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How to Create a Panoramic Photo in Adobe Camera Raw (Great for Landscapes)

In this tutorial, learn how to photograph and merge several images together in Adobe Camera Raw to create an image that's full of detail.

Why Shoot a Panorama?

For me, there are two reasons to make a panorama – to get a scene I can’t fit into frame with a lens, or to get more detail and scope to crop in. For example, this is the scene I was shooting taken with my wide lens:

Wide lens image
Wide lens image straight out of the camera

I'm quite far away from the main subject but this is the only place to get this particular view. If I was to crop in here, I'd lose a lot of detail.

Picture with zoom lens
Picture with zoom lens straight out of the camera

This is the same view with my zoom (70-300mm) lens.

100% zoom on rocks taken at 70mm (from the previous picture)
100% zoom on rocks taken at 70mm (from the previous picture)

It's better for getting closer in, but I still lose detail if I zoom in to 100%: it's slightly soft.

Rocks at 100% taken from the upcoming panorama
Rocks at 100% taken from the upcoming panorama

The photo above is taken from the upcoming panorama and you can see that zoomed into 100% that it's much sharper. That's because I'm able to shoot closer in and use the panorama method to get the same result as I'd get at the zoom lens' widest, but with much more detail preserved, which in turn gives me more options.

How to Photograph Your Panorama

Before You Start...

There are a few useful things to remember when you’re taking a panorama and you tend to learn those by not doing them and realising when you got home that you should’ve. So if this is your first time shooting one, hopefully you can make your life a little easier.

  1. Stick to the same focal length – if you zoom in or out the software won’t be able to stitch the images.
  2. Shoot methodically, start in one ‘corner’ of what your image will be and move along right or left, taking into consideration what you see in your viewfinder. You should aim for a slight overlap in the content of your images where they’ll join to another. If you have something in motion, like water, try and get all the important parts of that in one shot – pano software understandably has issues trying to stitch areas that don’t have definite edges or have changed between pictures.
  3. Similar to the previous point, but be sure to get enough redundant information around the edges. Sometimes – and I find this particularly if taking a long, thin horizontal pano – it’s easy to forget to get enough height. Give yourself options for the eventual crop by making sure you get enough above, below and to either side of your ‘main’ subject.
  4. Probably the thing I’ve found most useful is setting a marker before the first image in a panorama set and after the last. If you don’t do this, you can really struggle to know which images you’re supposed to be blending and which are from the next set. A very simple but great visual cue for me is to take a picture of my hand at either end – I can see it easily when I load in my images and I can’t possibly confuse it with my actual set.
Make a marker for the beginning and end of a set
Make a marker for the beginning and end of a set

Camera Settings

Try not to change settings on your camera, but if you have particularly bright and dark parts in the same panorama then you may need to compensate for that in camera now as it could cause you problems later. The idea is to try and get all of your images to look similar, on balance.

File Type

Use RAW images if you can because it gives you more options. One of the things about a panorama, though, is that they do end up being huge in size and your computer might struggle. If you balance your images well by manually choosing the settings to keep your images well exposed and balanced, you could make it work with JPEGs.

Focus

Use manual focus or pop your focus to back button so that you aren’t inadvertently switching focus when you shoot your row of images. Shoot a test image and check the focus of that, spend a little time making sure it’s sharp and then you can start shooting your series.

Composition

We tend by habit to shoot horizontally, and certainly traditional panoramas tend to be long, thin and horizontally orientated, but it’s worth considering shooting vertically for your panorama sometimes too, particularly if the subject lends itself well to that.

A portrait orientation will also help you capture that extra space around the edges, as I mentioned earlier.

How to Stitch Your Panorama Together in Adobe Camera RAW

Drag your images into your linked software (Photoshop or Lightroom for example) so that they appear in Adobe Camera Raw and select each image (hold Shift and click on the final one, or hold Control and click each individually) then right click and choose Merge to Panorama.

Choose merge to panorama
Choose merge to panorama

The software will put together a preview of your panorama. I've mentioned file sizes already but this is where your computer will really suffer. I actually took 12 images for this panorama but that turned out to be far too ambitious and it hung and crashed repeatedly, so I'm demonstrating with five instead. You'll know what your machine can cope with but the fewer images you can manage with, the better.

Adobe Camera Raw options
Adobe Camera Raw options

You'll see a number of options.

Under Projection, there's Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective. Each of these options is how the panorama will 'map' so as if in the inside of a sphere, a cylinder or to a flat surface. Perspective is good for things like architecture and other images featuring a lot of straight lines, Spherical works well with wide panoramas and Cylindrical works well with wide panoramas that have a lot of straight lines. You can flip between them for a preview of how they'll affect your image.

Boundry Warp will stretch and warp your image to fill the canvas and fill the frame. You can choose Fill Edges to content aware fill any remaining gaps and then Auto Crop to remove any remaining transparency. Unless your dead space features something repeating and non-distinct (like a field) I'd avoid this as the result is often very noticeable. You can crop and fill gaps if needed, later.

Once you're happy with your settings you can click Merge and be prepared to wait a while!

Missing Photos

Sometimes the software won't be able to stitch a particular photograph that you've included in your series. You can see if this has happened a) by what will be a pretty obvious gap and b) if you look at the top right of the screen. There, it will tell you how many images were unsuccessful. It doesn't, unfortunately, give you a reason why but the basic premise is that it doesn't see how it fits into the set—that could be because of your camera settings making the image look too different to the rest, or it might be that there isn't enough overlap or there aren't enough defining features in order for it to make a good join. There isn't a lot you can do about this, unlike some other panorama software ACR doesn't yet let you manually place an image.

Missing photo
Missing photo

Edit Your Image in Adobe Camera Raw

ACR will ask you to save your panorama as a digital negative so that you can edit it like you would with a single raw file. The panorama will likely need some adjusting. You can edit your panorama as you usually would a single image, though it may require a little more 'thinking time' from the computer on account of the file size.

If you're not sure what edits to make check out our tutorial on How to Make Basic Adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw.

Images stitched with no edits
Images stitched with no edits

Cropping and Filling

Although you can crop and fill in ACR, I actually find its crop options a bit fiddly so I prefer to open up the image in Photoshop and do it there.

Cropping in Photoshop
Cropping in Photoshop

The crop above shows where I can take the image to, losing the redundant 'extra' bits that I shot, but still leaving me with a small gap where you can see the transparent background. As this is an area of trees, I know that I can fill it reasonably well. 

Draw around your patch and right-click and choose Fill
Draw around your patch and right-click and choose Fill

Draw around your patch and make sure you include a little of the image as well as the transparency, and then right-click and choose Fill

Choose Content Aware
Choose Content Aware

Choose Content-Aware from the options. This will take a sample from the border you included and then build a new section based on that, filling your gap. You might need to zoom in and check there's no obvious join and if there is, use the Healing tools, and brushes to blend.

The Finished Image

Fitting everything in the scene with one shot wasn't a problem in this instance. The finished image in the top-right corner could have been taken with either my wide lens and later cropped, or with my zoom.

The final image top right, and zoomed in to just 25%
The final image top right, and zoomed in to just 25%

The reason for this panorama though is detail, and the larger image above shows a crop of just 25% and although it's harder to tell from a screenshot, the detail—even up to 100%—is sharp and clear. This is useful for making further future edits with different compositions, but it's also great for printing.

Yukness Ledges panorama available from Envato Elements
Yukness Ledges panorama available from Envato Elements

While you wouldn't want to panorama every image—it's time consuming and takes up large amounts of space—it is a great method for stunning shots of wide open spaces where you aren't able to capture all the details with a single shot, or for cityscapes. It's also a useful tool for squeezing more information into your finished photograph, whether you want to get more from your editing, print large images or just have the option to crop in and retain detail.

Learn More About Adobe Camera Raw

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