HDR panoramas

I already shown you how to create HDR or blended panoramas (panroamas where you use multiple exposures for each shot) with the help PTgui or with Autopano Giga. But what if you don’t have any of those. So today I will show you how to combine blended exposures into panoramas using just Photoshop.

Btw. if you want to use a HDR software, you can fist merge the exposures into tone-mapped HDRs with the same setting and then do a panorama. Personally I don’t like this approach, as tonemaping can create halos and similar issues, that can prevent a nice panorama blend.

Blended panoramas in Photoshop

When using Photoshop to create blended panoramas, the order of doing it is apposite to the other ones. While before, we would fist create the panorama and then blend the exposures, here we first blend, then create the panorama. This is because if you try to create separate panoramas they will all be different. You can try, that even combining the same images over and over into panoramas, will result in slightly different panoramas. So while programs that support HDR panoramas can work around it, Photoshop can’t.

So as I said, we have to go the other way. First blend images, then combine into panorama. So what do you do?

First load all the images you want to blend into Photoshop. These have to be rasterized, not smart objects. Photoshop can’t use smart objects when creating panoramas. If you did some edits on them before this, make sure that photos with the same exposures have the same edits. So for instance if you darkened the highlights on the darkest exposure in a RAW editor, be sure to do it in every darkest exposure.

Then combine the images into layers, that should be together (grab the layer with the mouse and drag it onto a name of the other opened image, once that shows, hold Shift and let go of the mouse button). You should end up with the number of files open, how many different photos you have for the panorama. In this example, I only used two exposures for every photo, and two photos for the panorama.

Once these are in layers, you have to blend them. You can use different techniques here, but the important thing is you do the same in all the parts. So you blend the first one, and using the same technique you blend the second, and so on. Don’t do any other edits on the photos, no color corrections or anything else. Just the blend. Everything else can be done once you created the panorama.

Now, save all the files. Does not matter where, just save them as PSDs and don’t close them. Once that’s done, choose File/Automate/Photomerge. In the popup window, leave the layout at Auto and then click on Add Open files. This will add all the open files into the Source files list. Click OK afterwards.

Now Photoshop will merge the files into one big panorama. You will loose the layers you had, but since you already done the blend, that should not be a problem.

Now just merge the layers if all looks good, and continue with your edits of the final photo. You don’t need the original files you merged into the panorama anymore.

Backing up photos

A year ago I wrote about backing up photos. And there I mentioned the SyncToy application, that I use to locally backup my photos to my Synology file-server. And today I will go a bit more about how to use Synctoy.

What is SyncToy? SyncToy is a free application from Microsoft (can be downloaded here), that is used to synchronize folders. It’s not automatic, so you have to run it yourself. But if you are as I am, and like to be fully in control, you will like it. It’s very simple to use and worked flawlessly for me during the two years I have been using it.

It’s much better than just copying files to a new location, as it detects changes, deleted files, new folder and similar and corrects that all for you while synchronizing.

Using SyncToy to locally backup photos

So how do one use it? First, decide on a folder you want to backup. Then, decide where you want to back it up too. So either a file-server, external drive or a second drive in your PC. In my case it’s a file-server, that is attached as a mapped network drive in my PC.

Continue by creating a folder pair with Create folder pair button. You can see in the screenshots, I have multiple, split based on whats in the folder.

Using SyncToy to locally backup photos
Using SyncToy to locally backup photos

Choose the folders, choose the type of synchronization, add a name to the pair and confirm. Since it’s a backup, use Echo as synchronization method. This will mirror you computer folder onto the backup folder, but not the other way around. So if you delete a file from your computer, and sync, it will be deleted also from the backup. Of course if you delete it accidentally, don’t sync, and just copy the file from the backup :)

Using SyncToy to locally backup photos
Using SyncToy to locally backup photos

Once the folder pair is done, you can just click on Run to sync them. But I prefer to first hit on Preview, that will list all the changes it will perform first. Like this I can quickly see what it will do. Once that is shown, I hit Run to finish the Sync.

