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How to Create HDR Panoramas in Lightroom

by | 3 years ago

I always love creating panoramas and HDR images, so doing both at the same time is twice as much fun! With this technique, you can make impressive large prints, and your landscapes will look so much more spectacular. So, after you read this article, I hope you’ll give it a try. It’s easy to accomplish, and if you’re passionate about photography, trust me when I say that you’ll become addicted to this technique. To do the following steps, you’ll need Lightroom Classic 8.0 or higher. Here comes the HDR panorama!

Step One: I took these photos at sunset at McWay Falls on the coast of Big Sur. To capture photos for HDR, take one underexposed image, one overexposed image, and one normal exposure of your subject (called bracketing). In this example, I took three different exposures for each section of the panorama, which included moving the camera both vertically and horizontally.

Step Two: Now select all of your photos in the Filmstrip, Right-click on any of the selected images, and choose Photo Merge>HDR Panorama.

Step Three: Lightroom will not only create an HDR from each set of the bracketed shots but it will also build a panorama. The HDR in Lightroom is very natural; it really gives you the details in the highlights and shadows that you were missing.

You have a few different options for creating the panorama. First, you need to select the Projection. Your choices are Spherical, Cylindrical, or Perspective. I recommend Perspective because Spherical and Cylindrical really distort the horizon line, which is hard to correct.

Step Four: You don’t want to select Auto Crop because you’ll lose a lot of the sky. You can see in the image shown here that if you click on Auto Settings, Lightroom will do some auto corrections for you. I normally opt to leave Auto Settings turned off so I can do my own corrections. Create Stack is good to turn on, because it will stack all the photos into one thumbnail.

Finally, click the Merge button, and Lightroom will create an HDR Panorama that’s one super RAW file that’s always interesting.

Step Five: Now that you have your final panorama, you’ll need to crop it with the Crop Overlay tool (R). I cropped some of the foreground in this image because I care more about having a lot of the sky.

Step Six: Because we bracketed these images and shot in RAW, all the highlights and shadows have a lot of information. You can now start developing the photo.

Here I’d do my usual workflow, but I want to keep the photo natural and not too over-the-top. I opened the Shadows to +96, brought down the Highlights to –80, and dragged the Whites to +46 and the Blacks to –43. You can adjust the white balance (WB) by playing with the Temp (4,421) and the Tint (–2) sliders. You can also increase the Contrast (+18) to add some pop to the photo.

Step Seven: We’re missing a part of the sky but we’ll be able to fix that in Photoshop. For now, let’s add a Graduated Filter (M) and lower the Exposure to put some emphasis on the sky.

Step Eight: You can use another Graduated Filter at the bottom of the image, and lower the Exposure to “close” the photo. This also helps to hide any part of the Foreground that’s a bit too confusing or messy.

Step Nine: What can make the photo even more interesting is dodging and burning. Draw a Radial Filter (Shift-M) in the sky, turn on the Invert option, Feather it to 100, and then add some yellow (Temp 65) and brightness (Exposure 0.58). I also increased the Clarity (42) to add some midtone contrast in that area of the sky.

Step 10: What also looks good in this image is another Radial Filter on the water with both the Exposure (0.57) and Clarity (42) boosted. This gives the photo a nice dynamic.

Step 11: Now it’s time to sharpen. My technique is to adjust the Amount and the Luminance so they total 100. In this example, I set the Amount to 80, the Luminance to 20, and the Masking to around 50.

Step 12: You can easily correct the missing part of the sky with Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop. Just make a loose selection with the Lasso tool (L), go to Edit>Content-Aware Fill, and use the Content-Aware workspace to fine-tune the fill. And there you have it: the HDR panorama!

You can have a lot of fun with HDR panoramas because you can make big prints of incredible landscapes! I hope you have a lot of fun shooting and retouching!

ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI