How to create a Stitched Panorama Step-by-Step

 In LEARN, Lightroom, Photography

Buildings can be very challenging to photograph.  First, we’re usually stuck shooting from ground level which means we get a lot of perspective distortion – any vertical lines or structures at the sides of the frame lean in quite dramatically, converging towards the top of the frame. Second, we usually can’t step back far enough to be able to capture the whole scene in the frame unless we’re using a very wide angle.  You could use a tilt and shift lens to overcome the perspective distortion, but at over $2000 they’re not lenses we typically carry around with us.  And we still face the issue of trying to capture more of the scene than our lens allows us to.

The solution is to create a stitched panorama.  If you’re very close to the scene you will get a unique type of distortion as things closer to the lens will appear bigger so you may not like the effect.  Here’s an example of the same scene photographed with a wide angle vs stitched panorama.  I love how much we can see with the panorama – it’s a great story-telling technique.

The below photo was taken with a 16mm lens on a full frame camera. I couldn’t shoot any wider than this.

The below photo is a composite of 14 photos shot vertically on a tripod and then merged in Lightroom.

How to shoot for a stitched Panorama

  1. Set up you camera oriented vertically on a tripod opposite the middle of the scene
  2. Try to avoid pointing the lens up or down – the surface of the lens should be parallel to the scene.
  3. Set your exposure manually.  I shot the reclining Buddha scene at ISO 1600, f8, 1/500s at 16mm on a full frame camera.
  4. Set your white balance manually.  I find the easiest is to use a Kelvin temperature of 5100k when shooting in daylight.
  5. Start either on the far left or far right and take a series of photos with the a lot of overlap between them as per the example below.  I find the more photos you take, the better Lightroom merges them.

How to merge the photos in Lightroom

  1. Edit the first photo to your taste in the Develop module and then copy your develop settings to all the other photos in your series.  Don’t crop at this stage.
  2. Select all the photos in the series and click on Photo in the menu bar, then Photo Merge, Panorama (or Ctrl/Cmd M)
  3. Select a Projection Mode from one of the 3 options: Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective.  Here’s a helpful description of each Projection Mode.  I typically try them all to see which one gives me the best result.  For this scene I got the an error message “Unable To Merge The Photos” when I tried to use the Perspective Mode.  It means that Lightroom can’t detect overlapping detail or matching perspectives so for this scene I can only do a Spherical or Cylindrical merge.

Spherical Photo Merge

Cylindrical Photo Merge

  1.  Lightroom merges the photos and creates a new file with the same file name as the first photo in your series with -pano on the end of it (e.g. IMG_567-pano.jpg) and adds it to your catalog.  If you photographed the series in RAW, your panorama will be in the Lightroom RAW file format which is DNG.
  2. Choose the Merge result that you like.  In my case I preferred the Spherical merge as there’s less of the bulging effect.
  3. The last step is to make any final adjustments in the Develop module and then crop (I typically free-crop) and, finally, export it to JPEG if you want to print it or share it online.

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