How to Shoot Really Big Panoramas

How to Shoot Really Big Panoramas

The image below is a stitched panorama comprised of 7 separate frames, stitched together in Photoshop CS6, using the Photomerge feature. The full sized finished image weighs in at 85 megapixels. In this article I will share some tips for creating your own stitched panoramas.

stitched panorama

Sunset Cliff, San Diego, CA - 1/160, f/5.0, ISO 125, 70mm (Canon 5DmkIII, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM)

Shooting your Photos

The first step in creating a stitched panorama with Photomerge is to shoot suitable images. Keep these points in mind:

  • Overlap the images – according to Adobe, the images should overlap by at least 40%, but no more than 70%. Outside of this range, Photomerge may not be able to align the files correctly.
  • Keep your settings constant – you need to keep focal length, focus point, and exposure constant throughout the series of images so that you can combine them later. The easiest way that I’ve found to do this is to take one shot on P, look at the camera settings, and then dial those settings in on manual mode. I also focus on a suitable object about 1/3 of the way into the scene, and then change the camera to manual focus so that the focus will be constant.
  • Shoot vertical – this is a little counter-intuitive since we’re making panoramas. It’s usually best to shoot vertical (portrait orientation). Since you’ll merge multiple frames together later to get as wide as you need, shooting vertical will give you a taller overall panorama. Also, you’ll need some of this vertical space for cropping. More on cropping later.

Preparing your Files

The next step in the process is to prepare your files for Photomerge. This is actually optional. If you shoot JPEG and you’re happy with your images straight out of the camera you can go directly to Photomerge in Photoshop. If you shoot RAW, process your RAW images in whatever program you use, and export full size TIFF or PSD files to a temporary location on your computer so you can open them from Photomerge.

Lightroom users: If you process your RAW images in Lightroom, you don’t have to export to disk, because you can send your files straight to Photomerge from Lr.
1. Select the files
2. Right-click and choose “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop…”

from Lightroom to Photomerge

Sending files straight to Photomerge from within Lightroom

Merging your Panorama with Photomerge

The next step is to open your images in Photomerge from within Photoshop, and stitch together your Panorama.

(Lightroom Users: if you jumped to Photomerge straight from Lr, skip to step 4 below)

1. From the file menu, chose Automate > Photomerge

Launching Photomerge

Launching Photomerge within Photoshop CS6

2. Click “Browse” and navigate to the files you exported to a temporary folder in your drive.

Browse for files

Browse to the location where your files are located

3. Select all of the files and click “Open.”

Select all files

Select all files

There are several options under “Layout” on the left side of the Photomerge dialogue box, but I’ve had good success with Auto. For a detailed explanation of each of the options, check out the Adobe Help article here.

Photomerge dialogue

Photomerge dialogue

If you noticed any vignetting or distortion in your source images, select the options to correct that during the Photomerge process. Personally I don’t use these two options, as I’ve noticed they slow down the Photomerge process exponentially. Instead I prepare my images in Lightroom and apply Lens Correction in Lr before sending my images to Photomerge. However these features are there if you need them.

Photomerge options

Photomerge options

4. Click OK and wait for Photomerge to complete.

Photomerge working

Photomerge working

5. When Photomerge finishes its magic, you will have a single panorama with each image in a separate layer. Zoom to 100% and check the seams between the images. If everything looks OK, flatten by navigating to the Layers menu and selecting “Flatten Image.”

Panorama in separate layers

Panorama in separate layers

6. Crop a rectangular composition from the center of your stitched panorama. This is where shooting in portrait mode really helps. There is a more vertical height to the photo and therefore more space available for cropping.

Cropping your Panorama

Cropping your Panorama


The Photomerge feature in Photoshop makes stitching Panoramas easy. For me, the hardest part is remembering to take advantage of this feature by shooting images when I’m out an about that I can later stitch together into a panorama. Next time you’re out shooting and the you can’t figure out how to fit the scene into your lens, try shooting multiple frames and stitching together a panorama when you get back to your computer.

Matsumoto Castle

7-frame stitched panorama of Matsumoto Castle. Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan - 1/500, f/7.1, ISO 100, 70mm (Canon 5DmkII, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM)

I appreciate feedback, please comment below or feel free to connect with me through Facebook or Google+. I’ll do my best to answer questions and reply to comments.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jason Weddington is passionate photographer and the creator of, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

Some Older Comments

  • raf August 1, 2013 05:45 am

    Hi, I'm having some problems in merging to panorama sunset photographs including the ocean. I think that due to ocean movement, photoshop is not being able to merge the photographs. Is there any thing I could do?

