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How to use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC

The post How to use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Adam Welch.

Not long ago I wrote about Four of the Latest Updates to Lightroom Classic CC. We talked about some of the new features that Adobe recently added to Lightroom. One of those great new additions was the single-step HDR Panorama Photo Merge. That is a mouthful of a name, but it is an incredibly useful tool that allows us to combine multiple exposure positions into a seamless panoramic image with a high dynamic range, as the name suggests, essentially a single step. In this article we will take a closer look at the new step-by-step step HDR Panorama Photo Merge (geez) function and show you exactly how to take and combine your photos to create a beautifully executed panorama.

What is an HDR panorama?

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos ' s and panoramas are nothing new to the world of photography. In fact, neither are HDR panoramas ' s.

HDR photos are just photos that combine multiple exposures to form a final photo with tonal and / or focus ranges far beyond a single exposure. Along those same lines, panoramic photos are stitched together images that have a visual perspective that goes beyond what can be obtained from a single exposure (with a few exceptions).

As you may have guessed, an HDR panorama combines multiple photos to produce a broad perspective composite image with a high dynamic range.

Previous methods for merging multiple images to create HDR panorama photos were generally long-winded and required to go to Photoshop. Fortunately, with the new HDR Panoramic feature introduced in Lightroom Classic CC v8.0, you can now efficiently combine your images with just a few clicks of the mouse. Let me show you how I made the above HDR panorama by combining twelve separate photos with bracketing directly in Lightroom.

Obtain your images for merging

The first and perhaps most crucial part of creating your HDR panorama starts in your camera.

Lightroom places a few strict criteria on the images that you can combine using the single HDR panorama function. All of these rules must be met by all of your images before they are merged.

Here are the ' lines ' for images that you want to merge directly from Adobe into an HDR panorama range:

  • All images in your selection must contain the metadata for exposure – Exposure time, f-number and ISO.
  • Each set of exposure positions in your selection must have the same number of images. For example, if you choose bracketing with three images, all sets in the selection must also use three images.
  • Each set of exposure positions in your selection must have the same exposure compensation. For example, if your first set has exposure shifts of (0, -1, +1), all other sets in the selection must follow the exposure offset pattern. The image sets can have different exposure values; only the exposure compensation pattern must be consistent for all sets.
  • Each series of exposure positions must be recorded continuously. For example, if you considered a bracket size of three when creating the images, the first three images in the series become part of a bracket set. The following three images in the series become part of another series of parentheses, and so on.
  • The images may not have the same exposure value within a series of exposure positions.

Although you can photograph your images in a vertical or horizontal direction, it is a good idea to use vertically oriented photos when you want to view them digitally. This avoids extremely long, yet narrow images. This is of course entirely up to you.

Combine the images

Now that you have gone through the rather precise process of actually merging your photos, the rest of the editing is surprisingly easy to complete.

Selection

The first things first. In the Lightroom Classic CC Library module, select the images that you want to use for the HDR panorama. A simple trick to select all your images at once is to select the photo at the beginning of the series and then hold down the Shift key while you click on the last photo in the series. This automatically selects all exposure positions at once. It also saves you a lot of mouse clicks if you use a large number of photos.

Once you've selected all your photos, right-click on one of those images and choose Photo Merge and then HDR Panorama.

Here you can learn for sure whether all your images meet the merge requirements. If not, you will receive the soul-crushing message ' Could not detect HDR exposure bracket size. Merging with Panorama instead of with HDR? ' This means that Lightroom will merge the photos into a normal non-HDR panorama if possible.

However, if you have done your duty and have received all your images correctly, your photo will appear as a preliminary smart preview. From here, it's just a matter of determining how you want Lightroom to process the final merge of your images. You have quite a few options that will affect the final product.

Projection modes

See projections as the shape of the canvas on which Lightroom paints your completed HDR panorama. There are three different projection modes that you can choose from based on the nature of the panorama that you are creating:

  • spherical: This aligns the images and transforms them as if they were assigned to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is ideal for panorama photos with ultra-wide or multiple rows.

  • Cylindrical: This projects the panorama / HDR panorama as if it were assigned to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works well for wide panoramas, but also keeps vertical lines straight.

  • Perspective: This projects the panorama / HDR panorama as if it were assigned to a flat surface. Because this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is ideal for architectural photography. Very wide panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion at the edges of the resulting panorama.

Boundary Warp

The amount of Boundary Warp is a way to stretch your merged HDR panorama so that it more or less fills the frame of the selected projection mode. With Boundary Warp you have a slider of 0-100 that allows you to keep the content of the photo that may be lost after cropping.

Experiment with different Boundary Warp settings until you reach a happy medium between distortion and content retention.

Auto settings / cropping

These settings work extremely well to save you some editing time, at least at the front. With the auto crop and auto adjustment functions, Lightroom can automatically crop and process the completed HDR panorama. While you can naturally crop and process your image after merging, I have found that the automatic settings feature always delivers excellent results.

stacking

Consider stacking as a side issue of your post-panoramic post-processing. It is a way to keep all your ducks in a row, so to speak, and is especially useful if you have used a lot of photos to take your HDR panorama. If you choose the stack option, all images used for your HDR panorama are literally stacked in a group with the merged image at the top. This helps to keep your film strip tidy and saves physical space in the Library module.

After you have made all your selections for merging the HDR pano, it is time to press the ' Merge ' to click. This starts the process of combining the images into a single DNG file.

After the merge is complete, you get an image that you have the freedom to finish processing, just like any other digital RAW file. This includes adjusting the automatic cropping and, of course, the automatic settings. This achieves the final image that we saw earlier.

Final considerations

Remember that every HDR image is already a composite photo by its definition. As such, it is a combination of many different exposures that, if pushed too far, can result in an incredibly fake-looking end product. Always keep your HDR images within reach of the passable reality unless you deliberately exert a hyper-realistic appeal. Make sure that the photos along the same lines meet all of the above criteria for merging HDR panoramas.

In addition, try to pre-crisp the final merged photo in your head and record your photos according to the tonal range and perspective that you want to achieve. When in doubt, it is always better to have too many images to work with than not enough.

Do you have some HDR Panorama photos that you have taken in Lightroom Classic CC? We would like to see them! Do not hesitate to share them in the comments.

HDR panorama photo merge

The post How to use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Adam Welch.

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