Using SyncToy to locally backup photos
Using SyncToy to locally backup photos

Now just run this each time you want to run a backup and you are done.

Looking for photo problems

As you take and edit photos, you will often come across the same problems over and over. Dust spots, color banding, bad corrections, bad blends and similar. Sometime you will not even notice it. The colors of the affected area in a photo can be so similar that you just don’t see it. Or it’s too dark, or too bright. And still, that you don’t see it, does not mean that someone else looking at you photo will miss it too. Especially if one is doing a big print, one should try to fix as much as possible.

So today I will show you one technique I use to find areas that need to be fixed in Photoshop.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

The technique is very easy. In Photoshop, create a new curves layer, and create an extreme contrast using the curve. Just click on it in the left are, and pull it to the top, and then on the right area create a second point and pull it down. It should look something like in this Photoshop screenshot.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

It does not have to be exact, just have something that looks similar. What this did is to brighten the shadows, darken the highlights and added a lot of contrast in the mid-tones. The photo will look crazy colorful and psychedelic now.

But when you look at it, you can see that immediately problems stand out. Things that very barely visible are standing out really brightly right now.

Here are a few examples of it. Fist, a spot when two parts of a panorama were connected. You can see on the left, that it looks fine, but once you apply this filter, the bad transition shows up.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

Secondly, here is an example of dust spots, using this filter makes them stand out much more. Will not work everywhere, but most of the time it will help a lot.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

Also, lens flares will be much more visible. You can see one in the previous photo, and here is one more example of it. While in the regular photo, the flare is barely visible, after the filter you can see it exactly.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

Let’s look at one more example. This is a sky that is not evenly lit due to being merged from multiple photos. If you try to fix it, it’s not that easy, as the differences are minimal. But once you apply the curves layer, the problem is visible immediately.

Finding photo problems using Curves in Photoshop

The simplest way to work with it is to have the curves layer on top, and then edit a layer under it. Then when you are done just turn off or delete the curves layer and you are done.

A little bonus for you. When you have uneven color transitions, mostly in skies or after you removed some object using content aware, it’s easy to fix them. Use strong blur on the area and then add noise to the area. Blur will create a nice transition, while the noise will prevent it from creating color banding. Best to do this on a separate layer and then paint it in with the layer mask.

Do you need the best camera?

I, probably as many other photographers, get the same questions all the time. Which is the best camera? Which one should I buy? Which one will make my photos better? (btw. the answers here are depends, depends and probably none) Since that is the case, I will share some of my though on this topic with you today.

Btw. If you goal is to show off that you have the best and priciest camera, that by all means get that. If that was the reason to buy, you probably don’t care about taking photos anyway, and it will just sit in some shelf somewhere.

When you don’t need a better camera

You often don’t need a better camera at all. To get better photos you usually need to change other things.

Is your composition good?
The most important thing about a photo is the composition. If your composition is bad, the photo is bad. And a better camera will not help you with this. Instead look for tutorials, guides, look at other photographers work and practice more.

Did you learn the basics?
Here I don’t mean just how to control you camera, but much more. Modes, histogram, focusing, choosing the best settings and so on. While the software in the camera is quite smart, you usually can get much more if you do things yourself. Even the best camera will not focus properly all the time, will not choose the best settings for what you need, and sometimes it can even make thing worse. I still remember the day when I switched to manual focusing. My photos became so much sharper instantly.

Do you edit your photos?
Continuing from the previous point. By post-processing your photos you can get much better results than directly from a camera. Try choosing a software you like and learning how to use it. Photoshop, Lightroom, Aurora or similar. Most are not that hard to get into and you can get them quite cheaply.

You maybe need something else
Maybe you don’t need a better camera, but an accessory. Again this depends on the type of photography. But maybe you need a sturdy tripod if you want to do landscapes. Or an external flash if you do portraits.