  • Lineberry June 18, 2013 05:40 am

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  • Steve April 17, 2013 07:27 am

    Great article. I do have a question. When I have edited the pictures in lightroom 4 and send them through to photoshop cs5 my pictures don´t seem to have the editing in, they look like the origanal images. ( I shoot on Raw). Can you help me out with this. cheers

  • Paul Danger Kile March 5, 2013 03:57 am

    Rob Hooft, Could you please post a link to a tutorial for your fisheye panorama technique?

  • Michal France March 2, 2013 04:17 am

    Nice and clear! Thank you for this article! I especially like the idea of taking several pictures when the object does not fit into one picture. I have to try it.

    Here are some panoramas from my travels:

  • Richard M February 19, 2013 04:05 pm

    I second the use of Hugin. Great program.

    Yes, shooting vertical frames is a key element of success. One thing I've learned lately is to take an extra shot at both the left and right ends of your intended scene (if it's less than 360 degrees). Then when it comes time to crop, those pesky curved borders don't prevent you from including those parts you *thought* you captured.

  • George Suresh February 12, 2013 08:34 pm


    This is a great little technique I can apply to panos I take in my upcoming pacific islands holiday!

    Thank you :o)

    George S.

  • Rob Hooft January 28, 2013 04:23 am

    A very good free alternative is "Hugin". I have used that to make not only panorama but also fish-eye images; and recently also HDR panoramas together with Luminance HDR. Like described in this description for CS, Hugin can correct for vignetting and other lens errors, but I normally pre-process my RAW images using DXO software.

    A fish-eye result:
    A HDR panorama:

  • Naz January 26, 2013 05:31 am

    Like to add that take a horizontal line of shots that were exposed to the sky with only a sliver of land visible, then reset camera exposed for the land with only a sliver of sky for the bottom row of shots- This does seem to work with the photomerge blending averaging otu hte differences in exposure between the two extremes if I have 3 rows of shots for a scene with equal amount of sky and land, the middle row will expose for land too

  • Rangadang January 26, 2013 04:19 am

    Very very simple and useful - how it should be . Can you imagine how long it would take CS to explain that.


  • Lesmen27 January 25, 2013 10:24 pm

    Thank you for the artikel about pano's.
    I am using always "cilindrical" for my landscape pano's.
    Go the Flickr and search with "pan 123_456" and see 136 pano's mostly of winter mountain landscapes in France.

  • Greg Moffatt January 25, 2013 08:45 pm

    You don't mention that it is a good idea to arrange to pivot the camera/lens combination about the nodal point of the lens. This was always stressed in the early days, I suspect that the merge available in PS (and others) has meant this is no longer quite so necessary, I used to shoot that way, and will try to return to that method as I have a suspicion that it will reduce the "distortion" shown at the ends of the picture.

  • Ramneek Kalra January 25, 2013 04:40 pm

    Here are my attempts at panorama...

    Tajmahal at sunset 6 shots

    Rohtang valley 5 shots

    Do leave your comments / suggestions.

  • K.A. Gilligan January 25, 2013 02:54 pm

    Excellent article. Do you typically use a tripod?

  • Paul Danger Kile January 25, 2013 02:30 pm

    This is one of the most useful tutorials. Thank you Jason, and everyone else too!

  • Russ B January 25, 2013 01:07 pm

    I got amazingly good stitching results with a free, open-source program called hugin. The user interface isn't flashy, but the results were very good.

  • Alan Granger January 25, 2013 10:49 am

    The real problem with big pano's is where to find a wall to hang them.

  • Jay Fitz January 25, 2013 10:34 am

    Great summary of the process of creating a pano and I agree that the portrait (vertical) orientation is the way to go. One comment. In the above example, when you crop as you do in step 6, it seems you unnecessarily lose potential height. What I have done after flattening the image and before cropping it, is to put the magic wand tool in the grey excess around the image to select that area, then go to Edit and Fill and use content aware to save the excess. This can work well in many but not all cases.

    Here is a link to a vertical pano of mine, four images stitched together. Thank you.

  • Jim Woolsey January 25, 2013 10:15 am

    Very cool tutorial! I use CS4 for my panoramic shots as well. The photo merge tool was introduced in the CS$ version and it works very well.

  • Eric L January 25, 2013 10:07 am

    For a free Pano stitcher try Autostitch, super easy and free.


  • Hew January 24, 2013 12:22 pm

    Some sets of photos do not stitch together well using the Auto Layout button. The left side seems to be very distorted, similar to the example. I've forced the merge together using the Cylindrical button with better results in these instances.

    Here is an HDR I've done, 4 sets of 3 images if I remember right.

  • marius2die4 January 23, 2013 06:00 pm

    Good article.I also do the same with my panorama(LR+PS)

  • viragored January 23, 2013 03:10 pm

    Bridge users can process raw files and send them straight to the merge function in Photoshop. In Bridge, select the prepared images, click Tools/Photoshop/Photomerge.

