Moving Water in Composite Panoramas


Today’s Question: I use Lightroom Classic to merge images into a panorama. With a recent panorama, even though the ocean was relatively calm, there was a noticeable alignment issue with the water which made it obvious that it was a stitched panorama. I suppose I could have used a faster shutter speed or higher ISO, but I wanted the water to have a smooth appearance. Is it just not possible to create a merged panorama of a scene with moving water?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It is indeed possible to assemble high-quality composite panoramas featuring water. You just might need to use more powerful software such as Photoshop to assemble the panorama with greater flexibility.

More Detail: While Lightroom Classic (and by extension Camera Raw in Photoshop) generally does a very good job of assembling composite panoramas, there are certainly situations where the results won’t be optimal. In this type of situation, I recommend using Photoshop to assemble the composite panorama so you can exercise direct control over the blending of the individual frames in the panorama.

You can initiate the process from Lightroom Classic by selecting the images that represents the frames of the composite panorama and then going to the menu and choosing Photo > Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.

This will open the images in Photoshop via the Photomerge feature. In the Photomerge dialog you can leave the Layout option on the left side set to Auto for most panoramas. Make sure the “Blend Images Together” checkbox at the bottom of the dialog is turned on. If the lens used tends to produce vignetting, you can also turn on the “Vignette Removal” checkbox. I generally leave the other two checkboxes turned off. Click OK to initiate the process of assembling the composite panorama.

When the panoramic image is assembled, you’ll see on the Layers panel that there are individual layers representing the frames of the composite panorama. Each image layer will include a black and white thumbnail to the right, which is a layer mask indicating which areas of that frame are visible (white) versus hidden (black).

You can click on the thumbnail of the layer mask for any image layer and then use the Brush tool to paint with a soft-edged brush, using black to block areas of that layer or white to reveal. In this way you can customize how the image layers are blended together, so that you use the mask to reveal in a way that best blends in the texture and details of the overall image.

When you’re finished working with the composite panorama in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save to save the updated version of the image, and then File > Close to close the image. The resulting panorama will then appear alongside the source images used to create it within your Lightroom Classic catalog.