A while back I had approached a few companies about putting together an article on how to create panoramas.  One of those companies was PTGui – and I’ve finally had a chance to put together a few images through their software to take a look at the processing and stitching quality.  First impressions are good…what I especially liked is that the software has the ability to render both panoramas as well as HDR processing algorithms.  While a dedicated work flow that addresses panoramas and then a separate work flow to address HDR work may yield better results, I’ve gotta say that PTGui does an impressive job for a multi-function program:

Stanley Lake Panorama
Stanley Lake

Let’s take a quick run through some of the settings:

On starting the application, you will be presented with several tabs, Project Assistant, Source Images, Control Points, Exposure/HDR, Preview, and Create Panorama.  I only really used the 1st, 4th, and last tabs to process this image, but that’s primarily because PTGui was able to align everything for me.  If everything wasn’t decently aligned during capture, you’d likely have to add control points to the program to account for variations.  So, getting it right in camera does still count!

Tab 1 – Project Assistant

Step 1: Here’s where you import your images – the cool part is that PTGui can take raw files so you don’t need to lose any image quality by running through another program first…(look for a post on how to export to PTGui from Lightroom some time next week).

Project Assistant Tab
Project Assistant Tab

It’s pretty straightforward here – simply click the button to load images and your file browser will open…navigate to the folder your raw files are in and select the ones needed for the pano.  The program will likely detect your lens used from the exif data, but if your lens does not look correct, simply uncheck the “Automatic” box and enter the correct information (this was taken with the Sigma 8-15mm, so I changed mine – sorry no screen capture there).

EXIF Data Settings
EXIF Data Settings

The next part is the fun part – if you are bracketing your exposures correctly, PTGui will detect that and ask you an important question when you align the images in Step 2.

Step 2: Align Images – If you are not shooting HDR, this step is a lot simpler, but for those that enjoy HDR (even subtle HDR), this is of particular interest:

HDR Options
HDR Options

So, the deal here is that if you are shooting your bracketing handheld, you do not want to link to the original images.  I’m not sure what the distinction is, but according to PTGui instructions, that’s the best course of action.  Naturally, the converse holds true as well…if you are using a tripod, I guess it’s safe to link to the original images.  So, use the one best suited to your needs, and proceed with the alignment – PTGui will analyze and align everything for you (this is the stitching portion):

Aligning Images in PTGui
Aligning Images in PTGui

One the images are aligned, the Panorama Editor window will open – here it shows you how everything is overlaid to create the pano – use this as a reference point, and if things look good (they should, I’ve not experienced a scenario yet where I’ve had to deal with control points), you can close this editor:

Pano Editor
Pano Editor

Tab 4:  Exposure/HDR Settings

Step 3: Now, move to the Exposure/HDR tab.  Here is where you’ll enter the tone mapping settings to define how the HDR image will look once flattened and saved so you can view it in a regular program.  You can choose from a True HDR option (which is the one I used) or Exposure Fusion.  Give both a whirl so you can see how things differ…as I said, I like the True HDR version myself, but your mileage may vary:

HDR/Fusion Tone Mapping
HDR/Fusion Tone Mapping

The options for adjusting your tone mapping has a basic and advanced tab.  I leave it on the basic tab and just tweak the slider settings for compression, brightness, radius, saturation and contrast to taste.

HDR Options
HDR Options

Click OK to go back to the main window, and move to the last tab in the program – Create Panorama.

Tab 6: Create Panorama

Name Your File: You’ll want to give it a descriptive name so you can find it easily because once this is done a final step will be needed to crop your image so it looks right.  Also, if you want to have access to the HDR reference file, make sure in the output options, you check off both tone mapped and HDR panorama.

You are all set, it will now warp and render the final files for you.  Warning:  This is a pretty resource intensive task as up until now we’ve been using thumbnail views to define our parameters – now it has to use the original files and both stitch and render the HDR reference file.  If you are using your computer for other tasks as well, things may slow down a lot!

Once the final output jpg is created, go into your favorite image editor and crop off the black areas to finalize the panorama image for either print or web.

PTGui panorama
PTGui panorama

So, there’s the process.  I know, there’s many other pano processing programs out there, and all have their pros and cons.  What struck me as the biggest advantage is the ability to process both panorama and HDR image stacking at the same time.  For those interested in learning more about PTGui – they have a free trial download, and the program itself is very cost effective considering what it can do for you and your work flow.  There’s a personal license for $109 US and a Pro license for $206.  I’d recommend the Pro version.  Check it out here:  PTGui

Got your own personal panorama software preferences?  Share your thoughts on the pros and cons in the comments area – would love to hear what others are using and what their work flow looks like.  Enjoy the post and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!  Happy Shooting!

3 thoughts on “Creating HDR Panos with PTGui

  1. Wow Jason! Pretty slick indeed. I have a different HDR / Pano workflow since I use Photomatix and Photoshop, but this looks cool….. Is it available for Mac as well as Windows???

    1. It is available for both Mac and WIndows per their download page (I had to check to be sure it had the Universal Binaries there…) 🙂

      1. Yep I can also confirm it works on a Mac. Had been struggling to find a solution for HDR Pano’s until I cam across PTGui a few weeks back.

        I produced a *.hdr stitched file in PTGui and then opened that in Photomatix to create the final image.

        Blog link below was the result of my first try.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *