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  • Ed Dozier

Panoramas Using Raw Format with Lightroom and HDR Efex Pro 2

To get the best quality panoramas, there’s more to consider than just how well your pictures are stitched together. You want to stick with RAW format for as many of your editing steps as possible.

If you use Lightroom 6 or newer, and you install the (still free) Nik HDR

Efex Pro 2 plug-in, you can make maximum-quality panoramas and also have a large tool set for creativity.

Update 8-8-2020

The plug-ins from Nik aren't free anymore. You can get the latest plug-ins from DXO.

When shooting the pictures, try to keep about a 50% overlap between shots. Don’t forget to try vertical format shooting for a slightly taller panorama. Lightroom is also capable of multi-row panorama stitching. It’s best to shoot your pictures with a single manual exposure setting, so that the frames will match up better. If you’re careful, you can even get by without using a tripod (I use viewfinder grid lines as alignment guides).

HDR panorama using Lightroom and HDR Efex Pro 2

Select the RAW photos to stitch into your panorama

Before beginning panorama creation, you may wish to perform any “lens correction” steps on the individual shots, since Lightroom can still recognize the lens data at this point.

The first panorama creation step, after you import your pictures into Lightroom, is to select the range of pictures to stitch together (click the first, then use the Shift key and select the last shot in the range).

Merge your shots into a panorama

Next, click Photo | Photo Merge | Panorama… You’ll get a dialog box that lets you decide between Spherical, Clyndrical, or Perspective projection. Click each selection to decide which projection type looks best for your panorama. Select the “Auto Crop” to clean up the frame edges. Click on “Merge” when you’re satisfied with the projection type.

Select your new panorama

After the panorama is stitched, you’ll need to select it. Note the panorama is saved in DNG raw format, which lets you have maximum flexibility for further editing enhancements. “DNG” is the Adobe “digital negative” format that is very close to “raw”. The light range and color range (bit depth) is maintained, allowing for maximum highlight recovery, shadow recovery, and “tone mapping”.

I tend to lump HDR and tone mapping together, but many photographers consider single-shot manipulations to be “tone mapping”, while multiple overlapping shots at different exposures are required to be considered HDR (high dynamic range).

Now would be a good time to do the usual sharpening, noise reduction, color balancing, highlight and shadow manipulations, etc. Because the panorama is in DNG format, you have the maximum flexibility for editing at this stage.

For many panoramas, you might be ready to simply export at this point into the finished file format, such as jpeg. Or maybe you’re ready to try the Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 plug-in.

Assuming you want to try HDR and you’ve installed the Nik plug-in collection from Google, you’ll next need to select

File | Export with Preset | HDR Efex Pro 2.

Show a little patience here; it will take a while before Nik is ready.

As an aside, Google no longer supports the Nik plug-in collection. As of this writing, though, it’s still available for free download from their web site here. I use the Nik plug-ins in Photoshop, Lightroom, and Zoner Pro.

Try out some HDR selections in HDR Efex Pro 2

Use Zoom and Navigator to inspect HDR shot details

HDR Efex Pro 2 output file format selection

Try out the various canned options and fine-tune controls in HDR Efex Pro 2. Don’t forget to use the Zoom/Navigator controls to inspect details. Most people either love or hate HDR. I fall into the love category. When you’re happy with the HDR effect you want, click on Save to return to Lightroom.

HDR Efex Pro 2 won’t allow you to save your picture in raw format, so you should have finished your other editing steps in Lightroom before the conversion to HDR. Only jpg or tiff formats are available for output.

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