I used to have an entire segment in my live Photoshop seminars where I’d show you the seven things you needed to do with your camera to shoot a pano that Photoshop would merge seamlessly together. Then Adobe improved the Photomerge feature so vastly that you only needed to do one simple thing (more on that in a moment), and they added a few extra features that make it produce the best results yet. In fact, it’s so easy, there’s no reason not to be shooting panos every chance you get. Here’s how:
This first thing isn’t technically a Photoshop thing, but if you do it, it sure will make working with panos easier. When you’re out shooting, and you’re about to shoot a pano, before you shoot your first pano frame, hold your index finger up in front of your lens and take a photo. Then go ahead and take your pano, and right after you shoot your last frame, hold up two fingers in front of your lens and take another photo. Here’s where this pays off: When you open all your photos from that day’s shoot in Mini Bridge, you could easily have hundreds of photos (especially if these are vacation photos). As you scroll through, as soon as you see an index finger, you know these are your pano photos (by the way, if you have that whole self-loathing thing going on, or if you’re a teen, you don’t have to use your index finger). Plus, it not only tells you that you shot a pano, it tells you exactly where it starts and where it ends (as seen here). It sounds silly, but if you don’t do this, you’ll actually miss panos you took, and you’ll just kind of wonder, “What was I thinking when I took those?” and you’ll scroll right by them. It’s happened to me, and so many of my friends, that we now all use this technique, and we never miss a pano.
You can start by selecting the individual pieces of your pano in Mini Bridge (as I have here, where I took 11 individual photos, hand-held, in China’s Forbidden City, something I never would have tried a few years ago. That’s how good this Photomerge feature is). You just select everything between the two finger shots, click on the Tools icon, and under Photoshop, choose Photomerge (as shown here). Note: If you already have your photos open in Photoshop, then you can go under the File menu, under Automate, and choose Photomerge. Either way—they both will get you to the same place.
When you choose Photomerge, it brings up the dialog you see here, with the images you selected listed in the center column. (Note: If you opened your pano photos from within Photoshop, the center column will be empty, so you’ll click the Add Open Files button.) We’ll look at the Layout part in the next step, and jump down below that center column. Leave the Blend Images Together check-box turned on. Now, there are two other options you may need, depending on how you shot your pano: (1) If you have lens vignetting (the edges of your images appear darkened), then turn on Vignette Removal (as I did here), and although it will take a little longer to render your pano, it will try to remove the vignetting during the process (it does a pretty decent job). If you’re using a Nikon, Sigma, or Canon fisheye lens to shoot your panos, then turn on the Geometric Distortion Correction checkbox at the bottom to correct the fisheye distortion.
In the Layout section on the left, the default setting is Auto (as seen in Step Three), and I recommend leaving that set to Auto to get the standard wide pano we’re looking for. The five Layout choices below Auto (Perspective, Cylindrical, Spherical, Collage, and Reposition) all give you...well...funky looking panos (that’s the best description I can give you), but suffice it to say—they don’t give you that nice wide pano most of us are looking for. So, let’s just stick with Auto. Click OK, and within a few minutes (depending on how many photos you shot for your pano), your pano is seamlessly stitched together (as seen here), and you’ll see status bars that let you know that Auto-Align Layers and Auto-Blend Layers are both being applied to make this mini-miracle happen.
To make your pano fit perfectly together, Photomerge has to move and rearrange things in a way that will cause you to have to crop the photo down to get the final result you want (we get the easy job—cropping only takes about 10 seconds). So, get the Crop tool (C) and drag out your cropping border (like you see here, encompassing as much of the pano as possible without leaving any gaps).
Press Return (PC: Enter), and your pano is cropped down to size (as shown below) and you can make any other adjustments you want. Now, for Photoshop to pull this mini-miracle off, there’s just one rule to remember when you’re shooting: overlap each photo segment by around 20%. That’s the one rule I still teach. Do that, and the rest will take care of itself.