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Shooting scenics can be fun and one of the most rewarding experiences you can have using your camera. Capturing that stunning sunset or expansive vista can be a challenge, yet quite achievable when you know what your doing.

Often times, the view in front of your camera is too broad, too expansive to fit into one single photo frame. With a little bit of know-how and some moderately priced software, you can capture the scene to later print and hang on your wall.

This lesson will show you how to shoot multiple shots of a horizon from one point, then "stitch" them together into one panorama shot using Photoshop® Elements.



(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Choosing a Lens
  • Setting up and Levelling the Tripod
  • Setting up the Pano Head
  • Programming Camera Settings
  • Shooting the Frames
  • Downloading Images to the Computer
  • Assembling Images Using Photoshop® Elements

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

     

    The concept of this lesson is to shoot multiple images of a scene from right to left, or from left to right, then, like pieces of a puzzle, to piece the series together into one panoramic image. The concept is simple and the execution should not be difficult if the plan of action is well thought out and followed.

     

     

    Setting Up the Tripod

    When shooting the images, a tripod will be needed.

    The tripod will serve double duty in this situation. It will hold the camera steady for sharper images. It will also hold the panoramic tripod head that will help us maintain a consistent overlap and horizon from image to image. This is very important when shooting panoramas.

     

     

    We used a Manfrotto 756B tripod for this lesson. The 756B has a ball-type mounting plate assembly that allows for easy levelling of the camera, even when the tripod is not plumb. This design is great for using with a pano head. Figures 1 and 2 show our camera set up and tripod and pano head choices.

     

    Programming the Camera Settings

    We used the Manual Mode for our exposure setting to allow greater control over the aperture settings and shutter speed. To set the EVOLT E-300 to the Manual Mode, turn the Mode dial on the top, right of the camera to the M setting (figure 3).



    Figure 3

     

    With the camera on the tripod and the CompactFlash card inserted, we set the Resolution to TIFF for the highest quality image. The White Balance was set to 5500ºK (daylight), the ISO was set to 100, and the Focus Mode was set to auto. After a couple of test exposures, we set the aperture to f/9.0, and the shutter speed to 1/80 second. Your exposure may vary. Make sure you set a good exposure for your scene.

    It is important that the same exposure level is used for each shot in your series. This will make stitching easier and less noticable.

     

    Now that we have set the exposure settings we can adjust the camera position on the pano head. To center the camera over the center post of the tripod, turn the proper knob (figure 4).



    Figure 4

     

    Once we had the camera set up we could start shooting the pieces of the panorama shot. To start we first made an evaluation of the zoom setting on the camera, we wanted to show the boardwalk well with out too much sky or foreground. The best view of the subject was found in the middle of the lens and zoom options, the 11-22mm lens was used at the 22mm setting.

     

    Figure 5 shows the area of overlap we chose for our series of shots. In shots with changing elements, in our case the waves, it is even more important to greatly overlap the images. This will help when trying to match images in the editing stage.



    Figure 5

     

    We reframed the first shot and decided how much to overlap the next frame. A starting point was chosen on the pano head rotation scale, then the pano head was rotated until the second shot was framed. The amount of rotation was 20º, so the set screw was placed into the 20º hole on the pano head (figures 6 and 7).

    When the area of overlap is established, the pano head can be adjusted to rotate in even increments to give each subsequent frame the same amount of overlap.

     

    We reset the first frame and started making our exposures. We took the following nine shots, each one overlapping the previous shot (figures 8 - 16).

    This is the series of shots we will use to show how to stitch the panorama scene together on the computer.



    Figure 8

     

    Downloading Images to the Computer

    Okay! You've shot all of your pictures and are ready to get them on your computer.

    The images are imported from the memory card and into the computer by using a media card reader or by connecting the camera directly to your computer with the USB cable supplied with the EVOLT E-300.

    To connect the camera to the computer, use the supplied USB cable. The end of the cable with the smaller connector fits into the camera and the larger end goes into the computer (figures 17 and 18).

     

     

    After a few moments, a card icon will appear on your desktop (for Macs) or as an external drive (for PC) allowing you to then view, edit, and save the images onto your computer (figures 19 & 20).

     

     

    Copy the images from the media card into a folder on your computer.

     

     

    Stitching Photos with Photoshop® Elements

    The piecing together of the images is referred to as stitching. A photographic manipulation software is used to electronically "stitch" the images together.

    Adobe Photoshop is the premier photo and image manipulation software in the world. It's power and imaging capabilities come at a somewhat powerful price, however, - more than $600 (US).

    There is a much more affordable solution for the novice or occasional user. Photoshop Elements is a scaled-back version of Photoshop designed for the non-professional photo enthusiast. Elements is available for under $100 and has many of the features of the full version of Photoshop. The current available version is Elements 3.0. For this lesson, we are using Elements 2.0. The full version of Photoshop can also be used.

