete freedom to choose how your pictures turn out. You don’t have to please anyone else but you, unless you’re getting paid and then you have to please your client. What I list here are merely suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether you agree with them or not.

Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order. I didn’t group them into Dos and Don’ts. It should be pretty clear when you read them.

Extra memory cards

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have couple of extra memory cards. They are dime a dozen these days. I think it’s good to have several memory cards than just one high capacity card because if your card get corrupted or lost or something like that (let’s be real, shit happens) you won’t be shooting until you get a new one. Plus you lose all of the pictures you haven’t downloaded so far. As of right now I carry three 8 GB cards. It’s more than enough for  what I do.

Don’t publish everything you take

My shutter count is nearing 40,000 now but I only have 287 pictures in my flickr account. Don’t be like those people who post a status “hanging out wit ma friendssssss!!!!” and 2 hours later “…. added 378 photos to the album College Freshman Yearrrrr <3 <3 <3”. It’s natural to take couple of shots of the same subject just to be sure. But nobody wants to see 50 pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles. Pick your favorite.

Develop your own style – know what type of a photographer you are

We all have other photographers we love. But copying someone else’s style completely does not help you to grow as a photographer. Being inspired or getting new ideas from other people are fine. It’s just that you can’t hope to reproduce every single thing they do. It also helps to realize what type of a photographer you are. It may take some time and you may even love several types of photography too. I personally enjoy landscape and wildlife photography. That does not mean I don’t occasionally do a portrait session though.

Shoot for yourself

Even if you’re a commercial photographer, taking some time to shoot some pictures for yourself can be very relaxing and rewarding. I don’t do commercial/professional photography (and by professional photography I mean I don’t get paid to take pictures). When you’re being paid to take pictures, you have to please your client to keep your business running. It’s fantastic if you have the complete freedom to be as creative as you want to be but sometimes you have to follow a specific set of instructions and you may not like the way pictures come out. If that’s the case, photography might soon turn into something that you have to do rather than something you want to do. Don’t let that happen to you.

Explore new areas

I know I said that it’s important to figure out what type of a photographer you are but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out new things. I’m planning to try time lapse photography in the next couple of weeks and see how that turns out. It’s always fun to experiment.

Don’t compare “likes” or “favorites”

Likes, favorites, shares are big in social media. It’s unbelievable what some people do to get more likes and would do anything to see their pictures go viral. This does not limit to photography of course. Don’t try to compare how many likes you got on your picture and how many likes other people got. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your pictures are bad.

Ask for constructive feedback

This is one of the best ways to learn. Ask some experienced photographers what they think about your pictures. Don’t be discouraged by what they say. Some photographers hesitate to say anything bad about other’s works because some beginners take it the wrong way. Let them know that you want to hear what they really think. Give them the complete freedom and let them completely shatter your work of art into pieces (figuratively, of course). You learn so much more this way.

Leave constructive feedback

It’s important to leave constructive feedback whenever possible. It not only helps another person grow but it also helps build a better relationship with a fellow photographer. I almost always try to say what I like and don’t like about a picture rather than just saying “good shot”. Something I’ve seen recently in photography groups is that people say “nice try” and it’s usually the same person leaving that comment on all the pictures. What the heck does that even mean? For some reason “nice try, a**hole” comes to my mind. But other than that, does that mean it’s a good try but unsuccessful? It’s a good for nothing comment. Please don’t do that.

Don’t forget to say thank you and be respectful

While in most countries you can take pictures of anything you want as long as you’re in a public place, it’s a nice gesture to say thank you if you take a picture of a stranger, especially up close. If you behave disrespectfully somewhere, you might just ruin that place for all the future photographers. If someone asks you not to photograph something, try to abide by their request even if it’s in your right to take the picture. This of course depends on the situation.

Don’t wait for new gear to be “inspired”

Unfortunately, I know more than few people like this. Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to start taking amazing pictures as soon as you get that one lens you really want. Don’t fall into this trap. When you finally get that lens, they will come up with a new that you’d want. There is so much you can do with a simple camera. If you don’t believe me, ask Google to show you some pictures taken with mobile phones and compact digital cameras.

Avoid clichés (like the plague)

Clichés are rather popular among beginners, and for a good reason too. The first thing you do when you pick up your DSLR for the first time is look for subjects. Hmmm what should I take pictures of? Flowers in the garden of course. We all know flowers are pretty and it’s okay to take pictures of those. But it gets a little old very soon. Everyone does this. I did and the photographers you admire probably did it too. It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shallow depth of field your camera can produce. It is probably the first change you’re going to notice if you’ve been shooting with a point and shoot. It is much easier to achieve a shallow DoF with a DSLR. It is not limited to flowers of course. You will see tons and tons of pictures of small objects with blurry backgrounds. This is the period where the photographer thinks he or she is an amazing photographer. Don’t get stuck there. Get out of that phase as soon as possible. You will learn much more and actually will become an amazing photographer. This does not mean that you should avoid the said subjects completely. It’s a good place to start and practice your techniques. Just kind of not so good when you keep posting hundreds of similar pictures.

