I am not much of a landscape photographer, I tend to concentrate more on wildlife, but sometimes the landscape is so majestic, as it is in the Grand Tetons, that it is hard to make a bad image. I made this image (MAKE SURE to click on it to enlarge it) last week during my Spring Yellowstone & Grand Tetons photo workshop. We had some pretty uncooperative weather the first few days we where there, but we had a few occasions during those rainy days where we had a pretty clear view of the mountains.
That morning, I took the opportunity to make a large HDR & stitched panorama. This image was made by taking 18 individual frames. Here is a quick rundown of the process to making an image such as this.
- First you need a sturdy tripod and a good tripod head
- Level the base of your tripod as best as you can (having a bubble level on the tripod helps)
- Level your camera as best as you can (use a bubble level on your cameras hot shoe)
- For this panorama I kept my camera horizontally, but sometimes it makes sense to set the camera in a vertical orientation, and a good “L” bracket is a must for this.
- Pan your camera from left to right while looking thru the viewfinder to make sure your camera is level.
- While panning also make sure you are capturing all of the elements of the landscape you plan on including. In the image above, I had to make sure I had a wide enough lens to capture the top of the mountain and the foreground.
- Set your camera on manual mode and manual focus.
- Point your camera to the most important or prominent part of the landscape.
- Focus and set your exposure appropriately.
- Take a picture of your hand or create some other kind of marker to make it easier to spot your HDR and/or panoramas when you download your images.
- Set the HDR bracket on your camera. In this case I used a 3 image bracket, -2, 0, +2 to capture the brightest part of the image as well as some of the darker parts.
- Swing your camera all the way to the left (or to the right, it’s up to you).
- Using a remote control or the timer on your camera take the first bracket set.
- Swing your camera right (or left) while overlapping at least 1/3 of the image. What works for me is to peer thru my viewfinder, while fixating on an element of the landscape that is about 1/3 into the image from the right of the frame, then swing my camera right until that element is about 1/3 from the left of the frame.
- Continue doing this until you you reach the end of your panorama.
Now you’ve completed half of the work, next up you need to process those images. In the case of the image above of the Grand Tetons, I ended up with a panorama that was 6 images wide, and since I created a 3 image bracket for each I ended up with a total of 18 images that I needed to work with. Keep in mind that the more images you create, the longer the processing is going to take and the more memory you will need on your computer to work with the image. Just to give you an idea, my final image file, after HDR, stitching and cropping came out to a 50MegaPixel image, at about 1GB in size!!!
Okay, here is a basic workflow for creating the final HDR, stitched image:
- Select the most important or prominent bracket set from all the images you took.
- Bring those images into Photomatix and work the settings in Photomatix to create the look you want. There is no ONE right set of settings here; They will certainly vary depending on the subject, the bracket set, and your taste. In my case I prefer a more realistic look.
- Once you have worked the settings in Photomatix to make the image the way you like it, save those settings as a “preset,” make sure to name it something that you’ll recall back in a few minutes.
- Now go back into Photomatix and under the “Automate” menu select “Batch Processing…”
- Here you want to provide Photomatix with all the files you took for this HDR stitched panorama, in my case all 18 images. Also you need to tell Photomatix how many images you had in each bracket set, again in my case 3, and then tell it which preset to use; the one you created in the step above.
- Let Photomatix process all your images and when finished, the result will be one HDR processed image for each one of your bracket sets.
We are not done quite yet. Now you need to stitch the images together. In my case I use Photoshop to do the stitching but there are other excellent tools that also do a great job.
So bring those HDR images (in my case 6 of them) into your stitching program and let it go thru the images and merge them together into one image.
Now you are ready to do some of your final processing on the image. First make sure your horizon is level, crop the image as necessary or use the new content aware fill in Photoshop CS5 to fill in those empty spaces, and make all your contrast, color and sharpening adjustments you normally would do. Remember at this point you are dealing with a BIG file so make sure your computer is up to the task.
That is it! I hope you found this quick tutorial on HDR stitched panoramas useful. As always if you have any specific questions, feel free to post them in the comments below.
If you don’t own Photomatix and are interested in getting a copy, you can get a 15% discount when purchasing Photomatix, simply make sure to use this code upon checkout: “DigitalPhotoExperience” to receive the discount.
Here are a few other articles on DPE on both HDR and Stitched panoramas that I thought you might find useful.