Do you need the best camera?

When you need a better camera

This is very depending on what you do. But here are few reasons.

You need higher resolution
This happened to me. As quite a lot of my photos end up being printer big, especially as wall sized posters, I just needed more resolution. I just can’t make a panorama of every photo. Also screen resolutions go up and up every year. 4k is equal to 8Mpix, 8k to 33Mpix. That is a crazy amount of pixels. And yes, there are upscalers, but they are not always the solution.

You need a faster camera
There are type of photography, where a fast camera and even faster focusing is a must. Sports photography is a good example here. If your camera is slow, you will not get the shot. It has to be able to save the photo quickly and focus even quicker.

Your work demands it
This is a bit indirect reason, but it can happen. For instance I bought a TSE lens, because I knew I would have to do over a 1000 interior photos for a client. So having this did make the whole work quicker and much easier.

Weather and dust resistance
Better cameras usually have better weather and dust resistance, and are made from stronger materials. You can see it if you compare a pro camera to a consumer one. There are much more resistant. My lenses fell on the ground, my camera fell, my tripod got bend and similar. Things happen. Everything works.

Do you need the best camera?

In the end, one has to decide for oneself if one needs a better camera or not. New stuff is always nice. But if you will not use anything from what the new camera will bring, what’s the point.

My favorite lenses

Every photographer has their favorite lenses they prefer to use. And it’s not different for me. So today, I will share with you that which three lenses are the favorite from the ones I use. Feel free to share in the comments which ones are you favorite :)

Canon 17mm f4 TSE lens

The Canon 17mm f4 TSE lens is quite an unusual one. Tilt shift lenses, while quite popular with architecture photographers, are not that widely used by other ones. But they are just so great. Not only you can correct perspective distortion in your photos, but you can get views that are normally just not possible. I personally just love to do vertoramas with it, especially of tall buiding while standing really close to them (you seen many photos of the Eiffel tower like that on the blog :))

One of the points I think about, while taking photos, is to take a unique photo, that nobody did before. It’s not really easy if you do landscape and architecture. And using a less used lens, can help you with that, buy giving you a bit different view. That also a reason that I like to do so many panoramas and vertoramas.

Here is one of the many vertoramas I took with this lens.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens

This is my basic go to lens. It could have been a different lens, like a 24-105 or any other with a similar range. It’s just something you grab when you don’t know what you need. The range is good for 90% situations and it just works well. Also making panoramas with this lens without a panoramic head works perfectly.

There is a so called lens trinity in photography. A wide angle (16-35mm or 14-24mm lens) a normal lens (24-70mm) and a zoom lens (70-200mm). With this combination, you will cover a very huge range. But do you need them all? Probably not. It all depends on what type of photos you do.

Let me give you an example. I have a 70-200mm lens. I carry it with me only about 10% of the time, only when I’m sure I will need it. If I need to zoom in, I have the 24-70mm lens, and since my camera is 30Mpix, I can easily crop quite a lot. So If I zoom into 70mm and crop down to 15Mpix, it’s the same as having a 140mm lens with me. This is of course not enough in all cases, but it works well most times.

Here is one of the many panoramas I took with this lens.

Laowa 12mm f2.8 lens

The last of these three is the Laowa 12mm f2.8 lens. It’s the latest lens I bought so the one I have been using for the shortest time. I love doing wide angle photos. And the wider you can go, the better. It’s quite common with architecture and city photos, that you just can’t move further back from something. There is just no place to go. And where sometime a tilt shift lens works better, it’s not all the time.

This ultra wide view of the world is just so different to what most of other lenses and cameras capture. And the more
different it is, the more I like it.

Here is one of the photos I took with this lens.

So these are currently my favorite lenses, and if I go out taking photos, these three are mostly in my bag. Which ones you carry with you?

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