I always like to participate in Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can exchange ideas on how to achieve their artistic vision. The best part is seeing what the others are doing and I hope you will zip right over there right after you finish reading this. Spoiler Alert: The link to her blog is at the end of this post.
This week, I thought that it might be interesting to talk about a specific technique rather than go through the entire post process of a selected image. One of my favorite tools is the so-called “Photomerge” process in Photoshop. The technique can be used to solve a variety of problems and is most often used to maintain sharpness in large prints. In this case, however, I used it to compensate for the fact that I did not have a super-wide lens at a time I needed it. The location is Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. The “Before” image here shows two separate images taken a few seconds apart. Both have already been through Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and the next step for them was the Photomerge process. (Technical Data: Nikon D700 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm; Exposure: 1/60th sec. at f/13, ISO 400.)
The Two Starting Images, after ACR
There are any number of ways to merge multiple photographs but I have not tried any outside Photoshop. But the following steps seem to work for me, so why go searching? After the ACR process, the two images were opened as .NEF files in Photoshop. To get things started, the following file sequence was used: File->Automate->Photomerge. This opens the Photomerge dialog box (See image Below).
The Photomerge Dialog Display Panel
The next step is to click the “Add Open Files” button (Red Arrow) which brings in all files that you may have open at the time. Just select those not wanted (blue highlight) and click on “Remove. “On the left is the “Layout” pane with a variety of different Photomerge procedures. It’s best to start with “Auto” if you’re not sure and that is the choice made here. Finally, make sure the “Blend Images Together” box is checked. Then click OK.
The computer will churn for a little bit, depending on how many images are being merged and how much RAM is available. If you are lucky, you will get something like the image below which is fairly easy to deal with. This isn’t the place to go into all the rules about taking panorama images (most of which can be broken), but generally the wider the arc of your camera, the more challenging the merge process becomes. In this case, we have only two images with a slight upward arc. At this point, the image has two layers (red arrow) and it is necessary to flatten the image before going any further.
The Initial Result from the Photomerge Process
In this example, a simple crop could be applied to eliminate the blank space, but sometimes it is desirable to keep some of the image rather than be forced to crop it out. Two ways to get around this problem involve the Transform function and the Content-Aware Fill function. So let’s say we want to keep all of the bottom information in this image. First, select the entire image, then use the command sequence: Edit->Transform. A display sub-panel opens with a bunch of choices. “Distort” was used in this case. (See blue highlights in the Image below)
Launching the Edit->Transform Function
A border will appear around the image, similar to the crop tool with control points in the corners. It is also possible to segment the image into 9 control areas by clicking the icon (not shown) at the top of the main Photoshop Window. This shows up in the location indicated by the red arrow above after the Edit->Transform command is executed. When selected, there are 16 control points, one at every intersection of the dividing lines (See Image below). After some adjustments with the control points, mainly on the bottom and left side (See blue arrows in the Image below) all of the bottom information and much of the left side have been preserved.
After the Transform Moves Have Been Made
But suppose it was necessary to avoid losing anything on the left side. It is at this point we arrive at an ethical issue. Is it “cheating” to create something that was not there? If the answer is “No,” then the Content-Aware Fill procedure might be chosen. After a unanimous No vote, the Polygon Lasso Tool was used to select the empty area (See black arrow in the Image below), making sure the Feather control was set to 0 pixels. Then the command sequence: Edit->Fill was used and the Fill display box appeared. Select “Content-Aware” in the Use: box, “Normal” in the Mode: box and set Opacity at 100%. No other boxes should be checked. Then click OK.
Setting up for the Edit->Fill->Content-Aware Action
The computer will churn again for a brief moment or two and Voila! The result is shown in the image below. In this case, and most of the time, it is impossible to tell that what is there in the new image wasn’t there when it was taken. (Please note that in this screen capture image the right and bottom sections of the Photoshop display window are chopped off.)
From here all that is needed is a simple crop eliminating the jagged edge on the right, a couple of adjustment layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation) and the final result is shown below. Thanks again to Stacy for keeping this forum going. Please check out the other examples of “After-Before” at her Blog here.