A quick post about stitched panoramas and difficult exposures

Unless you’re a photographer, skip this. You might skip this even if you are a photographer. You could also just look at the gallery at the bottom.

The P900 has the option to shoot panoramas as does my Note 8. The D7000 doesn’t (that I know of — I’ve not read the manual in a while so even if it’s in there, I’ve forgotten about it).

Regardless, while sailing around Glacier Bay NP, I snapped two sets of photos with the intention of 1) stitching them into panoramas and, 2) merge the resulting panoramas to get an HDR photo. 

The reason for my complicated plan was because of the wide dynamic range of the scene.

Here’s my first panorama metered on the shadow of the gully running down the face of the mountain. 

As shot – metered on shadow areas.

Because I metered the shadows, the various waterfalls (in the shadow of the gully) are clearly visible but the rest of the scene is slightly overexposed.

If I take that merged photo and do an Auto adjustment in Lightroom, I get this.

Metered on the shadow area and Auto-adjusted in Lightroom.

That’s actually not too bad, but I had a plan, you see . . . I also shot a set metered at the top of the mountain, near the bright sky, and merged them to get this panorama . . . 

As shot – metered near the bright sky.

Running Auto adjust on that merged photo got me this version which is also not too bad . . . 

Metered near the bright sky and Auto adjusted in Lightroom.

Note there isn’t a whole lot of change between the as-shot and the Auto-adjusted. You have to look at them side-by-side to notice a difference. 

As a side note, that probably means the scene is close to the “correct” exposure. Since I have the RAW data, I could further play with the adjustments and bring out as much detail as I want. 

HOWEVER! . . . remember my clever plan? I would take the two panoramas and merge then using one of three HDR processes and get me an Ansel-like wide range color photo.

Well, I only made one tiny error. The stitching program is automatic. I don’t choose what the programs use from each of the photos comprising the total shot. The two panoramas ended up as two different size photos and could not be merged into an HDR. 

Crap. I tried trimming them and processing them before merging the photos but I wasn’t all that happy with the results. For instance, the overexposed (lighter) photos processed like this in my two tries. 

Lighter Original – post-process no. 1

I tweaked it a bit with some canned processes I have saved and got this . . . 

Lighter Original – post-process no. 2

They are OK, but I went back to the originals and hand-edited the merged file thus . . . 

Lighter Original panorama – hand-adjusted to taste.

I wasn’t too unhappy with the result and was actually looking forward to repeating the process with the darker panorama. Per my experience, it’s usually easier to “bring out” details from underexposed photos than to walk back from overexposed photos. 

First, here’s my processed dark panorama when I was trying to crop them to match . . . 

Darker original canned processing.

That’s the best I got out of the canned presets I have, and I wasn’t happy. I then repeated the process I had used for the lighter panorama, meaning, making manual tweaks until I was satisfied. 

Darker panorama hand adjusted.

For some reason — and for the first time I can remember, I had a more difficult time adjusting this photo to make it “lighter” than adjusting the lighter panorama to make it “darker”. 

Whenever I tried bringing out the shadows, I got a blue cast in the shadows which I then had a heck of a time removing and in the process blew out some of the detail on the rocks. 

Of the two, I much prefer the end result from the slightly over-exposed panorama than from the darker version. 

By now, everyone is asleep or have already left, but what I learned is that it might be better to overexpose rather than underexpose. Until I played with these two photos, I believed it’s always better to underexpose a bit. Even if this is a unique instance (I can’t imagine why it would be so) I’ll now be more willing to slightly overexpose a difficult scene rather than automatically underexpose it. 

I learned something new. Go figure. 

Of course, I could have just converted to B&W . . . here’s the dark panorama with two different B&W conversions. 

Darker panorama – B&W 1

Darker panorama – B&W 2 (more structure)

Here’s the gallery of the above:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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15 Responses to A quick post about stitched panoramas and difficult exposures

  1. You will find it sometimes makes a difference if one shoots the images vertically or horizontally. Then too, the number of shots you use can also make a difference. I find the more shots for a given panorama the more able to auto stitching is to give me a more uniform print with which I can then mess. Warmest regards, Ed


    • disperser says:

      I usually take a lot of shots overlapping at least a third of the frame between shots. Portrait or panorama doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference.

