Monday, July 9, 2012

Building Photo Panoramas in Photoshop

Creating panoramic photos in Photoshop
Creating panoramas from a series of stills.
Last week we explored using the iPhone to create panoramic photographs, this week we'll look at the process of building panoramas in greater detail. I started shooting panoramas in college, but in those days, the only way I had to stitch the photos together was with masking tape.

These days, high-resolution digital photography and photo manipulation software such as Adobe® Photoshop®, make the process of creating and printing panoramic shots so much cleaner and easier.

The layers used to create panorama in Photoshop
Matted layers
I don’t have a huge collection of lenses and I have never been a huge fan of the distortion caused by super wide or fish-eye lenses. For me, shooting panoramas and stitching the individual photos together is a much more faithful way to capture a wide landscape. Last month I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time. For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon, it’s an amazingly beautiful location to capture wide landscapes. While there I spent a lot of time taking sequential pictures that I would later convert into panoramic shots. To maximize my pixels, I always shoot with my camera in the portrait (vertical) orientation. This also makes the frame edge that you will be stitching, less affected by the curve of the lens.

Once I returned home and transferred all of my shots onto my computer, I gathered all of the images, which made up each panorama, and put them in folders – a folder for each panorama. When I use Photoshop, I always use a method that is as non-destructive as possible – that way I can always get back to the original image at any point in the process (probably the nonlinear editor in me). I even convert each layer to a Smart Object so that all the original pixels are preserved.

Although Photoshop has very sophisticated options in the Photomerge feature, I prefer to to use "Reposition" with no other options selected. This enables me to start on any of the layers and work outward to the left and right edges. When aligning a layer, I place it on top of the previous layer, reduce the opacity to about 50% and use the Free Transform feature; this allows me to see the layer I’m matching against, and to rotate the layer I’m aligning, if necessary. When I have all the layers aligned, as best as I can, I will use a matte to blend the two layers together (a non-destructive compositing technique). I will cut the matte along naturally occurring vertical lines in the image; this will make the seam much less visible. After I have the layers blended, I generally have to adjust the tones of some of the images in the composition. Again, to preserve the original layer, I use Adjustment Layers (usually Levels and Hue/Saturation) above the layer I want to affect. When adjusting the tone, I always concentrate on the ground portion of the shot first – I do the sky in a second pass.

Panoramic image separated into four partsOnce the ground portion of the shot is complete, I begin the process of making a “second pass” on the sky. I place all of the current layers in a New Group (folder) and then duplicate that Group. The Group that is the copy is the one that will contain the adjusted ground layers. I create a matte for this Group that allows the sky portion of the bottom Group to show through. It is in this bottom Group that I work to adjust the tones of the sky. In the case of the sample panorama, I separated the image into four parts:

  1. Foreground
  2. Mid-ground
  3. Background
  4. Sky

This allows better control of each of the individual parts. Doing so means that making color adjustments to the background won't affect the foreground.

After I’ve adjusted the all of the layers just the way I like it, the panorama is complete. I will create a JPEG with as little compression as possible at its original size and use that JPEG to have a print made.

Here's a time-lapse shot of sunrise over the south rim of the grand canyon. The video was captured with an iPhone (in real time - I discovered that the iPhone will record clips no longer than 50 minutes) and then time remapped in Adobe® After Effects®.

1 comment:

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