I've put a few panoramic photos (pano's) on Facebook recently and some folks have inquired on how to do it. It's not as terribly complicated as people may think so I wanted to give you the "easy" way to do it if you're just starting out.
Although the manufacturers would have you believe that you need to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on fancy "pano" gear that only serves one purpose, you really can get a decent pano with just a good camera, a tripod, and proper technique. Granted, the heavy duty gear will give you a higher quality pano and expand your abilities to get more creative with your panos, but I've never really felt the need and am happy with my results. A pano is not the right shot for every situation just as vertical is sometimes better than horizontal and wide angle may serve better for a particular subject than telephoto. It has its place.
Compositionally speaking, when I decide to photograph a pano, the main thing I look for are anchors. A pano works really well when it has a visual anchor on either end, something that frames or otherwise focuses your attention on the scene. This can be trees, mountains, hillsides, buildings, people, just about anything. This bridge over Boone Fork along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina is "anchored" by the trees on either side.
Not all panos "need" anchors, it's just one of the things to look at. Another possibility is when you're shooting a scene and you can not capture it all in a single photo and you simply have more to include. This was the case in the photo above. I wanted to get the whole bridge and include the rocks in the foreground and the trees, but did not want a lot of sky. Shooting a pano solved my dilema.
Pano's can be vertical or horizontal. If you're shooting tall trees and can't get the tops of the trees into your photo, try shooting several images and turn it into a vertical pano.
Just a couple tips while in the field. Use a tripod. Hand-holding is not only going to get you potentially blurry photos, but you may not overlap the images enough and could end up with gaps. This renders the final pano pretty much useless unless you're an expert cloner. Use a bubble level. Many tripods have levels built into them. The camera is not the only thing that needs to be level. If you're going to turn your camera on a tripod plate in between shots, that plate needs to be level otherwise the pano will tilt from one image to the next and you'll end up having to crop so much that the photo is destroyed. With all things level, believe it or not, shoot vertical photos to get your horizontal pano, and horizontal photos to get a vertical pano. You'll see what I mean in the example below. Pick a white balance and stick with it. Auto white balance may actually change the color temperature from one photo to the next and they won't match up in post processing. Remove your polarizer. Polarizers tend to make blue skies darker on one side of a photo and lighter on the other. You'll end up with what looks like bands of lighter and darker blue and this is not easy to fix in software. Overlap more than you think you need. When you rotate your camera to take the next image in the pano series, overlap the previous image by a minimum of 25%. I like to do almost 50% just to be on the safe side. You'll end up with more images needed to cover the whole scene, but I don't mind that at all. Be wary of distortion. Shooting pano's with a wide angle lens is difficult to say the least. The distortion is pretty tough for the software to handle, even if you've applied distortion correction before attempting to assemble the pano. I have had some success with it though, but only because I overlap a ton! The image above was shot with a 28mm lens.
When all is said and done, and you've brought your images into Lightroom, the process is fairly straightforward. If you make any color, lighting, clarity, white balance, etc...adjustments to one, you must make them to all of the images in the set. I tend to save the adjustments until after the pano is assembled. Lightroom graciously produces a DNG file, which is essentially a RAW image that gives you the same latitude for adjustments as any of your other RAW photos from that camera.
Step One. Select ALL the photos in the pano series by holding the command key and clicking on each or by clicking on the first, holding the shift key and then clicking on the last in the series.
Step 2: Go to the menu bar and select Photo-Photo Merge-Panorama
Step 3: Wait. Lightroom will open the Pano dialogue where you can make some decisions. In this image, I have the "Auto Crop" unchecked. This is a personal decision. Lightroom will not permanently remove the pixels if you select the auto crop and you'll get a better idea of what the image will look like if you leave it checked. I just wanted to show you what it looks like pre-crop. I typically leave
"Auto Select Projection" checked and see what Lightroom comes up with. If it looks weird, I'll try another preset but usually "auto" does the job well. If you like what you see, simply click "Merge" and Lightroom will do the rest.
When Lightroom is done with the merge, it will produce a DNG file and, based on your preferences, will nest it among the RAW files from the pano. Here you can see the DNG that Lightroom produced with the word "Pano" added to the file name.
Step Four: Process as you normally would any other RAW photo.
Consider this image your new starting point and treat it as you would any other RAW image you bring into Lightroom. Below you can see I've brought it into the develop module and cropped the image myself. Notice the tripod legs on the left side of the image. Guess I must have missed that in the field but it's an easy fix to crop it out here. Below is a great example of why I shoot a vertical image series to get a horizontal pano. With the cropping involved, a horizontal series may not give me enough wiggle room to do a proper crop and I'll end up with less of my scene than I originally intended. It's so much easier to crop a photo in post processing than it is to try to re-create part of a scene because you didn't include enough real estate in your photo.
Here is the image cropped and with a few adjustments to white balance, highlights, shadows, and blacks to give the image a bit more contrast. In all honesty, it took me longer to download the images from my SD card than it did for Lightroom to stitch this together. I'm really impressed with this new function available in Lightroom 6 and CC.
Here is my final image that I was happy with. Notice the visual anchor on either side which helped draw your attention to the clouds and fog in the middle of the image. I guess I'm just sneaky that way. But now you can be too! Have fun!