    We will stitch the 9 images taken with the 22mm lens setting to create our panoramic image.

     



    Figure 21

    We opened our 9 images in Photoshop Elements. Take a look at Figure 21. The desktop has the Main Menu at the top of the screen, the Toolbar to the left, the active image file in the center, and the layers palette to the right. The Options Bar for the currently selected Tool from the Toolbox is just below the Main Menu. You can set the palettes anywhere you like on the screen by click-dragging from the top bar of each palette.

    Notice in the Layers palette that there is currently one layer named Background.



    Figure 22

    Figure 22 shows the Elements Toolbox with the name of each tool. For this lesson, we will use the Zoom, Eraser, Move, and Crop tools.



    Figure 23

    Elements uses layers to construct the whole image. Content of lower layers will be obstructed by upper layers. The original layer in each file is named Background. These layers can be moved and manipulated independently of the other layers (figure 23).

     

    With our first image open (Image 1 is the far right of our panorama series), we need to increase our canvas size to make room for the additional photos.

    From the Main Menu, click on Image>Resize> Canvas Size...

     



    Figure 24

    The Canvas Size dialog box opens showing the current file size and canvas dimensions. The Anchor box allows you to anchor your image when increasing the canvas size (figure 24).



    Figure 25

    Enter 16 for the width and click on the right, center box of the Anchor box. Click OK (figure 25).



    Figure 26

    Click on the Zoom tool to select, then ALT/click (PC) or OPT/click (Mac) within the image to zoom out. See how we now have a larger canvas area to build our image (figure 26).

    Notice how the image was anchored to the right as directed in the Canvas Size dialog box.



    Figure 27

    Find the next image in the series (should already be open) and make active in Elements. The layers palette now shows the Background layer of the active file (figure 27).



    Figure 28

    Drag the Background layer from the second image into the window of the first image. This will copy the layer into the original file. Holding the Shift key when performing this action will constrain the copied layer to the center of the image (figure 28).

    Notice that the imported layer is above the Background layer in the original image.



    Figure 29

    We can make this layer semi-transparent by changing its opacity using the opacity slider in the Layers palette.

    With the higher layer selected (Layer 1), locate the Opacity slider by clicking on the arrow on the right of the Opacity field. We set our slider to 58% (figure 29).

    The semi-transparent layer will be easier to match with the original image when moving into position.



    Figure 30

    Figure 30 shows the semi-transparent Layer 1 over the Background layer.



    Figure 31

    Select the Move tool in the Toolbox.

    Click and drag with the image until the images match where they overlap. Holding the Shift key while moving will constrain the movement to the nearest angle of 45 degrees (in this case, will constrain horizontally) (figure 31).



    Figure 32

    You can use the Zoom tool to more closely inspect the overlap areas of the photo (figure 32).

     

    When the two layers are matched in position, use the Layer palette Opacity slider to set the second layer's (Layer 1) opacity back to 100%.

    We will increase the canvas size to fit all nine images. Use the Canvas Size dialog box again to do this.

     



    Figure 33

    Set the width for the image to 75 inches, anchor the image to the right by clicking the right, center box of the Anchor field, then press OK (figure 33).



    Figure 34

    The image is now set to 75 inches long. Notice how the thumbnails representing the layers in the Layers palette are now long and thin (figure 34).



    Figure 35

    Select the third image as the active image. As before, click and drag that layer into the original image file window. Remember that holding the Shift key when doing this will set the new layer to the center.

    Lower the opacity of the new layer (Layer 2). Select the Move tool and click and drag this layer until it matches the image where it overlaps with Layer 1 (figure 35).



    Figure 36

    Set the Opacity back to 100% (figure 36).

     

    Before adding the rest of the images to our panorama, let's check the images already loaded for any problems. Zoom in using the Zoom tool to get a close look.

    Notice that the sky of Layer 2 is a bit darker at the edge than Layer 1. Scrolling lower, we can see uneven matching in the beach portion of these layers (figures 37 and 38).

    We can "fix" this by partially erasing some of Layer 2 so that it blends in with Layer 1.

    Select the Eraser tool in the Toolbox.

     



    Figure 39

    The Eraser tool uses brushes of various sizes and softnesses to erase pixel information from the active layer. The user defines the brush size, softness, and strength (opacity) of the brush.

    We selected a large (413 pixels wide), soft brush for this procedure. It is important to use a soft brush here, as we want to feather Layer 2 over Layer 1 (figure 39).

    Using a lower opacity (30-40%) for the Eraser brush allows the user to erase over several passes. This can help to increase the feathering effect of the brush.



