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Mixing Panoramic & HDR Photography

Sometimes you just have to make lemons into lemon-aide – or at least try.

A few years ago I was in Alaska photographing bears. We moved our boat into Geographic Harbor for a few hours and of course, when we got there the weather was horrid. I made the image immediately below because I was there, not because I liked it.

There’s not much I like about it other than it provides me with a personal memory of my time in Alaska that year. But when I was shooting this location I knew this would happen. So I made several exposures and decided to combine panoramic photography and HDR photography to see if I could salvage something.

Here’s a link to a large version of the result. It’s not the best image I ever made, but it isn’t as horrible as it was when I just made one shot.

I made four shots – two exposures each – and merged them in a combination of Photoshop and Nik HDR Efex Pro. I then added some effects in onOne’s new Perfect Photo Suite. I still don’t love it but that’s not the point. The point is that thanks to technologies like panoramic stitching and HDR tone mapping – once in a while we can save a shot that otherwise wouldn’t make the grade.

How to Shoot Panoramic Photos on an iPhone

The need for panoramic photos is on the rise, so much in fact that even phones are getting in on the action. Whether it’s real-estate tours or just wider snapshots to capture the memories, panos are seeing much more play.

If you search the term pano in the App Store, you’ll get many hits… but the first result is often the best.

One of my favorite iPhone apps is simply called Pano.  Made by Debacle Software ( it is both easy and elegant.

Simply fire up the app and take your first picture. The user interface is very simple and easy to understand.

(Please note… taking screenshots on an iPhone involves ninja thumb-work of pushing all the physical buttons at once.  Hence a little shake in the “demo” photos).

Next the application shows you a sliver of the previous image as a ghosted overlay.  This helps you align the image and take the next photo. If you get interrupted by a phone call or bad button push, you can relaunch the app and resume shooting from where you left.

Keep panning and snapping until you have all of the photos you want. You can take up to 360˚ photos with sixteen source images.

Click the check mark button when done and choose merge.

Pano quickly merges the photo.  In my own tests I found it very good at dealing with motion as well as exposure tone.  The app can fix color variations and makes a believable merge.

Yes…  it’s a lame test shot…  but it has lots of clutter, shadows, and even a moving subject.  

Here’s a tough shot where the distance to subject was simply across the table.  The merge point was down the middle of the subject (3 exposures were used).  The blend is quite good even for a lowlight shot.

You probably won’t go printing on canvas, but they make great images for web and multimedia uses.  The final images produced are up to 6800×800 pixels.

Even has built in tips to get better results.

The app is currently on sale in the iTunes app store for $1.99

This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store

How to Use Photoshop’s Healing Brush to Clean Up Your Panoramic or HDR Photos

There’s a great tool in Adobe Photoshop that should be in both the HDR and panoramic photographer’s toolbox — the Healing Brush. Whether you’re cleaning up seams or removing ghosts from an HDR image, the Healing Brush (J) is designed to correct imperfections in a photo. Similar in handling to the Clone Stamp tool, it successfully hides blemishes by taking cloned pixels and matching the texture, lighting, and shading of the sampled to the original pixels.

The tool works very well and it can generally produce results in which the repaired pixels blend seamlessly together.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Select the Healing Brush Tool by pressing J.
  2. Select a brush from the Options bar or Brushes panel.
  3. Choose a blending mode. (This can be useful when retouching as to avoid visible cloning.) The Replace option preserves noise and texture at the stroke’s edges.
  4. Choose a source for repairing pixels in the Options bar. The standard source is sampled. Here pixels are taken from the area surrounding your sample point. As the brush moves, the sample point also moves accordingly to ensure variety in the sampled source. The Pattern option uses a pattern from the current pattern library (accessible from a pop-up list).
  5. Specify the tool alignment in the Options bar. 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.
  6. If you are using the Sampling mode, Option+click (Alt+click) within the current document or another open document set to the same color mode.
  7. The tool functions similarly to the Clone Stamp tool. Paint brush strokes over the area you’d like to heal.

