Have you ever been taking photos of an epic landscape, but had trouble fitting it all into one photo? Customers in Commercial Real Estate, as well as those in the Architecture & Engineering industry often want to see as much of a given area as possible and in a single image. Some landscapes are just too vast to capture in just one image, and this is where panoramas come in. Panoramic photos are really just several photos stitched together to make one really wide photo. There are different kinds of panoramas, all of which can be taken to the next level when shot with a drone. They all have roughly the same process for shooting and editing, but you can choose to get creative when stitching them together. Learn more about how to create interactive 360 degree panoramas by checking out our recent post on the subject.
- When taking a panorama, always shoot in manual mode. Because we will be stitching several photos together, it is important that all of the settings stay the same between the photos. When shooting in automatic, the camera might change exposure or white balance slightly between photos.
- Make sure you are shooting in RAW. The easiest way to stitch them together later is in Camera Raw, which needs RAW photos, not JPEGs. This also allows for much more detailed editing and color toning.
- Position your drone in the air at whatever height you choose (I think it works well at about 100-200ft). Take your first photo, and rotate the camera about 45 degrees to the right. Make sure that at least 30-40% of the second photo overlaps with the first photo to ensure that Photoshop has enough information to stitch the photos together. Turn on the grid to help guide you. Repeat this about 3-10 times, or until you’ve captured all of the landscape or returned all the way back to your starting point.
Apps & Automation
There are apps that will automate this process for you, such as Litchi or DronePan, or you can do it manually. I’ve found that doing this manually leaves room for error, and this can cause issues when stitching the photos together later. It is quick and easy to use an automated app, but some of them do cost a bit of money to download.
**Tip for shooting: When you go to stitch your photos together, it can be hard to tell where panorama ends and the next one begins if you have taken more than one consecutively. So when you are shooting, take a picture of something else, such as a photo straight down at the ground, in between panoramas. This way, when you are going through your camera roll, it is easy to tell which photos belong together in one panorama.
Once you have your photos, import them into Camera Raw and edit them as usual. One important step is to be sure to turn on profile corrections to get rid of any lens distortion. This will help blend the photos together seamlessly and help to avoid continuity errors. To be sure the editing on all of them is consistent, edit one however you want, then select them all press Alt + S. This will open up a dialog box with a whole bunch of checkboxes. Make sure they are all checked, then click “Synchronize.” All of the edits you made will now be identical on all of the photos. Your group of photos should now look something like this:
In this example, I rotated my camera 360 degrees around the bridge, so the first photo picks up where the last one leaves off. This way, when stitching, you can choose any segment of the series, using just a few or all of the images to get different results.
Just Photos 7-11
To stitch together a traditional, rectangular panorama, import all of your photos into Photoshop. Select them all, right click, and select “Merge to Panorama.” This will open up a dialog box with a few options. On the right side, there is a section called “Projection,” where you can choose Spherical, Cylindrical, or Perspective. This changes the way that Photoshop puts the images together. Thankfully, Photoshop gives us a preview of how each one will look, so you can click each one and see which you like the best. Depending on your subject, how close it is to you, and the perspective you have, different ones might look better than others. Also, sometimes one or more of the modes might not be an option based on your photos. Try all of them to see which one looks the most accurate. Beneath that section, there is a box marked “Auto Crop” and a slider marked “Boundary Warp.” Because Photoshop has to warp the images a bit, there will be some jagged edges and white space around the outside. You can either crop this off, or use the boundary warp to stretch and skew the image to fit into a rectangle. I recommend using the boundary warp because cropping would lose some of the information from the photo, while boundary warping keeps all of the pixels. Click “Merge” and choose where to save your new image. Photoshop then adds your panorama to the end of your camera roll in Camera Raw, where you can export it as a JPEG.
Another fun thing to do with a panoramic photo is make it into a tiny planet. They can be made with normal photos as well, but work especially well with panoramas. To make a tiny planet, take a normal panorama, just like the last one, and open it up in Photoshop. We need to blend the right and left edges, so that it is not obvious where they connect. Select a small rectangle on one side, and copy and paste it on the other side. Click Edit, Transform, then Flip Horizontal. Then mask out parts so that it blends. Make any other adjustments necessary, then select all of the layers and use Command + Shift + E to merge all of the layers together. Select the image, and use Command + T to transform the image. Squish the image until it becomes a perfect square, then crop off the extra white space. Flip the image 180 degrees so it is upside down. Select Filter, then Polar Coordinates. Chances are there is some distortion in the sky, so make adjustments as necessary. And there’s your tiny planet!
When Things Go Wrong…
1. Distorted horizon line:
I’ve found that the easiest way to fix a distorted horizon line is to use the “Puppet Warp” function. To use this, open up your panorama in Photoshop. Select Edit, then Puppet Warp. This should make something like this pop up:
I’ve found it much easier to turn this off by unchecking the box up top that says “show mesh” and instead, use the grid. Use Command + ‘ (apostrophe) to toggle the grid on and off.
Drop pins along the horizon line, then drag them to line them up along the grid. This will help correct distortion in your horizon line and keep it as straight as possible.
After Puppet Warp
2. Error Messages
While I was experimenting with panoramas, I came across several dreaded error messages.
The first one looked like this:
Luckily, this one is easy to fix. In the Panorama Merge Preview dialog box, simply select a different projection option (spherical, cylindrical, or perspective). Not all of these options are available for every set of photos that you try to merge, so if this error pops up just pick a different one.
The other error messages I got included these two:
The first one means that some of your images merged together, but others were left out.
The second one means that Photoshop could not find enough matching points to stitch any of your photos together into a panorama.
You can try a few things to fix these problems. First, be very careful to make sure your horizon is in the same place in all of your photos. If the horizon line is off in one or more photos, Photoshop might have a hard time locating points to connect. Next, make sure that there is enough overlap in your photos. You want to have about 30-50% overlap from one photo to the next to be sure that, again, Photoshop can locate enough connecting points between the photos. To avoid these problems, try using one of the automated apps that will take the photos for you. DronePan or Litchi will take all the guesswork out of taking panoramas, and will reduce the chance of getting one of these error messages. Also, you could try using a different combination of images. Sometimes one or two are not quite like the others, so try leaving one out or using a smaller amount of photos. But if all else fails, try using a different program. Lightroom also merges panoramas, and the process is almost identical. There are also tons of other programs you could try, such as PTGui, but they possibly require subscriptions.
3. Continuity Errors
Finally, sometimes we get things like this in our panoramas. Photoshop attempts to connect similar points, but doesn’t always get it quite right. Always zoom in close to make sure everything is lined up, especially around the horizon line. If there is an error like this one, bring the photo into Photoshop and use the patch tool or clone stamp tool to repair it.
And that’s a quick tutorial on how to shoot, edit, stitch, and fix panoramas with a drone. Now go shoot your own panoramas and share them with us!
If you’d like to learn more, please check out some of our other drone photography tutorials, or simply follow dronegenuity on our social media channels: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates.