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How to create huge panoramas in Lightroom Pt 1: 12 shot image from Cornwall

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

So the shot below is a composite of 12 individual photographs. It is a view that I have photographed several times, but even with a 15mm lens its very hard to get the whole thing in one shot. I wanted to also set myself a little bit of a challenge and so here we are! I'm going to write a two part post, the first one I will go over the technical part of stitching together multiple images for both dynamic range and also for a panoramic effect.

Looe in Cornwall where this was taken, is one of my favorite places in the world, and it also happens to be extremely photogenic if you know where to stand and at what time of day. I took up my usual position on the hillside where I could get a view from the town on the left all the way down to the end of the Banjo Pier on the right. As the sun set I had perfect lighting conditions with light whispy clouds and a gorgeous blue sky. I set up my tripod as usual except in portrait mode so as to be able to capture a taller image. I then sequenced 6 frames, with around a 50% overlap, taking two exposures for each shot. One for the Sky and one for the Shadows/ foreground.

After snapping my photographs, I imported them into Lightroom and was ready to go. I have broken down the stitching procedure into 6 steps below.

Step 1: Sort and Arrange Images

This first step is really just housekeeping. I like to make sure I have all the component shots loaded into Lightoom and displayed sequentially. Each from was photographed twice with two exposures so it helps to list list by "time taken" so the pairs sit next to each other in the display. I have also selected the 12 shots highlighted in the RIbon at the bottom of the frame for easy access.

Step 2: Merge Pairs of Images to HDR

Step two involves the excellent "Merge to HDR" function found in the Lightroom "Photo" tab. This scene has a very high dynamic range, which is much to wide for me to capture well in a single exposure. Therefore for each frame I captured two exposures, one for the shadows/ foreground, and one for the sky,

On the left you can see that the image nicely captures the detail in the shadows and on the right we can see the detail in the sky which is not present in the first image. The Merge to HDR function allows created an ADOBE RAW file which incorporates the information from both images. This gives an effective dynamic range which my DSLR couldn't capture conventionally. This process was then repeated for each of the 6 pairs of images, resulting in 6 final high dynamic range images.

Step 3: Rotate and Crop Images

Although I tried to ensure my camera was dead level on the tripod, I noticed in Lightroom that my images were out by a couple of degrees. This can be seen by the fact that the horizon was not perfectly level. As each of my images was taken on the same tripod, fortunately I meant that once I had one image corrected. The same adjustment criteria could be applied to all the others.

Its important to have a constant and level horizon before attempting to panorama stitch, as wonky images can produce some very weird looking panoramic shots. Below you can see the before (left) and after (right).

Step 4: Merge and Stitch to Panorama

The last major step in the process is to use the "merge to HDR" function. This involved merging all 6 shots into one very wide angle photo. As the shots were taken from a stationary tripod rotated around around the ball head, the "spherical" projection system is the most appropriate. This imagines the shots filled the inside of a sphere and are then flattened accordingly.

Projecting a 3D image to a 2D space is some tricky maths, but lucky Lightroom makes it easy with a handy "boundary warp" function. In the first uncorrected image, you can see the horizon warps upwards, in the second over corrected image it warps the other direction. Its important to make sure the warp is just right to set the horizon to as close to flat as possible.

Step 5: Apply Final Cropping

This last step is pretty simple. I am a big fan of either 2:1 or 16:9 aspect ratio for landscape shots. I really like the wide angle look and these aspect ratios are great to show of big gorgeous vistas. The white parts of the image is simply the gaps where I diddn't have a photograph to fill in the panorama. You can select for Lightroom to auto-crop these out. But I prefer to do this part myself.

Once I selected the 16:9 preset ratio its all about fitting the frame to the image so as not to include any of the white bits.

Step 6: Ready for Editing

Aaaaand there we have it. 12 images stitched together and ready for editing. This is still technically as RAW file so all of the lovely data in the shadows and highlights is still there and can be worked with in pt2 when I will edit this image!

If you like this and would like to learn more about photo editing. I teach Lightroom lessons over Skype and teach photography lessons in small calsses. You can also subscribe to get more lessons like this and Pt2 where I will edit this image directly into your inbox!


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