      I’ve taken vertical and horizontal panoramas with both the camera in portrait mode and in landscape mode. The vertical panorama is more prone to distortion depending on the height, but as far as stitching, modern algorithms do a great job (Lightroom, Photoshop, and Affinity Photo are the three I use) with each better in some situations but all pretty close. The performance of the lens at the corners makes more of a difference hence the overlapping.

      However, this post is more about the post-processing and exposing a scene with a high dynamic range. My standard approach is to meter near the brightest portion of the scene, but — in this case — I got better results (finished post-processed photo) with less processing effort from the overexposed photo. That surprised me and I’ll have to do more testing to see if the subject matter affects how to meter a wide dynamic range scene.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Also, if at all interested, this post about panoramas — while a little dated (Picasa is no more) — summarizes my approach and has some examples of 180-270 degrees panoramas:


  2. robert87004 says:

    A friend of mine, a long time pro, shoots 1/3 stop over in his personal photography.


    • disperser says:

      Some people like high key photographs even outside the studio. I’ve always associated them with product advertisements, but I’ve noticed a few people who process (or shoot) everything in high key.

      Personally, it just looks washed out (like the first photo above or even lighter) as high key to me refers to well-lit, not overexposed. Then again, I’m not a professional; I just know what I like.

      Liked by 2 people

      • robert87004 says:

        He does it mostly to eliminate noise in shadows if I understand correctly, knowing he can always make a picture darker. Yep, shoot what and how you like for sure.


      • disperser says:

        Today’s noise suppression algorithms are pretty good. Good enough that you can recover even dark shadows and keep the noise down. On the other hand, if you blow the highlights, there’s usually nothing to recover.

        But, as you say, it’s a matter of preference.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the gallery of photos!
    HUGS!!! :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. oneowner says:

    I have my phone set to autosave to my Google Photos account. I open that page on my PC and download all the photos to a folder on my desktop. Then I load that folder into Lightroom. Lightroom gives you the choice to merge to panorama or HDR or you can use PS or other 3rd party plugins. I can’t think of a better way to control processing steps plus it gives you an extra back-up of your files.


    • disperser says:

      Be aware that — unless you change the option — most online backup services (including Google) “optimize” the photos before backing them up. The automatic option takes up less room and don’t count toward your storage total, so I’m assuming some (or a lot) of compression takes place.

      I typically download directly from the phone to the PC to make sure I get the unmodified original.

      However, this is more about my surprise regarding overexposed versus underexposed photos and the ease of post-processing them to something I like.


  5. I thought it was going to be something interesting when I saw the title, Photo’s of you with your fly stuck open perhaps; ah well. Ha! Hugs :)


    • disperser says:

      Often, when I hear a person voice their desires and expectations, I am surprised.

      In my defense, I did warn readers to skip this, but you probably barely glanced at the words. Sorry about that . . . also, don’t hold your breath for me to indulge your expectations.


  6. Jason Frels says:

    With a landscape, I usually shoot with the metering set to expose for the highlights to avoid getting a blown out sky. This means that I often have to work later to bring up the shadows. I have a lot less trouble with noisy shadows than I do trying to recover clipped or nearly clipped highlights. I may also set to meter for highlights and then bump the exposure compensation up a little to optimize. Also, shooting with RAW rather than JPG gives you a lot more detail to play with later.

    I have shot HDR panoramas before. It is a lot of work. My process is to make multiple sets of panoramas at the different exposures. Then HDR merge the completed panoramas, which can take a while with the giant files.


    • disperser says:

      Yup; that’s my usual approach; meter the highs and recover the shadows. That’s why I was a little surprised with the final result of this instance. Not saying I’ll completely change, but I’ll keep this in mind.

      The only way I can see HDR panoramas working is to use a tripod and the same number of shots in each exposure otherwise the stitching can result in different size versions (what happened here) that are impossible to align. Really, unless someone is dead set on HDR, the post-processing tools these days are good enough to handle quite the range of exposures.

      And yes, when I’m shooting the D7000, always shooting RAW. Unfortunately, the P900 doesn’t have that option. So far, I’ve not missed it but I’m still hoping the next version of the camera will incorporate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. AnnMarie says:

    It’s wonderful to learn something new as a result of exploration . . . and without the pressure of deadlines . . .


    • disperser says:

      Well, you’re only going to learn stuff if you apply it. Most people don’t process their photos all that much and few people stitch photos together these days because cameras have the panorama mode in them (I think your Panasonic does).


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