Lightroom Panorama Stitcher

The latest version of Lightroom (known as both Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC) has a new panorama photo merge. Here's how it works.

Lightroom 6 (also known as Lightroom CC if you’re installing it through Creative Cloud has now been released. Among its new features is a built-in panorama stitching feature. There’s also a new HDR photo merge option, which I have more on here.

If you have Photoshop installed alongside Lightroom, it has been possible to initiate panorama stitching from within Lightroom for the past several versions. But what that did was to start a round-trip by rendering TIF files of the individual tiles, sending the individual tiles to Photoshop, having Photoshop stitch the tiles, and then reimporting the resulting stitched panorama as a TIF or JPG back into Lightroom and stacking it with the original images.

The new version keeps everything within Lightroom. That, of course, means you no longer need to have Photoshop installed. It can also make things a bit quicker, since you don’t have to wait for Photoshop itself to fire up. It also has the interesting bonus that the resulting image can be kept as a RAW file rather than a TIF or JPG.

There are some downsides. For now, at least, Lightroom’s panorama in-house stitching is pretty basic. The results are often good, but it can become flummoxed pretty easily, you don’t have a lot of control, and there’s no room for manual tweaking of control points, blending areas, masking, or vignette smoothing. If you need that, you’ll still need to resort to Photoshop or, better yet, something even more powerful like PTGUI Pro.

How to Use It

You’ll first want to choose all of the original individual images you want to stitch together. You’ll then want to Develop the original images. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to do this if you’re using RAW files because the new stitcher actually keeps everything in RAW and actually skips the intermediary step of rendering TIF files.

Once you’ve developed them, you’ll want to sync the develop settings across all the photos to avoid any ugly effects of exposure differences between the frames.

You can also give Lightroom a helping hand by specifying the lens that was used. This isn’t always necessary. In many cases, Lightroom detects it automatically itself, but it doesn’t always. To specify it, go to the Develop module. Using the right panels, scroll down to the Lens Corrections panel. Then click on the Profile tab and check the Enable Profile Corrections box. If your lens isn’t included in the included profiles, it’s possible to make your own lens profile, but that’s beyond the scope of this guide. Here’s more information on lens profile support in Lightroom. Once you’ve selected the lens profile, don’t forget to sync it across all the images you’re stitching.

You can then move on to the actual stitching. Using either the Library module or the Develop module, make sure all of the thumbnails for the images you’re using are selected.

You then have 3 options to access the stitching feature:

  • Right click on the thumbnails and choose Photo Merge > Panorama
  • Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL-M
  • From the top menu, choose Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama

The popup screen will then generate a preview stitched image for you, giving you a progress bar.

Once the preview is generated, you have some options to the right. The first ones concern the projection. In many cases, the Auto mode works well. But if you’re going after a specific look, you can manually select Spherical, Cylindrical, or Perspective.

The next option is for automatic cropping. It removes the dead space from around the individual images.

Without auto crop.

With auto crop.

It’s really a convenience thing–you can of course always applying cropping later. And an example of when you might not want to do auto cropping is if you have only a small section that doesn’t overlaps between images that you’re later going to fill with something like Photoshop’s patch tool.

Once you’ve set those, you just hit Merge and it will do its thing. It saves the resulting image back in Lightroom alongside your original images. And something that I like is that it actually saves the result as a DNG RAW file, which preserves your develop settings. It spit out a full-sized image. If you need to resize, you’ll need to do it as a separate export process to generate a new image.

When Not to Use It

The panorama stitching feature is nice to have, but at least in its current form it’s pretty basic. There’s no way to manually tweak the merging, straighten the horizon, or tweak the perspective. It also doesn’t handle true spherical, multi-row, or HDR panoramas well. For anything more complicated, you’re better off using something like PTGUI Pro.

In the example I’ve used above, the horizon is a bit skewed. Using the regular Lightroom tools for straightening photos is one option, but that doesn’t give you as much flexibility as straightening before the stitching (which adjusts the merge points accordingly).

It also works best when the pattern detection has easy points to work with. On more subtle images, it can struggle to find the right place for the right photos. In this example, the detail was too subtle and images were put out of order and the result is unusable.

Unfortunately there’s no way to manually position the tiles or to manually align control points. For something like this, I’d use PTGUI. On this example, it gave a hint that specifying the lens settings might lead to a better result (although it didn’t help in this case).

What File Types Does it Work With?

I nearly always use RAW files, but you can also use any other still image types that Lightroom can work with.

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