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How To Clean Up Your Panoramic Photos Part 1: Clone Stamp

Chances are, you’ll end up with a few unwanted objects in your panoramic photo. Perhaps it’s a power line that’s sagging in the frame. Or it’s an unwanted tourist walking through the shot. Fortunately, Photoshop offers a suite of tools for removing objects and hiding blemishes. In this second part we look at the Clone Stamp tool.

If you’ve used Photoshop for a long time, you’ve surely come to rely on the Clone Stamp tool. It can produce predictable and accurate results with just a little practice. It works by sampling pixels from one area of an image and painting them in another. What makes the tool so useful is that it relies on the flexibility of Photoshop’s Brush panel. This allows you to adjust the size and hardness of the brush as well as the opacity of the stroke. When cloning, be sure to use a softer brush. You can quickly adjust the hardness of brush by holding the shift key and press [ (for softer) or ] (for harder).

The Clone Stamp tool is a quick way to remove distracting blemishes from an image.

The most useful option when cloning to is specify the desired alignment of the brush. In the Options bar, you have two choices.

  • If Aligned is selected, the sample point and painting point move parallel as you brush. If you click again and start over, the sample point picks up relative to the current brush position.
  • If Aligned is deselected, the initial sample point is re-used. The second method ensures that you are always sampling from the same area but the first produces more visual variety if using a large textured area.

To set the source point for cloning, simply Option+click (Alt+click) within the current document. You can also use another open document as a source (just be sure that it is set to the same color mode). This defines the source point for sampled pixel data.

To get the best results, try these performance tips:

  • Try cloning at a lower opacity from several different places to fill in a problem area. This way you can avoid too much repetition in the pattern.
  • Try to “follow the line” by looking for edges to follow in the image. Look to follow the natural curves and linear paths that are present.
  • You can clone from all visible layers by specifying Use All Layers. This is useful if you want to clone to an empty layer at the top of your document while sampling from the layers below.

This post is adapted from the book Motion Graphics with Adobe Creative Suite 5 Studio Techniques. If you want to learn how to mix panoramic photos with video (and much more) check out the book.

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Three Tips for Better Panoramic Photographs

Sometimes its the little things that make all the difference.  Here’s three quick tips to getting bette panoramic photos.

The Hand Knows

When you are out shooting panoramic photos, its pretty easy to get a ton of photos.  When you jump into post into post you can get a little overwhelmed.  Where does one pano end and the next begin?

© Richard Harrington

That’s easy… just hold up your hand in between shots to signify a scene break. When you’re browsing in Bridge, Lightroom, or Aperture the scene break is easy to spot.

Go Manual

We’ve all come a little too dependent on the computers inside our cameras.  But when shooting panoramic photos its critical to switch back to manual mode.

© iStockphoto | mikerogal

The last thing you want is for the aperture to change and your depth of field to vary as you pan,  You’ll also want to avoid exposure variation as well.  This manual override goes for both the camera and the lens… go for full control.  I recommend taking a few test shots from around the arc and adjust your settings then let it rip and shoot the whole pano.

Get an L Bracket

Ideally, you want to shoot in portrait mode.  This will allow for the least amount of bending as you rotate the camera around.  Essentially you are creating a circle out of several rectangles.  A portrait orientation allows for more sides to the shape, hence a smoother curve. Unfortunately most cameras mount to their tripods in landscape mode.

© Richard Harrington

One option is to look for a tripod with a titling plate.  This works well, but does introduce a slight distortion to the image.  A better option is to get a L-bracket for your camera.  This makes it easy to rotate the camera 90˚.  I use a bracket and tripod mount from Really Right Stuff (www.ReallyRightStuff.com).  While they are a premium grade, they offer plates made to fit specific camera models precisely.  Camera controls and ports are not blocked by the L-plate.

What’s Your Secret?

Do you have any great tips for better panoramic photos?  Please post them below.

Dealing With Crowds in Panoramic Photos

I seem to like to make things hard on myself.

  • Lots of moving subjects (hundreds of people in fact)
  • Shifting horizons and foreground (waves)
  • Lack of a tripod (shot thus handheld in about 60 seconds)
But the moment was worth capturing.  I was in Huntington Beach (my birthplace in fact) and I really wanted a photo to capture the mood.  Of course it was just about noon (the light was awful).  That’s okay… the whole reason I enjoy Photoshop is the process of developing the picture in my mind’s eye.

The Shooting Process

Here’s how I pulled the shot off.

  1. I placed the camera into Aperture-priority mode because I needed a little automatic assistance to deal with the quick panning.  I knew that Photoshop could handle any subtle shifts when it blended.
  2. I set the camera to Raw to have much greater flexibility in exposure and tone.
  3. I squared my body to face the most interesting part of the action.
  4. I planted my feet about shoulder width apart and twisted at the waist.
  5. I shot two exposures for each position (to deal with moving subjects).
  6. I tried to pan my body smoothly and create about 50% overlap between exposures to avoid issues with people being accidentally cut off by movement.

The Post Process

Here’s how I completed the post. I used several features in Photoshop to get the job done.

  • Ran the Photomerge command.  Slightly dissatisfied with first results so ran it again (each time is a little different).
  • Adjusted the layer masks to clean up the blending of fast-moving objects.
  • Used Cloning, the Patch tool and Content Aware Fill to remove blemishes.
  • Popped Color with Vibrance
  • Controlled tone with Curves.
  • Used a Gradient Fill Layer and Photo Filter Layer to pop the sky.
  • Cropped to improve composition.
  • Performed Grayscale Toning.
  • Used Blending Modes and Blend If command.
Here’s the walk-through.

