When you hear the word ‘panorama’, you usually think of sweeping, letterbox-shaped vistas which are about ten times wider than they are high. Panoramas this wide, however, are very difficult to print and display effectively, and often lack the visual impact you meant them to have.
In fact, traditional ‘panoramic’ cameras didn’t always go this wide. The celebrated Hasselblad XPan camera, for example, produced images 65mm wide and 24mm high, which is just under twice the with as wide as the 3:2 ratio of a 35mm camera or digital SLR. It created images with a wide enough ratio to capture stunning vistas, but not so wide that you had to examine the detail with a microscope…
Which is why I think the most effective way to shoot panoramas is often with just two overlapping images. When these are stitched together using the Elements Photomerge Panorama tool (it’s also in Photoshop, of course), you get a seamless join and an extra-wide image you wouldn’t have been able to capture with a single exposure.
It’s really simple to do, especially in Elements 11, as long as you’ve got the right images to work from. Your original shots need to overlap by around one-third, and it’s easy enough to do this with the naked eye as you take the pictures.
Just as important, though, is keeping the camera settings the same. The two shots should have the same exposure, white balance, zoom setting and focus distance, or they won’t match up properly. On a digital SLR you can do this easily enough by switching to manual. On a compact camera you could try taking the first shot, then point the camera at the same area, half-press the shutter to lock the settings, then reframe to get your one-third overlap and press the shutter the rest of the way to take the shot.
Here are my two start shots. They were taken on a regular compact camera from a boat in a harbour. I’m going to see how well they stitch together in Elements.
01 Photomerge Panorama command
First of all, open all your images in the Elements Editor – I’ve just got two showing here in the Photo Bin because that’s all I’m using. Now make sure you’re in Expert mode and select the Enhance > Photomerge > Photomerge Panorama command. This is where you’ll find it in Photoshop Elements 11, anyway – Adobe tends to move some commands around each time it releases a new version.
02 Photomerge options
The Photomerge window offers a series of different options for merging your shots, so I’ll go through the important ones in turn. First, you need to select the right kind of layout from the options on the left – Choose ‘Cylindrical’ (1) to make sure you get a regular, flat panorama with no attempts at geometric correction. Next, select ‘Add Open Files’ using the button on the right (2). This will add your images to the list in the centre of the window. Lastly, make sure the ‘Blend Images Together’ box below (3) is checked, but not the two other options below it. Now click OK…
03 Filling in the edges
That’s all you have to do… almost. Elements will blend the shots together automatically, but because it has to carry out distortion corrections at the same time, you’ll end up with an irregular edge with blank ‘wedges’ around the outside. Normally, you’d simply use the Crop tool to get rid of these untidy edges, but this does mean wasting some of the image, and Elements 11 has an alternative. It pops up this dialog which asks you: ‘Would you like to automatically fill in the edges of your panorama?’. If you click ‘Yes’, it uses Adobe’s content-aware fill technology to work a little magic…