Feedback, please: Photomerge in Photoshop

[Update: Though the interactive mode of Photomerge is no longer installed by default in Photoshop CS4, you can download & install the plug-in: see links for Mac & Win.]

The Photoshop team could use your guidance in setting priorities around our panorama-creation tools.

The automatic alignment & blending features introduced in CS3 have been really well received by photographers creating panoramas.  Panorama creation in CS2 and earlier relied on use of an interactive dialog (screenshot) that enabled the user to adjust the position and rotation of images before blending them together.  The improved algorithms in CS3, however, can usually produce good results without any user interaction, which is why Photomerge now defaults to “Auto” (screenshot) and bypasses the interactive dialog unless you request it.

So, here’s the question: Do we even need the interactive dialog anymore?  It’s built on an aging framework, so keeping it around would require some investment.  If you create panoramas using Photoshop CS3 and rely on the dialog, please let us know the details (via the comments) of how & why.


PS–General feedback on panorama creation in Photoshop is always welcome, too, though the fate of the dialog is the most urgent issue.

[Update: As of CS4 the plug-in is no longer installed by default, but you can still download and use it if you’d like. –J.]

0 thoughts on “Feedback, please: Photomerge in Photoshop

  1. I think you should take almost *all* of the dialogs out of Photoshop. For the most part, they just get in the way, and reflect an old way of doing things, from the days when computers were too slow to do most photo edits in real-time.
    Notice that it’s now standard practice for Photoshop users to turn on all the Preview checkboxes, except when toggling them to compare the change with the original. The name of the checkbox and the preview version of the image in so many PS dialogs traps you into this preview-and-render mindset. By the time CS4 comes out, if it’s not almost entirely real-time, you’re in danger of being bypassed by all these GPU-based photo editors that are appearing lately.
    Having taken away the preview thumbnail, most PS dialogs become just a small collection of input controls. These can go on either the Options bar, or if there are too many to fit, in a panel that opens up temporarily for the purpose. The Preview checkbox can appear here, too, though I’d rename it to suggest its “before/after” nature in this new scheme.
    Any dialog like Liquify that needs serious render time on even modern hardware can still be done inline in the main Photoshop window, just using the same Check/No control pair used by the Text and Transform tools. That is, the effect isn’t applied at full quality until you click the checkmark button.
    Dialogs like Liquify and Vanishing Point that have their own set of custom tool buttons can append them temporarily to the main PS tool bar. Not replace, append: don’t replace old modality with new modality.
    Here’s how it flows:
    1. Pick one of the filters or other tools hidden away in menus — Gaussian Blur, for example.
    2. If there are options, a panel slides open, or the Options bar is populated with the controls.
    3. User fiddles with the controls and before/after button, the results appearing in the document window.
    4. If the tool is fast enough to be “live”, settings are active until the user switches to another tool. If not, the user can click one of the Check/No buttons, or upon switching to another tool they get asked if they want the effect applied.
    5. Perhaps Smart Filters become the default in CS4. If so, clicking on the Smart Filter icon for the effect in the Layers panel makes the controls reappear.
    Exemplars: Lightroom and Luxology’s modo.
    Overall goal: decrease modality, increase real-time use.

  2. John
    As much improved as the new Photomerge is I still need to use the Interactive dialog a lot. Most of my panos are done hand held on the spur of the moment and they end up kind of erratic and Auto function fails.
    Thanks for asking

  3. Your “please let us know the details ” link is broke, fix it so we can reply. Or I can do it here if you like…

  4. Ditch it, the new algorithm is much better. Though we could really use an option that allowed us to control its behavior, like view point correction, horizon alignment and spherical, cylindrical or flat options. The current behavior makes me use image warp and transform far too much. I wouldn’t need that much post processing if we could add some input to it.
    I would really love if there was a “HDR + Panorama” Automate option too.
    Maybe you could trim it down to Auto and Advanced, while later would give you all the bells and whistles you could possible need.

  5. I use photomerge from CS3 for all my panoramics exclusively now- and “Auto” usually does get it right the first time- however, there have been a few photos that benifited from going back and taking a “perspective” and making it “cylindrical” instead-But since using the CS3 version- I’ve never had to go to “interactive Layout” like I did with CS2 and Canon’s stitch program; The blend mode in CS3 seems to take care of this in all but the most extreme cases ( and that is usually if I didn’t watch my camera settings)

  6. Hey John-
    I only do a tiny bit of panoramic photography, but I do use auto-align for lots more, usually comes from video work. Anyhow, since CS3 got here I haven’t used the dialog once and frankly had you not posted I doubt I’d even notice its disappearance in CS4.

  7. Hi — I still use the interactive dialog from time to time (just last night actually) — not sure how to “contact” you with my details though?
    [Please supply them here, thanks. –J.]

  8. Having a way to intercede and get away from automation is to be welcomed and treated as an important consideration. Without it I have no where to go, in Photoshop, to address a sticky stitching problem. At the moment, I revert to Pano Tools, but I have not paid for an upgrade there because PS does so well.
    The majority of my work uses Reposition Only and many times I’ll go to Interactive Layout to determine the best approach. If neither works, then I use Pano Tools.
    I do grid arrays rather than straight panoramas to obtain image quality that rivals (dare I say exceeds?) an 8×10 scanned to 720 dpi. I have to be able to control the warping in order to avoid having the objects being misshaped as much as possible. If anything, I would like Photomerge allow access to tweaking some of these parameters to avoid having to use Transform later.

  9. Sometimes my panos don’t stitch correctly when auto is used, so please keep the other options available. Perhaps you could strip out the other options and make them a plug-in available in the Goodies, such as with large tiles and older file format support? Then only those of us who want it can have it installed.

