Amongst the new features introduced with Lightroom CC and Lightroom 6 was the ability to merge panoramas from a series of overlapping frames, without the need for Photoshop. But is it as good at merging images? Let’s see.
Panoramas are easy to shoot. A tripod is good, but not essential. The main thing you need to make sure of is that you’re using manual exposure, manual white balance and, if there are foreground objects near the camera, manual focus. You need to make sure that all the exposure, colour and focus parameters stay the same between frames, or they may not merge properly.
All you need to do then is take a series of shots that overlap by about a third – and keep the camera as level as you can. The more level you keep it, the fewer jagged edge areas you’ll have to crop off later.
It’s tempting to shoot super-wide panoramas made up of a number of frames. That’s fine, but this produces a very narrow letterbox format picture that’s hard to display and view. I usually stop at three frames, which still gives a super-wide photo but without that extreme letterbox shape.
Step 01: Select your frames
I’ve selected my three overlapping frames in Lightroom. They’re saved as Nikon NEF (RAW) files because that will give me more processing flexibility later. Now I right-click on one of the frames and choose Photo Merge > Panorama from the menu.
Step 02: The Panorama Merge window
It will take Lightroom a few moments to carry out the merge – you can watch the progress bar in the top left corner of the window – but then it will display your panorama in this Preview window. The choices here are really simple. First, decide what panorama ‘Projection’ you want. I always choose ‘Cylindrical’ since this mirrors the way we see a scene as we turn.
Step 03: Auto Crop
Below these three choices is an ‘Auto Crop’ checkbox – this may already be checked by default. You can see what happens if you don’t use it – the edges of the panorama are jagged and messy, reflecting the geometric corrections Lightroom has had to make to make the images line up and merge. Checking the ‘Auto Crop’ box saves you having to crop these areas off manually, and it’s a massive time-saver.
Step 04: Final adjustments
I mentioned at the start that I shot this panorama as a series of NEF files, and Lightroom has preserved this RAW data as it creates the merged panorama. This is now in Adobe’s DNG format, its own generic RAW format. Because the RAW data is still intact, I can recover overexposed detail in the sky using the Graduated Filter tool.
Step 05: The finished picture
And here’s the result. The stitching is seamless and the process was super-easy and barely took a couple of minutes. It’s one more job you can now do in Lightroom and one less that you need to swap to Photoshop for.