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I took this picture a while ago. You might have seen billions of pictures like this. There is nothing new or special about it. It’s fun but photographically worthless.

Know the right tool and the technique for the job

Different situations call for different tools. For instance, zooming in is not the same as walking closer. Sometimes it’s good to use a long lens to capture an intimate moment if you think that your presence might ruin the moment. But sometimes it’s good to walk closer to capture the details. Planning what you intend to capture ahead of time will save you a lot of time.

“Bro, this is the best camera”

It’s natural for people to ask help before they buy a camera. But why is it that there is always someone who has a definite answer for this question even before whoever asked the question explain what his or her intentions are? More often than not, the same person cannot contain the excitement and has to say “bro” after every other word. Always give unbiased advice (even if you’re a fan of a certain camera brand) and avoid the people who give you these kind of advice.

Fake lens flare, textures, and vintage filters

If there is no lens flare in your pictures, it probably doesn’t belong there either. Adding fake lens flare with photoshop looks, well, fake. It is rare to see a picture looking good with fake lens flare. Textures are very tricky. I’m not talking about taking pictures of textures but using textures as overlays. Only a very few people can actually pull this off properly. It takes a lot of practice to blend the light just right. Vintage filters are overused everywhere. Not all of your pictures have to look old. I admit, it’s fun to play with filters. I do it too. But those pictures end up in instagram not in my portfolio.

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Hey look that’s a cartoonized version of myself. Ended up in instagram.

Selective coloring

This is again one of those things that rarely works well. I have like two or maybe three pictures I used this technique. Needless to say, they didn’t turn out well. I’ve seen a lot of prom pictures especially with selective coloring. When you desaturate the image and mask out the tie and the vest and the flowers, that’s where you focus your attention on. Not the important part.

Over done HDR

It is evident that most people don’t really understand what HDR actually is. This technique demands a significant technical knowledge. Sure it stands for High Dynamic Range but that doesn’t mean they HAVE to look grunge and over saturated. If that’s intentional, it’s okay but that’s not what HDR is supposed to look like. I’m talking about the pictures with a lot of ghosting, misalignment, and still considerably over exposed. That defeats the purpose of HDR. 

Too much vignetting

All your pictures have a little bit of vignetting naturally which can easily be removed using Camera RAW. I add a very small amount of vignetting if the edges look like they are burnt out. But when you push it to the extreme it looks like you’re looking through a scope.

Not everything looks good in black and white

We use the term “black and white” very loosely. Almost all the picture we call black and white are actually grayscale pictures. B&W pictures should only contain black and white just like the name suggests. Anyway, there should be a reason for you to convert your pictures to black & white. Usually high contrast pictures look good in B&W but not all.

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This doesn’t look good in B&W. The picture itself is rather ordinary.

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This one on the other hand looks better in B&W

Don’t use the on camera flasher head-on

I’m not completely against flashers. I use a flasher too. But using the on camera flasher head on usually produce unflattering results. It’s true that sometimes you can’t help it. It’s good to take the picture than not having a picture at all. If possible, invest in an external flasher. You can get a third party flasher for very cheap and you can easily bounce the flasher off of a nearby wall or a ceiling. That would give you much better results. When you use the flasher head on, it flattens the image and you lose the sense of depth. If you have to use the on camera flasher, use a diffuser. You don’t need special diffusers. You can even use a tissue paper to diffuse the light or if you don’t want to hold a tissue paper all the time you can cut out an old film reel case to fit your on camera flasher. It works wonders.

Don’t shoot under direct sunlight

When you take pictures under direct sunlight, you get washed out colors, harsh shadows, and squinty eyes. Look for a shade when possible. I know you don’t always get to shoot during the golden hours. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of the surroundings. Using reflectors can help even out the light and prevent harsh shadows.

Pay attention to details

It’s amazing the level of details you see when you get a little closer. You don’t always have to fill your frame with the entire subject.

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Details are important

“I’ll fix it later in photoshop”

Photoshop is a very powerful tool. But that doesn’t mean you always have to rely on it. When you look through the view finder and see something out of the place, don’t think that you’re going to fix it later. It’s much easier to compose your shot differently if possible or just make the necessary adjustment. Sometimes you have to use photoshop to fix something you weren’t able to manipulate physically but not always.

Do print your pictures

I believe I said this multiple times. Print your pictures, preferably large and thank me later.

