Photoshop Elements 9 comes with enhanced Photomerge tools that make creating high-quality panoramas easier than ever.
All you need is a series of overlapping images taken with the same zoom setting and exposure, and Photomerge will do the rest. (Many compact cameras have panoramic modes designed to do this, and display guidelines to help you frame each overlapping shot.)
It is possible to line up panoramic images manually using layers, but it's almost impossible to get them to line up perfectly because of differences in brightness values, tilt, perspective and distortion. Fixing this manually using the Transform and Lens/Camera Correction tools can take an age, but Photomerge takes care of all this automatically.
But all these corrections produce panoramas with jagged edges, and usually the only solution is to crop these off and lose a significant percentage of the image area in the process. So the new Content-Aware technologies in Elements 9 take a different approach – Photomerge can now fill the gaps, which means you don't lose any of your panorama.
The repairs aren't always perfect, but most of the time they'll go unnoticed unless you examine the image closely. And if there are areas that have obviously gone wrong, Elements 9 has another enhanced tool which is perfect for putting them right – the Spot Healing Brush.
Its Content-Aware mode can produce perfect repairs with a single stroke, whereas before you might have been faced with some tedious and tricky manual cloning.
The other thing you'll notice with Photomerge panoramas in Elements 9 is that they include all the images used to create the panorama as separate layers. You don't need these if the finished image (the top layer) is fine as it is, but they can be useful if you want to see how it's been assembled or make some manual adjustments yourself.
Each layer has an editable mask, which is another new feature in Elements 9. Layer masks are one of the key tools for creating complex montages out of several different images, and their inclusion here brings Elements 9 a big step closer to the abilities of Photoshop itself.
How to create panoramas in Photoshop Elements
01. Start Photomerge
Open your sequence of individual images. Here they are lined up in the Project Bin at the bottom of the window. Now choose File > New > Photomerge Panorama (as you can see, there are a number of different Photomerge technologies on offer now).
02. Choose layout
It's possible to create panoramas in a number of different layouts, which will vary according to the subject matter and the type of 'projection' you want to create. We can leave the setting on Auto in this instance, and click the Add Open Files button.
03. Align images
Now Photomerge returns to the main window, where it sets about blending the images. First it combines the separate images as layers in a new composition, then enlarges the canvas and adjusts the position and perspective of the frames so that they overlap perfectly.
04. Blend images
Here you can see the adjusted frames in the Layers palette. Next, Photomerge blends the individual images together, and it does this by creating layer masks which selectively hide parts of each layer without actually deleting any of the image data.
05. Clean edges
The panorama that Photomerge has created has gaps at the edges (sometimes you can get gaps between frames, too). This is normal with merged panoramas; usually you've got no choice but to crop the photo. Elements 9, though, has a new feature – Clean Edges…
06. The 'auto-filled' result
This is the result after Photomerge has filled the edges. It's preserved the full image size (previously we'd have had to crop them). You do have to look closely to see where detail has been 'filled', and the repair is good enough that you don't need to do anything else.
07. Spot Healing Brush
One area where the auto-fill function has produced a poor result is at the top of this tower, where Photomerge has picked up some of the detail from the grassy hillside. Use the Spot Healing Brush, and its new Content- Aware mode (selected on the options bar).
08. 'Invisible' repairs…
And Spot Healing Brush fixes the problem. The Content-Aware mode is excellent at finding matching details in the surrounding areas and blending them in. The detail it has substituted here has been 'invented', but the match is so good that no-one's likely to notice.
First published in MacFormat Issue 229
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