Huntington Beach Panorama from RHED Pixel on Vimeo.

What sort of tutorials do you want to see next?

Speaking of Panoramic Cameras – How About The Sprocket Rocket?

I recently came across a fascinating article from the MSNBC Photo Blog.

It was about Mario Tama, a Getty Images photographer who returned to Ground Zero in New York 10 years after 9/11 with a Lomography Sprocket Rocket Super Wide Angle 35mm Camera.

At less then $83 most anyone reading this should be able to afford such a camera. But what really got to me was the way the images – captured on film – showed a purity that I don’t usually find in images that are digitally created.

Some key features of the Lomo are:

* Super-wide angle lens captures entire width of film including sprocket holes!
* Scrolling knobs allow easy multiple exposures
* Hotshoe for flash and standard tripod screw
* B-setting (Bulb) mode for nighttime/long-exposures
* Uses all kinds of 35mm film (color negatives, slide, black & white, etc.)

The first item on the list is what really appeals to me. The lens captures the ENTIRE width of the film – including the sprocket holes. And if you look at Toma’s work, that’s the thing that grabs me. There’s great image data out there where the sprocket holes live.

His choice to shoot black and white film also appealed to me. Now where you’ll get this film developed, proofed and printed is beyond me. I would guess he does his own darkroom work, but the results are simply mesmerizing.

To see more ofTama’s work – go to http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44020480.

I’d really love to know what you think of the images and the camera and if you have any actual experience with the Lomo please feel free to chime in, especially on where you get the film processed.

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Sponsored by Topaz Labs

Panoramic Photography Primer

By Richard Harrington & Scott Bourne

If you’ve seen a panoramic photograph, chances are you are hooked. Its been around almost as long as traditional photography but the tools to make panoramic images have never been more plentiful.

First let’s define panoramic photography. Originally, it referred to images that had a minimum aspect ratio of 2:1 or larger. Now it’s less important that an image have a formal 2:1 ratio and more important that it merely has an elongated field of view.

Let’s start by saying this primer is aimed only at Compact digital and DSLR shooters. If you have a special panoramic film camera, chances are most of the information here is already known to you.

GEAR

Camera:
What sort of gear do you need? Virtually any digital camera will do. There are some advantages to using simple point-and-shoot models which might already have a panoramic multi-shot mode built in, but prosumer and professional bodies give you more data to work with. The distinction between pro bodies and consumer bodies is less important when shooting panoramic images because you will have more native resolution than usual. This is because you will be stitching together more multiple images.

Lens:
If you’re using a DSLR you will need to select a lens. It depends on what you want to accomplish but for panoramic images, I like the flexibility of a zoom. My preferred panoramic kit is a Nikon D7000 with 28-300 mm lens. Any lens in that range will do for most occasions. Since you’ll be stitching together lots of images, it’s not as critical here to have the world’s fastest, sharpest lens. Although that’s always nice, a mid-priced, pro-sumer zoom is often perfect.

Tripod:
You will want a sturdy (read that heavy or expensive) tripod if you’re serious about panoramic photography. Yes, you can hand hold your camera and stitch together a panoramic image, but if you really want to go big, with great quality and cover a large range, a tripod makes a world of difference. Not only do you need a sturdy tripod, it’s a best practice to get one that is easy to level. You can accomplish this in many ways, but one of the easiest ways is to get a leveling head. There are many types of tripod head available. Make sure you get one that at least has a bubble level.

MAKING THE PICTURE

Great panoramas start with great photos. In order for the command to work properly, you should follow these guidelines when shooting.

  • Choose a Location: Ideally you’ll find a location with a good view. A full 360˚ is not required, but the wider angle of view the better.
  • Set Up Your Tripod: Set your tripod and make sure the legs are spread wide enough for a stable base. You should then make sure that the tripod is level. Photoshop can handle a slight variance in angle, but more than a few degrees can mess up the Photomerge command.

  • Go Manual: Your camera should be in manual mode. You want to minimize changes in exposure as you pan the camera. Be sure to keep your exposure constant throughout all shots of the panorama.
  • Shoot in Portrait Mode: You may need to get a special bracket or tripod head to do this most easily, but its well worth it. Shooting in portrait mode minimizes horizontal distortion and gives your panorama the maximum image quality.

  • Avoid Distortion from the Lens: You’ll want to avoid using fish-eye lenses or other types that excessively bend the image. If you do use a lens of this type, choose the Auto layout option to minimize distortion.
  • Focus On Infinity: Be absolutely certain that you take the camera out of autofocus. You’ll want to manually focus at infinity so everything stays the same through each shot.

  • Keep an Eye on Moving Objects: If you have people or other objects moving through the frame, be sure to avoid duplicating them in multiple exposures. If the scene is quite busy, you should shoot each angle a few times.
  • Overlap: The Photomerge command prefers an overlap of 25–50%. While some overlap is good, too much can also be a problem. If Photoshop encounters more than 70% overlap, it ma have difficulty blending exposures.

  • Focal Length: Do not change your focal length while shooting. If using a fixed lens, this is simple. However, you can still shoot with a zoom lens. Just be sure you don’t adjust the lens while shooting.

POST

After you capture your images, you’ll want to stitch them together in post using a program like Adobe Photoshop. Make sure you use a two-step process. The first is the actual stitching, the second is the cleanup and retouch on the entire finished image.

Once you have finished, treat the panoramic image as you would any other. It’s an amazing thing to share and panoramics are fun to make. Good shooting.

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This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store