    Figure 40

    Figure 40 shows the effect of erasing away a portion at the top of the layer. Notice how some of Layer 2 was erased revealing the part of Layer 1 below.

    This also demonstrates the importance of sufficiently overlapping the edges of your photos when shooting the originals.



    Figure 41

    Figure 41 shows the effect of further erasing away the right edge of Layer 2. The sky now looks much more even.



    Figure 42

    Here is a comparison showing an enlarged portion of the image before and after using the Eraser tool (figure 42).



    Figure 43

    Let's add some more photos to our panorama (figure 43).

     

    Using the layer dragging method to copy one image into another, we added the fourth, fifth and sixth images into our panorama shot. We used the Eraser tool to blend the seams together.

     



    Figure 44

    The addition of the sixth image (Layer 5) presents a problem that you may come across when trying to shoot panorama shots.

    Anytime your panoramic view has anything that changes or moves over time, you may need to take some extra care when shooting and when stitching the images together on the computer.

    In this case, the ever-changing waves are part of our shot. Moving clouds or passing traffic are other cases where stitching together seamlessly will be difficult or, sometimes, nearly impossible (figure 44).

     

    If you find yourself shooting in a situation as this, the best thing to do is to greatly overlap your exposures. Making multiple exposures will also increase your chances of matching the photos.

     



    Figure 45

    Select the Eraser tool. Make sure the layer you wish to edit is selected in the Layers Palette (figure 45).



    Figure 46

    Here we zoomed in on our image to get a better look at any changes we make (figure 46).



    Figure 47

    After erasing some of the surf from the top layer (Layer 5), we have a better match for the water (figure 47).

    Figure 48 shows a comparison of before and after this "fix".



    Figure 48

     

    We added the three remaining images to our panorama, matching the images and using the Eraser tool to blend seamlessly.

     



    Figure 49

    Once all the images have been added and stitched together, we can zoom out to see the whole panoramic image.

    Select the Zoom tool, then ALT/click (PC) or OPT/click (Mac) to zoom out until entire panorama shot is visible in the image window.

    Notice the extra white space at the left of image. This needs to be cropped out (figure 49).



    Figure 50

    Select the Crop tool in the toolbox.

    Cropping is accomplished by putting the cursor over one corner of your intended crop, then click-dragging to the opposite corner of the intended crop (figure 50).



    Figure 51

    A cropping marquee will surround your crop. Adjustments can be made by click-dragging any of the eight "squares" on the cropping marquee (figure 51).

    Press the Enter key on your keyboard to finalize the crop.



    Figure 52

    Figure 52 shows our cropped image in the Photoshop Elements image window.

    Notice how the Layers palette still has all of the images that were copied into the file on separate layers.

    Make sure you save your file at this point. It is a good practice to save your layered image files in an archive folder. This allows you to more easily edit or manipulate the image in the future.



    Figure 53

    After saving the layered image file, you can flatten the image. Flattening is the merging of all layers into one layer. A flattened file will greatly reduce the file size of your image. Our layered panoramic image file was reduced from 153 megabytes to 104 megabytes when flattened.

    To access the Flatten Image command, click on the More button at the top, right of the Layers palette (figure 53).



    Figure 54

    Select the Flatten Image command from the menu window (figure 54).



    Figure 55

    All the layers will merge into one single layer called Background (figure 55).
    Save this image in another folder or as a different name from the layered version. Saving as a TIFF image is best for making large prints.

    The image can be saved as a JPEG file, greatly reducing the file size even further. Saving as a JPEG will result in some lost image data, which may effect the quality of the image.



    Figure 56

    Figure 56 shows the flattened image appearing in the Elements image window. Notice that now there is only one layer called Background in the Layers palette.

     

    Figure 57 shows the areas where each of our 9 images overlapped to create our panorama scene.

     



    Figure 57

     

    Our finished panorama is shown below. (figure 58)

    Keep in mind this image is reduced, the 300 dpi original version is an impressive 5 ft. or so wide and 10 in. tall.

     



    Figure 58

     

    After reading this lesson, you are ready to go out and shoot a panorama scene of your own. You may want to practice a few times, but before you know it, you'll be shooting these scenes like a pro.

     

    Topics Covered

    • Choosing a Lens
    • Setting up and Levelling the Tripod
    • Setting up the Pano Head
    • Programming Camera Settings
    • Shooting the Frames
    • Downloading Images to the Computer
    • Assembling Images Using Photoshop® Elements

    Equipment used

    • Olympus D-590 Zoom
    • Manfrotto tripod model 755MF3 with 300N head
    • Olympus 16MB xD-Picture CardTM
    • Adobe Photoshop Elements (MAC/PC)


    Equipment Used:
    You can click on the blue links below for more info.

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