Fine Tuning Your Panorama

Once you get all your photos positioned to suit you, you may want to adjust the result to make things look a bit smoother. Elements has several other commands to help you do so.

On the right side of the Photomerge window, you see several rows of buttons and checkboxes. You'll usually want to try at least a couple of these settings to improve your panorama. At the top, you see the usual OK and Cancel buttons for when you're ready to create your panorama or when you change your mind about the whole process.

Next are the Undo and Redo buttons. If you Undo something and change your mind again, click Redo. Both Undo and Redo are grayed out until you do something they can change. The Help button takes you straight to the Photomerge section of the Elements Help files.

Below the Navigator box you see two radio buttons Normal and Perspectivethat adjust the viewing angle of your panorama. You can choose one or the other, but not both.

• Normal . This radio button gives you your photomerge as Elements combined it, with no changes to the perspective. If you don't like the way the angles in your panorama look, try clicking Perspective instead.

• Perspective . When you click this button, Elements attempts to apply perspective to your panorama to make it look more realistic. Sometimes Elements does a bang-up job, but usually you'll get better results if you help it out by setting a vanishing point, as explained earlier. Sometimes adding cylindrical mapping, explained later, can help. If you still get a totally weird result, go ahead and just create the merge anyway. Then correct the perspective yourself afterward using one of the Transform commands.

The Composition settings farther down the window aren't mutually exclusive. You can add either (or both) of themCylindrical Mapping or Advanced Blendingto your panorama if you think it needs their help. Just turn on their checkboxes to use them.


Shooting Tips for Good Merges

The most important part of creating an impressive and plausible panorama starts before you even launch Elements. You can save yourself a lot of grief by planning ahead when shooting photos for a panorama.

Most of the time, you know before you shoot that you'll want to try to merge your photos. You don't often say, "Wow, I can't believe I've got seven photos of the Dr. Dre balloon at the Thanksgiving Day parade that just happen to be exactly in line and have a 30 percent overlap between each one! Guess I'll try a merge."

If you know you want to create a panorama, when you're taking pictures, set your camera so it's as much in manual mode as possible. The biggest headache in panorama-making is trying to get the exposure, color, brightness, and so on to blend seamlessly. Elements is darned good about blending the outlines of the physical objects in your photos. Lock your camera settings so that the exposure of each image is as identical as possible.

Even on small digital cameras that don't have much in the way of manual controls, you may have some kind of panorama setting, like Canon's Stitch Assist mode, that does the same thing.

(To be honest, your camera may make merges itself that work better than what Elements can do, because the camera's doing the image-blending internally. Check out whether your model has a panorama feature.)

The more your photos overlap, the better. Elements does what it can with what you give it, but it's really happy if you can arrange a 30 or 40 percent overlap between images.

It's helpful to use a tripod if you have one, and pan heads tripod heads that let you swivel your camera in an absolutely straight linewere made for panoramas. Actually, as long as your shots aren't wildly out of line, Elements can usually cope. But you may have to do quite a bit of cropping to get even edges on the finished result if you don't use a tripod.

Whether you use a tripod or not, keep the camera level, rather than the horizon, to avoid distortion. In other words, focus your attention more on leveling the body of the camera than what you see through the viewfinder. Use the same focal length for each image, and try not to use the zoom, unless it's manual, so that you can keep it exactly the same for every image.

To see what they do to your photo, you need to click the Preview button after turning on their checkboxes (both features are explained in the following list). While you're looking at the preview, you can't make any other changes to your panorama. You have to click "Exit Preview" before you can tweak your panorama any further. You won't see the effect of these settings again until you click OK to tell Elements you're ready for a finished panorama.

Note: If you use the preview, take a good look at the joined seams of your merge when Elements is finished. Once in a while it has trouble getting things put back exactly where they were before previewing. In that case, just close the merge without saving and try again.

• Cylindrical Mapping . When you apply perspective to your panorama, you may wind up with an image that looks like a giant bow tie. Cylindrical mapping helps put your images back into a more normal perspective by vertically stretching the middle section to make everything the same height. It's called "cylindrical" because it gives an effect like that of looking at a label on a bottlethe middle seems largest, and the image gets smaller as it fades into the distance (on the sides around the back of the bottle). This setting's available only if you select Perspective in the settings above it. If you choose Normal, it's grayed out.

• Advanced Blending . It's very rare to get photos with colors that match exactly. Advanced blending tries to smooth out the differences by averaging the color between the photos, and it does help some, but usually not enough.

The following two settings really should be at the top of the list, since they're the ones you'd use first when making a panorama.

• Snap to Image . Elements automatically places your photos in the panorama exactly where it thinks they should go. If you want to override Elements and position your photos yourself, turn off Snap to Image.

• Keep As Layers . When you create a panorama, Elements ordinarily combines all your photos into an image that has only one layer in it. (Layers are an advanced Elements feature that lets you slice up your image into stackable components; see the tutorial within Elements [Help —+ Tutorials —+ Using Layers] or Photoshop Elements: The Missing Manual for more on how Layers work.) If you turn on "Keep as Layers," you get a multi-layered panorama in which each photo is on its own layer. This makes it a bit easier to go back and apply corrections to one of the photos after the merge, but it also makes for a hugely larger file. Generally, you're better off canceling a merge and working on the photo by itself and then remerging.

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