How to Create a Panorama in Lightroom

by [email protected] | May 14, 2020 | Photo Editing Tutorials

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How to Create a Panorama in Lightroom

It was back in Lightroom 6 that Adobe released the new Photo Merge feature. Since then, there have been further enhancements to improve the usability and results of this useful tool. In this tutorial I look at how to use Photo Merge to create a panorama in Lightroom. I’ll also highlight a few problems with some options and explain how they could affect the quality of your panoramas.

Shooting the Panorama

Before you can create your panorama in Lightroom, you first need to shoot the individual images. This may sound obvious but there are important steps to take when shooting a panorama sequence. Here are a few tips that should help Lightroom merge your photos with better results.

  1. Shoot in RAW format. The Photo Merge feature in Lightroom produced a DNG file which is a type of RAW file. By shooting in RAW, you’ll ensure Lightroom can produce the greatest level of quality in the DNG file.
  2. Keep your camera level, preferably on a tripod. Although Lightroom can merge handheld photos, it needs to do less processing if you shoot from a level tripod. When merging a panorama, Lightroom will rotate and distort the photos to create the best possible blend. The less distortion, the better the results.
  3. Ensure there is enough overlap between frames. This is partly to help the software align the different frames but also because it can help the amount of distortion applied when merging. Consider 30% the minimum overlap you should aim to achieve between frames.
  4. Shoot using manual exposure. Where your rotating the camera across a panoramic field of view you may find exposure settings change between frames. Exposing for the brightest frame with a manual setting ensures all three frames have a consistent, usable exposure. And because the exposure is consistent, Lightroom has less blending work to do when creating the panorama.

Despite my own advice in last point, sometimes you forget. Here you can see the two frames that I want to merge into a panorama.

Two image frames in the Lightroom Library before merging

As you can see, there’s a lot of variation between the two exposures. Hopefully Lightroom will be able to even this out when it creates the panorama.

Selecting Images to Merge in the Lightroom Library

Once you’ve imported your images to Lightroom, the first step in creating the panorama is to select the individual images in the Library module. You can then right click on one of the images and choose “Photo Merge | Panorama…” from the popup menu. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut of Control + M.

At this point, there’s a common mistake to avoid which is to edit each of the images before trying to merge them. You don’t need to do this because Lightroom ignores your adjustments, although there is one exception relating lens profiles.

Many cameras now embed lens profile data into the RAW file which Lightroom can then use. Lightroom will correct any lens distortion before creating the panorama which can improve the finished image. If Lightroom doesn’t have the lens data in the RAW files, you might see a warning message. You should then set the lens profile manually for all the images before merging. You can do this using Lens Correction panel in the Lightroom Develop Module before starting to merge the images.

Assuming everything is now set correctly, you should see the Panorama Merge Preview dialog displayed.

The Lightroom Panorama Merge Preview Dialog

On the left of the dialog you can see the preview of the merged panorama, whilst on the right you have the adjustment controls. The adjustments give you a degree of control over the merging process and can improve the quality of the finished panorama. I’ve divided the controls into two groups.

Group 1 – Projection Settings

The projection settings control the process Lightroom uses to merge the images. Rather than discussing these (it gets quite technical), you’ll probably find that with most cameras and regular lenses the Cylindrical option gives the best result, with Spherical a close second. Unless you’re using special equipment, Perspective probably won’t work well, especially with wide angle lenses.

It’s still a good idea though to check which projection you think is best by trying each. Just be sure to uncheck the other options in “Group 2” before you do. These other options can cover up all sorts of problems which we’ll discuss next.

Group 2 – Editing Adjustments

In this second group there are five different settings in the current version of Lightroom Classic (Release 9.2 at the time of writing).

Auto Settings

When the Auto Settings option is on, Lightroom applies an automatic tonal correction to the merged panorama. Don’t confuse this with the exposure blending of the image frames; Lightroom always applies automatic exposure blending.

The Auto Settings is like clicking the “Auto” option in the Basic panel. If you use this option and check the Basic panel (in the Develop module) you’ll find the Tone settings changed for the finished Panorama.

I would recommend not using this option but instead, edit the merged panorama manually in the Develop module.

Create Stack

The Create Stack option is especially useful for organising images. Stacks are Lightroom’s way of grouping related images to help you manage them in the Library module. By ticking this option, Lightroom will group the separate image frames together as a Stack along with the merged panorama. This keeps all the component images together in case you want to recreate the panorama in the future.

Cropping and Editing the Panorama

The remaining options in the dialog are “Boundary Warp”, “Fill Edges” and “Auto Crop”. I want to discuss these separately because they can have a significant impact on the finished image.

Auto Crop

When you use Auto Crop, Lightroom will crop out the white space around the edges of the frame. This creates the larges possible panorama without applying any further distortion to the image. It’s therefore likely to have the highest quality. The downside is that you lose some of the image, resulting in it being smaller.

You can see an example of this below.

Using the Auto Crop option to crop the merged panorama

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Here the top image is the original merged panorama. You can see the white space around the edge of the two frames after merging. Below this is the panorama after cropping out the white space. Be sure to compare the aspect ratio of the panorama with the next option to see how it differs.

Fill Edges

With the fill edges option Lightroom tries to sample areas of the image. It then uses this to fill in the empty white space around the edges of the frame. You can see the result in the image below to see how it differs from using Auto Crop.

Comparing the lightoom fill edges and auto crop options on the merged image

Here you can see the two versions of the merged panorama next to each other. The top image used Auto Crop option. The bottom image used Fill Edges.

As you can see, the Fill Edges option creates a different perspective and a larger image. It also appears to have produced a good result, but it may require some additional touch up after processing with some images. Be careful as sometimes you won’t see the problems until you’ve made additional development changes.

The Auto Crop and Fill Edges options are mutually exclusive. If you select one you can’t use the other. This isn’t the case with the next option.

Boundary Warp

The Boundary Warp adjustment is a slider which you can use to control the level of adjustment. The default is 0 (no warping) through to 100 where Lightroom distorts the images to fill the entire frame. This produces a similar result to the Fill Edges option in terms of size and aspect ratio.

The danger with using Boundary Warp is that when Lightroom warps some images to fill the edges, it prevents them from merging correctly. This seems to be a problem with landscapes where you often find gaps in distant hills or horizons that don’t meet. You can also see this effect in areas which have a lot of detail.

If you use the Boundary Warp, try to keep at lower levels; personally, I try not to exceed 50. This is especially true if the images you’re merging used a wide-angle lens. Shooting panorama sequences with a longer focal length requires much less distortion to merge the images successfully. Higher levels of Boundary Warp seem to work well with short and long telephoto lenses.

You may also find that using a combination of Boundary Warp together with either Fill Edges or Auto Crop produces the best result. It can be worth experimenting if the Fill Edges option alone doesn’t create a convincing panorama.

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Summary of How to Create a Panorama in Lightroom

We’ve now covered all the settings you can use to create a panorama in Lightroom. As you will no doubt realise, there are trade-offs with each option, and none is perfect. How good the finished panorama is will depend on the level of distortion required to merge the individual frames. By shooting carefully as mentioned in the introduction you should be able to create an excellent panorama in Lightroom.

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