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How to Turn a Photograph into a Dynamic Panograph

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Read Time: 6 min

Panography was created to depict the way we naturally see. The way our eyes pick up on the details of a place or subject, then arrange them into a single image. The scale of detail you choose to create depends on the final image you see. Today, we're going to take the style and techniques of panography and apply it to images we've already taken.


What is a Panograph?

A panograph is a made up of a series of images that are manually assembled together to create a larger image. It's a technique used to achieve a "what the eye sees" kind of view. Meaning what our eyes see outside the viewfinder are the details of a place.

Our eyes pick up on the smaller things that make up a larger scene. Panography is a way to combine those details into a single graphic image.

Traditionally, panography is achieved by shooting many images of a location and then manually arranging each image. This tutorial will show you how to create the same panographic style with an image from your library.

Choosing An Image

Choosing the right image is an important step because some will work better for panography than others. Architecture, urbanscapes, arenas, and large events are great for their leading lines and a wide view. Action is another great style because you can manipulate individual images to create a sense of movement.

Go through your images and envision how they'd look as a panograph. It takes some imagination. Look for aspects of the image you want to emphasize. Look for elements that don't need to be there.


In the image I selected, the top left and right corners depicting the background aren't necessary for the panograph. In fact, I'd like to emphasize the spray the surfer is making and the photographer who's shooting him.

Those will be areas I can layer separate images that then wander into a white background. This image isn't the super wide view you see in a lot of panographs. It works because of the action and the existing composition.

Now let's dive into the actual steps in Photoshop. The steps are very simple, it just takes a little focus and time.

Creating the Panograph

1. Preparing Your Photoshop Workspace

Open your chosen image. We'll be keeping this image open the whole time so we can copy selected sections from it and paste them to a new document.

Create a new document and have it open next to your original image. Set the size to be slightly larger than the original image so you have room to work. If you need to find the size of your original image, go to Image > Image Size and it will show you.

2. Create a Selection

Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) in the toolbar. In the options panel, select a Style of "Fixed Ratio" and set the Width to 3 and the Height to 2. This is the normal proportion that a DSLR shoots, but you can play around with other ones if you want.


Then create a selection over the most important part of the image. This will allow you to work outward and centralize the focus of the panograph. The size of the selection will just depend on your eye.

If it's too small you'll have too many images to layer. And if it's too big you might loose the intricacy that makes a panograph wonderful.


3. Copy and Paste

Copy the selection by pressing Cmd+C on your keyboard. Move over to your other document and Paste (Cmd+V). Then change the Opacity in the Layers Panel to 50%. Move this layer in place using the Move Tool (V).


4. Free Transform

This is one of the most important steps. It's what will make your panograph a panograph and not a re-assembled image.

Use the Free Transform Tool (Cmd+T) to rotate the layer. Rotate it anywhere from 0 to 45 degrees (just using your eye to judge the angle). Each layer will be rotated different directions and have different angles, but keep in mind that overlapping these layers is what creates the panographic look.

Photoshop shortcuts speed up the process of this technique tremendously. Once you get the workflow down, it will move along quite quickly. Also, a few of these shortcuts will be different if you're using a PC, such as for Copy, Paste, and Free Transform.

5. Repeating Steps

Move back to your original image and hit (M) on your key. This selects the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Drag the selection over another part of the image - making sure to overlap the previous area you had selected. Overlapping is essential to the overall look.

Copy (Cmd+C) the selection and Paste it (Cmd+V) on the panograph document. Change the opacity to 50%, rotate using the Free Transform Tool (Cmd+T), and overlap into place with the Move Tool (V). Just the same steps you did with the first layer.

Continue repeating these steps until the panograph is complete. If you're working zoomed in, make sure to periodically zoom out and look at the image as a whole. You may find some layers need adjusting.


When moving back and forth between your original image and your panograph, a different tool will sometimes be selected. So when you go back to your original image and try to move the selection, it will actually take that piece out if the Move Tool is selected.

Just make it a habit to press (M) every time you move back to your original image to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool. That way you can move the selection on the image and speed up your workflow.

6. Control Your Composition

Choose the areas of your image that are important and then construct your layers for those elements. For example, look at how our surfer panograph is turning out. There are three elements I chose to emphasize. The surfer, the amount of spray in the air, and the photographer in the water capturing the action.

The abstract edges that wander off keep the focus on the action. It's okay to leave out parts that don't create great composition for the panograph, such as the background here. Offset layers also create the sense of movement.


7. Saving and Final Editing

When you feel the panograph is complete, save it (Cmd+S) as a Photoshop (PSD) File. That way you always have access to all the layers you placed.

Then go to File > Save As and save the image as a JPEG. Photoshop will automatically check the box "As a Copy" (just make sure it does).

Close the PSD version and open the JPEG version for final editing.


Make any photo adjustments you find fit for the panograph. For this image, I made small Levels adjustments by going to Layer > Adjustments > Levels.


Final Result


Ready to Create Your Own

Here are some simple things to remember when making your own:

  • Choose images with leading lines, wide views, or action to achieve the best look.
  • Get the best results by rotating and overlapping your layers. At first it will look confusing, but add enough layers and an image starts to appear. 
  • Develop a good workflow by knowing and using your Photoshop shortcuts.
  • Remember to look at the bigger picture you're creating.
  • Let edges wander. You don't need to create another rectangle of an image.
  • Focus on the most interesting elements of a photo to emphasize in your panograph.

Have fun, be creative, and share your panographs in the comments below!

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