Performance Tips

  • Because the sampled pixels are drawn from before you click, it may be necessary to release and start over occasionally to avoid cloning the problem area.
  • Release the mouse to merge the sampled pixels. The stroke will look strange until then.
  • To get better results on an area with strong contrast, make a selection before using the Healing Brush Tool. The selection should be bigger than the area to be healed and should follow the boundary of high contrast pixels. For example, if healing a person’s face, make a selection over the problem area that excludes the adjacent sky or clothing. This way, when painting with the Healing Brush, the selection will prevent color bleed-in from outside areas.
  • 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 sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store

Free Video Tutorial on Photoshop’s Photomerge Command

An episode from the book and podcast series Understanding Adobe Photoshop. Richard Harrington demonstrates how to take several photographic images and stitch them together to create one panoramic image.

Better 360˚ Panoramic Photos Using Photoshop Automation

As many explore panoramic photography, they off stop short (at least of making a full 360˚ arc). The truth is that its gotten much easier to make a fully actualized 360˚ image.  If enough photos are taken, then a large panoramic image can be made.  These photos can then be turned into an interactive panoramic for the web or brought into Adobe After Effects to serve as a backdrop for chroma key footage.

Merging Photos

Let’s explore piecing together a full 360˚ VR photo.  In this particular case, I have 24 exposures to capture the entire environment.  Adobe Photoshop makes the combining of multiple shots easy using the Automation command called Photomerge:

  1. Choose File > Automate > Photomerge. Photomerge is a specialized “mini- application” within Photoshop that assists in combining multiple images into a single photo.
  2. Click the Browse button and navigate to your images.
  3. Press Cmd+A (Ctrl+A) to select all the pictures in the folder and click Open.
  4. There are several Layout options available that attempt to fix problems caused by panoramic photography (such as distortion).  A good place to start is Auto, which attempts to align the images but will bend them as needed.

  5. Select the check boxes next to Blend Images Together and Vignette Removal.  These two options will attempt to blend the edges of the photos together and can hide subtle differences in exposure.
  6. Click OK to build the panoramic image. Photoshop attempts to assemble the panorama based on your choices in the dialog box. Due to the number of images, the process may take a few minutes.

With these images, you’ll notice that the tree trunk appears on both the left and right edges.  This image needs a little additional processing to create a completely seamless 360˚ photo.

Creating a Seamless Loop with an Action

When you first merge your 360˚ photos, the resulting image is quite large, but not a perfect loop.  While the image can be seamless, the left and right edges have not been properly cropped to use the image as a circular loop.  To fix this process would normally take several (tedious) steps.  To solve this problem, we’ve created an action that will finish processing the full 360˚ panoramic image.

Get the 360˚ Photoshop Action Here

  1. Choose Window > Actions to call up the Actions panel.
  2. Click the submenu of the Actions panel and choose Load Actions. A new browser window opens.
  3. Navigate to the action you downloaded and unzipped.
  4. Select the action Panoramic.atn and click Load.
  5. In the Actions panel, locate the Panoramics set (folder) and choose the Seamless Loop action.
  6. Click the Play selection button in the Actions panel.
  7. The image is now seamless on the left and right edges.  A new dialog box invites you to crop the image as needed.
  8. Click Continue. The image may need a little bit cropped from its top or bottom to remove gaps (cause by not being level).
  9. Choose Image > Canvas Size.
  10. Enter a new height to trim away unwanted pixels.  Be certain to only crop from top and bottom (and not the sides) or the 360˚ image will be broken.
  11. Click OK. A dialog warns you that some clipping will occur. Click Proceed.
  12. Choose Layer > Flatten Image to discard any layers.
  13. Choose File > Save As to name the file and store it on your drive.

To learn how to use Panoramic images in a video and motion graphics workflow, be sure to check out the book – Motion Graphics with Adobe Creative Suite 5 Studio Techniques from Adobe Press.


This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store