I like post production work and have developed my own techniques and strategies for getting the most from pictures like this. Let’s walk through some of the steps to producing a useable, crisp panorama of this startlingly beautiful, even tropical looking seabed scene near the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic.
So how does one go about turning pictures like those above images into this?
First you need a good image editing program. I use Photoshop CS5 but have some experience with Paint Shop Pro. Rather than emphasize a specific program, there a few general concepts to consider.
- Whenever possible shoot in raw format which preserves editing choices for you, the creative mind behind the lens. Always use the highest resolution your camera is capable of achieving — you never know when you’ll take that “once in a lifetime” shot. Always save copies of your unaltered images in two places, at least until you’ve had a chance to sort out the best. As you acquire more skill over time, you may wish to revisit earlier work and you’ll need a clean original.
- I carry a small Nikon in my purse and sometimes that’s the only camera available but it has a small 5 MB range in jpeg only. So if you shoot jpegs, remember that it’s a compression format, great for saving space but not as good at making artful, crisp images. The camera decides how your photo should look and permanently disposes of everything else. That means you lose some of the best or only alternatives for improving your picture and that makes you little more than a bystander to your own process. Any change you save to a jpeg image including simply changing the file name triggers additional compression. You may not notice at first but, after a few such cycles, the image becomes pixelated and chunky. Not a good thing at all!
- Once you open your image in the editing program, duplicate the layer so you have an easy retreat. Then be fearless in trying things. Stamp new copies to the top of your layer stack whenever you sense that you’re embarking in a new direction and want to leave an escape. Name your layers; it’s amazing how quickly I sometimes forget what I did ten minutes before. You can always delete effects you don’t like from the layer or history panels.
So what did I actually do to these first two pictures?
- First, I used the raw editor that ships with Photoshop to tweak all of the following: raised the blacks from 0 to the 50s, as well as contrast and clarity, and somewhat reduced brightness. I didn’t increase vibrance in the left side but did on the right. Both images were open in the editor at the same time so I could adjust them individually but so they matched in overall tone, color, and contrast.
- Next I used the on board Photomerge to create the overlapping panorama. I admit to using a small 10px soft-edged clone brush to make a couple of repairs at the seam.
- Then I stamped a new layer and changed the blend mode to Soft Light. I tried Overlay first but it was too dense and harsh.
- Finally, I applied a slight High Pass filter effect and added a black layer mask to hide everything that the filter sharpened. Here’s where the sharpening magic happens! To bring out selective details (sharpening) I used a small soft-edged brush and, with white as the foreground color, painted details where I wanted them into the panorama.
Photo editing can be done in many different ways. Each of these steps might have been achieved by other means. But this is part of my regular workflow and it works for me!