Sunday, March 22, 2009


Talk about interesting! This weekend I tried shooting a panorama for the first time and stitching it together with the Photoshop CS4 PhotoMerge function, and the results were a lot of fun to look at!

I've never been motivated to experiment with panoramas before. My perception of the high effort required to post-process the individual pictures into a usable panorama photo kept me away from bothering to try it. I couldn't have been more wrong!

I was on a hike this weekend in the reservoir near my house and I came upon some great subject matter. Yes, I did say "in" the reservoir. We're having a spring drought in this section of New York this year and our reservoir is down at least 30 feet or more. These low water levels reveal all of the hidden things that you can't usually see when they're under the surface of the water. All of the old stone walls that used to mark the farmlands, strange rock pilings, old wood, etc. Interesting stuff!

So I'm looking at that scene before me and thinking, "I wish I could capture all of this in one photo", and then I thought.......Shoot a panorama! I didn't have a tripod so I knew I was going to have to try it handheld. I was hoping PhotoMerge would be able to handle the probable shakey results.

My simple steps:

1) I metered for the first picture and recorded the meter readings.

2) I switched the camera into full manual mode and entered those meter readings for the first picture. I did this so that all four of the photos I was planning for the panorama would use the same exposure settings (very important when it comes time to stitch things together!).

3) I set the camera to manual focus so that once I focused for the first picture, that focus would remain for all four photos.

4) I planned out the four pictures in my head and then took them one after the other, overlapping them by about 25% to give PhotoMerge some room to do its work and find a good place to seam them.

5) I took the four photos in sequence, being careful to hold the camera as level as possible.

That's it! I came home, pointed CS4 Photomerge at the four pictures, and let it do its thing in complete auto mode. The results were astounding! I couldn't believe that with practically no effort on my part, Photoshop correctly stitched the four images together with absolutely no signs of where the stitching was done.

The resulting panorama was a real eye opener! It presented the scene I saw before me in all its splendor. I was truly impressed, and everyone who has seen the photo said the same thing, "Wow"!

This experience opened up a whole new creative thought process for me. Not every subject is suitable for panorama format, but now that I know how easy it is, I'll think more along these lines when a situation like this presents itself again. There are many odd sized places in our house that could use a nice panorama print to fill the space. Of course, the issue is finding an easy way to print these pictures because doing it on a standard size printer at home wouldn't be easy. I will investigate labs that handle this and perhaps try a sample print to see how it comes out...

More to come on this topic!

For an interesting video on this topic, see this PhotoMerge tutorial at Layers Magazine online.

Update 6/14/09: Here's an article that mirrors what I said above, but adds a few more tips.