Panoramic Action

Even though I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop for 20 or so years, and have been teaching the program in my workshops for about 10, I’m still amazed by its capabilities. The opening image for this column is one example.

I created it from six images taken with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon 24-105mm IS lens. I stitched the images together in Photoshop’s Photomerge, and then cut and pasted a rider from my series of pictures into my pano. As a final step, I tweaked the color and contrast for a totally cool effect—all in about 10 minutes.


Below you’ll find the process to follow. You can use it for many different types of action photography.

But first, I want to thank one of my Alaska workshop students, Ted Maddux, for giving me the idea. He used this technique for an awesome bald eagle pano, which you can check out on my blog:

1. This screen grab of Adobe Bridge

shows my original six images. Well, almost. I actually converted my RAW files to JPEGs using Photoshop’s Image Processor (Bridge > Select All Images > Photoshop > Tools > Image Processor) to speed up my pano processing time. Processing a series of JPEGs is way faster than processing a series of RAW files.

The first step is to get a good panorama. As with all panoramas, you must set your exposure mode to Manual and set the exposure for the brightest part of the scene. If you were to shoot on an automatic mode, your exposure would be different for each exposure, which would result in annoying dark or light bands in the sky.

You also need to set your white balance to the existing lighting conditions such as Sunny, Cloudy, etc. An auto setting might result in different color images.

The next step in getting a good pano is to overlap your pictures by about one-third of the frame. You also need to hold your camera vertically because parts of the top and bottom of the final pano will be cropped out in the stitching process. Finally, try to keep the horizon line as level as possible. A tripod would help, but you can shoot a pano handheld, as illustrated by my motocross pano.

2. After your photo session,

it’s time to make your pano. In Photoshop, go to File > Automate > Photomerge. Once in Photomerge, select your files as you would select any files on your computer. Leave the Layout set to Auto.

3. In the Photomerge dialog,

click OK and wait a bit, and then you’ll see your stitched pano. Pure magic! You may see some tiny, vertical, jagged cracks in the image. Don’t worry, that’s normal. When you flatten the layers, they will disappear. After you flatten the file (Layer > Flatten Image), it’s time to crop.

Additionally, you’ll notice that in most cases it looks as though all the frames weren’t used. That’s also normal because Photoshop is more interested in stitching and blending than in using all the parts of all your images.


As you’ll see, parts of your original images will be cut off. Yes, that’s normal. You could use the Content-Aware Fill feature in Photoshop CS5 and CS6 to try to fill in these areas. It may work. However, knowing that you’ll lose parts of your images, it’s a good idea to shoot wide, as illustrated by my files that you saw in the screen grab of my pano sequence.

4. Here’s my cropped image,

but there’s more cool stuff to come.

5. This is a screenshot

of the Levels dialog for my pano. As you can see, my image lacks proper highlights, as illustrated by the empty space on the right side of the histogram. Moving the highlight slider to the left, just inside the "mountain range," would be a quick fix. However, because you’ll be adding another image from your sequence into your pano, now isn’t the time to fine-tune your image. If you did, your colors, brightness and contrast wouldn’t match.

6. You can make your pano look

even cooler by adding another image. Go back to your sequence and find the image, or sometimes, images, that would "fill in the gap" in your pano.

Crop the subject as tightly as possible and copy it. Then, paste it into your pano. Use the Move tool to move the subject into position. Because you haven’t resized any of your images and your pano, the scale of the images will match.

7. The next step

is to remove the background from your inserted, cut-and-pasted image. Because it’s on a new layer, you can use the Eraser tool to simply erase the area around your subject to see through to the pano on the bottom layer. Other options include using the Magic Wand or Quick Select tool.

During this process, zoom into the pasted image and turn off the bottom layer (by clicking the Eye icon) in the Layers panel to see how well you’re doing at erasing.

8. After flattening the image,

you’re almost finished. However, as I mentioned, the image may need some fine-tuning. In my case, I adjusted the Levels and then also boosted the Color and Contrast.

Have fun experimenting and creating your own action panos!

Rick Sammon teaches photography around the world and on his website. Go to

Leave a Comment