Blending Complicated Panoramas


Today’s Question: I’m all for the larger output resulting from a composite panorama, but if there is any motion in the subject matter (such as waves or wind-caused movement), a composite image can be very frustrating and not worth the bother. Any recommendations on how to minimize the effect of the motion in the composite image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The primary things I recommend doing to help ensure greater flexibility when it comes to blending frames of a composite image for a scene with considerable movement would be to overlap the frames by a larger amount and to assemble the composite panorama with a manual approach in Photoshop.

More Detail: When there is movement within a scene you’re photographing for a composite panorama, movement within the scene can be problematic even if you’re using a fast shutter speed. For example, from one frame to the next the wind might cause objects to move within the frame, causing challenges when blending those areas of the panorama together.

To begin with, I suggest overlapping the individual frames for the panorama by more than you normally would. When using a reasonably long focal length beyond about 100mm (based on a full-frame 35mm format) you can overlap by around 20%. For wide-angle scenes I recommend overlapping by 50%. But if you know the frames will be tricky to blend together, I recommend overlapping by a bit more than these factors.

In this type of situation if the panorama doesn’t come together well using an automated approach such as can be done with Camera Raw, Lightroom, and Lightroom Classic, I recommend manually assembling the composite panorama in Photoshop. To get started with that process I recommend selecting the individual frames for the panorama in Adobe Bridge, and then from the menu choose Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge.

Using this command will bring up the Photomerge dialog in Photoshop. There you can set the Layout option to Auto, and make sure the “Blend Images Together” checkbox is turned on. The other checkboxes can be turned off, and you can click the OK button to begin assembling the composite panorama.

The resulting panorama will be a composite image with a layer for each of the images representing the individual frames. Each of those layers will have a layer mask that was automatically generated to blend the images together. You can then use the Brush tool to paint with white to reveal areas of the individual layers, and paint with black to block areas. This enables you to customize the blending, so that you can for example paint around areas where movement between frames prove to be problematic.

While this approach can involve a bit more work, it can also help ensure the best results in terms of seamless blending of the composite panorama. This is especially important for situations where movement in the scene makes it difficult to blend the frames of the composite panorama effectively, and so automated tools for assembling the panorama don’t yield the best results.