    And I too reckon it's best to fix the ISO and White Balance in the camera to help hide the joins.

  • Ranjith January 23, 2013 01:17 pm

    Oh, i have to try it out in LR4. Thanx for posting this informative article.

    Four shots of a landscape image merged, cropped and tone-mapped with photomatix

  • Richard Wagenaar January 23, 2013 08:30 am

    Nice tips, but there is one thing I don't understand. On your panorama the horizon is wharped. Why did you not fix this?

  • Joseph January 23, 2013 06:21 am

    thanks! I never have done this because I don't shoot landscapes, but I will absolutely try it.

  • Joey January 23, 2013 02:49 am

    Photoshop works well for stitching, but there is a better tool that happens to be free.

    Microsoft ICE is a research project from several years ago that does a FANTASTIC job of stitching photos. It's not an actual product but it is available for download and simple to use. It has all kinds of options. So why did they make this and not turn it into a product??? Not sure, but big software companies do that all the time. They did take the basic function out of it and bundle into the actual product called Windows Live Photo Gallery -- also free.

    Here's ice;
    Here's WLPG:

  • Scott Ingram January 22, 2013 07:05 am

    In regards to HDR Panoramas, from my experience on the subject, the best method of processing is this:
    Process (Tone Map) a set of bracketed images in the middle of the set that have the most average values for the set (no total dark or direct sun). Keep it simple, dont over-process the image. Then save the (Tone Map) settings for this image.
    Automate the remainder of the processing and apply the saved settings to each image. This will give you a set of finalized Tone Mapped images (TIFF) that have the same processing across the board.
    Take this set of images and input them into your choice of panorama creation software and process the image to a single TIFF.
    Take that single file and load it into photoshop and perform necessary edits.

    This is one of my faves processed this way, it's 24 images (3xHDR), processed to 8 tone mapped images, and then to 1 panorama.
    [eimg url='' title='5327867999_1123a5c47e_b.jpg']

  • Yuri Persion January 22, 2013 04:14 am

    Often overlooked, but superb FREE panorama stitcher comes from Microsoft - it is called Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor).

    It takes care of exposure blending, projection type, camera motion type - just drag and drop all the images to be stitched in its window.

  • Barton Brown January 21, 2013 01:14 pm

    Jason, thanks for the portrait recommendation. During the construction of our house I took many panorama shots using at least two rows of images in order to get the details I wanted, but they always turned out wider than was pleasant to view, even after cropping. I expect that to be reduced by shooting the individual shot in portrait orientation.

  • Jason Weddington January 21, 2013 11:18 am

    Dick - cool, thanks for that!

    Aaron - thanks for the comment! Yes, shooting portrait really helps. Thanks for the link to your photos, I've never visited the Grand Canyon, but I would love to see it one day.

    Stefan - thanks!

  • Stefan Maier January 21, 2013 09:41 am

    Another great tutorial by you, Jason! Thanks a lot for summarizing the specifications required for a photomerge.

    I have been keen on creating panoramas for a while, and actually shot one today:

    How do you guys deal with the distortion?

    Cheers for the introduction!

  • Paul January 21, 2013 08:04 am

    I would recommend using the 'open as layers' from Lightroom rather than the merge to panorama. This way if you don't like the result its quicker to undo than reload all the images again.

    Nice tutorial though, I never considered shooting portrait, I'll do that next time.

  • Aaron Stevens January 21, 2013 06:10 am

    cool, thanks for the tips, I have only just done a couple of panorama's from my trip to the grand canyon, and I have never thought of shooting it in portrait, but i will remember that for next time :)
    Here's a link to a couple of my panoramas

    cheers for the tips

  • Drew January 21, 2013 05:49 am

    Lovely article. I was reading a tutorial before on doing panoramas with a prime lens like the 50mm 1.4.

    Taking multiple images like a regular pano but using a large aperture like f2.0 to "fake" a tilt-shift effect with really shallow depth of field. Just another tip you could use it with :)

  • Dick Brigleb January 21, 2013 05:32 am

    Investigate the Adaptive Wide Angle app under the Filters menu. It is VERY powerful and can give you great control of perspective and vertical lines throughout your pan. I find it incredibly useful.

  • John Magnus January 21, 2013 04:03 am

    I enjoyed your article on panoramas. I'd like to know how you go about shooting an HDR panorama. In what order do you process the HDR images, merging, etc. If possible, would you please reply directly to me at the address above?

    Thank you very much!

    John Magnus

  • Jim Coffee January 21, 2013 02:43 am

    Nice article. Regarding image capture...I find that it helps to keep White Balance and ISO locked down also.
    Jim Coffee