Panoramic photos are a great way to showcase sweeping landscapes. By shooting a series of overlapping images and combining them on your computer, you can take in a much wider angle of view. This technique also means you don’t need an expensive wide-angle lens – your 18-55mm standard lens is fine.
This photo stitching technique is much better than taking a wide-angle shot and simply cropping it because it produces a picture with a much higher resolution. Stitching photos together in this way might sound complicated, but it’s not. All you need is a tripod and Photoshop Elements or higher. We’ve used Elements because it has a Photomerge Panorama tool that makes stitching photos really easy.
If you’ve ever tried lining up panoramic photos manually, you’ll know there are all sorts of issues with perspective and distortion. Thankfully, Photomerge resolves these problems for you, producing seamless panoramas automatically. You may need to crop off a few untidy edges, but the process needn’t take more than a few minutes.
There are two stages to creating panoramic images. The first is to take the series of overlapping shots that are going to be stitched together in Elements. This is the most important phase because Photoshop needs the right raw materials to work with. If your starting shots are misaligned or show colour or brightness shifts, the final panorama will look odd. The second stage is to stitch the images together in Elements. This is straightforward, though you’ll need to pay attention to the initial settings.
How to shoot and stitch panoramic photos
01 Get your tripod level
First, you need to get your tripod level. You can check this by loosening the horizontal pan axis and rotating the camera as you look through the viewfinder. You need to make sure the horizon stays level from one side of your planned panorama to the other. Alternatively, if your tripod has a spirit level built into the base, you can use that.
02 Switch to manual
Now switch everything to manual. In everyday photography, it doesn’t matter too much if the camera changes the colour balance or focus settings between shots. Here, it’s critical that the settings are identical for each frame. If they aren’t, you might get unwanted colour and brightness shifts across the panorama when it’s stitched together.
03 Play with settings
Choose a small aperture, then pan the camera across the scene, adjusting the shutter speed while checking the exposure indicator to find a good overall exposure. Pay attention to the sky to avoid burned-out areas. Now pick a Manual White Balance preset, such as Direct Sunlight.
04 Focus manually
Use autofocus to focus on your subject, then slide the switch on the side of the lens to focus manually. Make sure you don’t just turn the focus ring as far as it will go and assume that’s infinity – some lenses will actually focus past infinity.
05 Shoot your frames
Take a shot at the left end of your panorama. Make a mental note of what’s at the right-hand edge of the picture. Now pan to the right. Stop when the detail you’ve committed to memory is about a third of the way from the left-hand side, then take another shot. Repeat for three or four frames.
06 Launch Photomerge
On your computer, launch Elements, open all the shots in your sequence and select File > New > Photomerge Panorama. In the full version of Photoshop, use File > Automate Photomerge. The process is the same from here on, as are the panorama options in the next step.
07 Pick your panorama
Under Source Files, click Add Open Files. On the left, in the Layout area, select Cylindrical. This creates the panorama inside a virtual cylinder, which is best for landscapes. The Auto and Perspective options are more optically correct but create a ‘bow tie’ shape that requires a lot of cropping.
08 Filling the edges
Photoshop Elements does an amazing job of correcting perspective and merging frames, but it will leave irregular blank spaces around the edges. Elements 10, though, can automatically fill in the problem areas using surrounding details. The alternative is to crop your panoramas manually.