Don’t shoot too much

I don’t mean taking a lot of pictures in general. That’s a good thing. I mean taking 100 pictures of the same subject just to be sure. If you spend a little time before you click the shutter button, you will save a lot of space and time going through those pictures later. I used to take a lot of pictures. I mean a LOT. I went on a 3 day vacation couple of years ago and I took around 8000 pictures. I ended up with a handful of useful ones. Last year I travelled to Las Vegas, Arizona, and California but only took less than 500 pictures in total. Cutting back the amount of useless pictures is very important. We all take bad pictures, even the most experienced photographers do.

Noisy is better than blurry

Don’t be afraid to crank up your ISO if you don’t have enough light to take the picture. Trying to handhold a camera in very low shutter speeds almost always cause camera blur. Noise can be fixed but blurry pictures will always be blurry. I think I saw a plug-in recently that claims it can fix blurry pictures though I don’t know all the details yet.

Do carry a tripod and a remote release

You won’t even realize how much these two simple things can improve your pictures until you start using them. Tripod and a remote release open up a whole new level of creativity.

Know when to ignore technicalities

While it’s very important to know how to properly expose a picture, it’s so easy to get lost in the technical details. I’m guilty of this and I often forget what’s really important in a picture. As a result, I end up with high quality crap more often than I like to admit.

“Unedited”

I don’t know why some people tend to publish pictures with the caption “unedited”. You chose to publish it that way. Is the viewer supposed to imagine how it would look like if it was edited and stand in awe? Publishing unedited pictures is completely fine but that caption is unnecessary. It feels like the photographic equivalent of publishing a picture with the caption “I’m so ugly”.

Composition is the key

Yes, rule of thirds and rule of space. But there’s a lot more. Changing the composition even slightly can have a significant impact on the final product.

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These two pictures were taken merely seconds apart. Look how different they are!

Do learn to use post production software

Learning how to use post production software is vital. Instead of trying to master all the available software out there, it’s more productive to stick with one or two. They basically do the same thing in the end. They should be used as tools to further enhance your pictures rather than as a fall back to save terrible snapshots.

Never trust your LCD

Your camera LCD can be very misleading. It appears brighter and has more contrast than there really is. Instead learn how to read a histogram. That is a very powerful tool and it represents your pictures very accurately.

Bracket your shots

When in doubt, bracket your shots. This gives you a greater range to work on later. You might even be able to combine the shots later to an HDR image. Having a tripod comes in handy here.

Filters and hoods

It’s important to protect your expensive lenses. The main reason why I have filters and hoods on is for protection. As a bonus, they also prevent stray light from hitting the image sensor. When buying filters, invest in high quality filters. You can buy very cheap UV filters but they usually cause ghosting (light reflected from the lens bounces back to the filter and reflects some of that light into the image sensor).

Add movement

Waterfalls, light trails, and start trails are popular but those are not the only occasions where you can add movement to your pictures. Even a picture taken with a high shutter speed can still give you a sense of movement.

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A slow shutter speed is not always necessary to achieve a sense of movement.

Know when to accept defeat

Unfortunately not all of your pictures are going to turn out exactly how you intended. I know it can be frustrating but be satisfied with what you managed to capture rather than thinking of what you missed. You can always try tomorrow. There are many times I waited hours and hours to take pictures of something but came back empty handed. That never stopped me from trying again the next day.

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I took this picture of my baby sister when she was dancing outside. I would’ve loved to capture more of her hair but this is what I got in the moment. I could’ve asked her to pose but that would look fake.

Take a self portrait

Not #selfies. I mean a real self portrait. I personally hate to be in front of a camera. But I still managed to take some self portraits. When you’re your own subject, you get to learn a lot of things.

Watermarks and frames

I used to have a very small watermark and a frame but I gave up on them. I think they are distracting. None of the pictures I published within the last couple of years have a watermark or a frame. That’s my personal taste though.

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I didn’t really like the watermark anyway

Get high and low

Not with weed. That’s none of my business. Sometimes ordinary things seem more interesting when shot from above or below.

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Get high, if you know what I mean.

Sneak in a candid

There is no reason why you shouldn’t sneak in a candid shot or two even when you’re doing a planned portrait session. You might just be pleasantly surprised by what you get.

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Candids are the best

Ethics

Ethics in photography should be a post on its own but always keep in mind that specially when you’re photographing nature not to interfere with nature. Sure a spider web looks much more dramatic with water drops on it. If you want to take that picture, wake up early. Don’t spray water on it. You might be destroying someone’s home. Birds and other small animals make their nests somewhere predators can’t find or reach. If your actions expose those animals to their predators, I believe those pictures are worthless no matter how ‘good’ they come out. Leave nothing but footprints.