  10. I can live without the interactive dialog. I used CS3 for a lot of handheld panoramas last summer. Some were recent photos, and some were from images that were years old. Once or twice on some of the old images I used the Interactive dialog.

  11. While the new algorithm is absolutely, no question about it better, I would say for scientific users, you have to keep the interactivity. In fact, there are some additional interactive features that we would love to see.
    I know that we’ve talked about it before, but development of our own solution is proceeding ahead with some additional features, algorithms and refinements for accuracy and speed. Our CS department is holding up some of the details as they seem to have gotten the licensing lawyers involved, but when we are ready, I would love to show it to you.

  12. I shoot wildlife and when possible I shoot some wildlife based panoramic photography. When I do come across the opportunity to do this, it’s usually handheld with an IS lens and I need to play with the shots a bit to get them to align properly. So, while the auto works a lot of the time, from time to time I require the manual controls — so, I’d rather it not be removed (updated would be nice though!).

  13. I don’t do a whole lot of “panoramic” as most folks would, I assemble very hi-res mosaics of aerial images (which are sometimes geo-referenced afterward) using the Auto-merge feature. That being the case, I’m very impressed with the automated features – to the point of not using the options dialog. BUT, I would like to see perhaps an ‘advanced’ option to allow the auto feature to be restricted to like the X or Y axis of the images. Often the nature of the imagery (plane tilts, crabs, during capture) causes the auto align to sort of sequentially distort the images. Resorting to a free transform over a grid as described previously is an alternative that might not be needed with some more “picky” controls that I might be able to get to when needed. All in all this is a wonderful addition to Photoshop!

  14. I’ve found the CS3 photomerge to be WAYYY more useful. I didn’t end up using the prior version much since it required a lot of manual tweaking.
    I don’t need or use the dialog per se, but I would like to be able to edit the individual layers generated (as an option) if that’s possible for some fine tweaking in the main interface.

  15. I think it´s good if you keep it, because people might use it, that´s all. But as Pedro said “HDR+ PANORAMA” it will be perfect and I would kill if i could retouched properly an equirectangular panorama with out converting every time the most difficult thing are the edges 😉 . Could adobe add the option of complete 360º panorama ? 😉

  16. I’ve used the new photomerge and align functions in CS3 a bit now. I haven’t had to go back to the interactive dialogue at all. I’d vote to trash it and just leave “auto”, “perspective” and “cylindrical”.

  17. Honestly, I still use Panotools for stitching images together. The automatic stitching is only decent for very casual use, it certainly isn’t accurate enough for professional images. The interactive tools are still not accurate enough — they’ve been simplified so much that they’ve lost all ability to be as precise as they need to be.
    Panotools has the ability to get ridiculously complex, and takes forever to learn, and forever to tweak with each image, but at least when you’re done, the image is just about as perfect as it could ever get. There’s a reason people doing high-end panoramas have been using it for almost a decade now, your team should stop looking at consumer software like Stitcher and the other crap that comes with $100 digital cameras and look at the one piece of software professionals are using.
    In my experience working with others who DON’T do a lot of panoramas other than the occasional backyard photo of their kids’ birthday, they love the auto mode and are frightened of the more complex settings.

  18. Sorry, John, but while the Photomerge in CS3 is a vast improvement over CS2, it still gives me too little control compared to specialized panorama software. I use both PTGui Pro and Autopano Pro — they both can very nicely handle HDR panos.

  19. Photomerge is better CS3, but it’s still not satisfactory for my image stitching. It can still be confused and the blends aren’t sophisticated enough. Since Photomerge’s manual editing is pretty lame, I don’t see why you shouldn’t dump it. If the automation is good enough for someone’s job, great. The real alternative to the automation is shifting to a more powerful stitching tool.
    Or should we ask for a new “Johnny Cash” mode where Photoshop offers a full featured stitching mode with control points, geometry controls and advanced blending tools?

  20. As some others, i’d prefer to have it redesigned, rather than skipped.
    First (but I’m not sure whether it was in your question or not, sorry I’m french and blonde at the same time) I very often need to choose between cylindrical or perspective (at least), and I felt that the Auto mode gave me stitching errors that other modes didn’t.
    So please, don’t skip this part.
    About the CS2-like reposition dialog, I don’t use it, but I’d be sometimes glad to have a manual dialog to choose horizon position instead.
    Thanks for all the good work!

  21. I think Adobe needs to ask itself who they want to cater to with Photomerge. Sure, the new photomerge is great, and it’s automatic results are usually fine – but what about those times when the automatic result is no good? Here, you are pretty much lost. The honest truth is, there is no one-button solution to panorama making, and compared to other stitchers, such as the PT GUIs (I prefer PTAssembler), Photomerge is a toy – a toy that fails once in a while. At minimum, we need to be able to define a center point, so we can level horisons, and a mini-preview would be useful for selecting projection formats as well. More projection types are also welcome, and ultimately manual control point assignment would be good if the automatic routine fails.

  22. Ohh, I’m very glad to leave my feedback on this. I do quite a lot of stitching using Photoshop CS3, and the new photostitcher is the best all-purpose stitcher bar none, especially with the “blending.”
    However, the new algorithms are not so good that I don’t still need the interactive layout — 90 to 95% of the time auto works great, but sometimes there are some images that need a bit more care to align properly.
    That said, the interactive layout does show it’s age, and rather than the current layout, what would be awesome is an checkbox option to confirm placement before blending gets done. At that point, you can group images differently if for some reason they don’t align up right (which happens, albeit rarely), and then a “force” option, where you select a few points and corresponding points and the alignment is forced.
    I wouldn’t bother keeping the current interactive layout alive, but the above would be awesome. I’d love to pay for Photoshop all over again, just for the above.

  23. I’ve shot 1,000’s of panoramas (Full Spherical hi rez georeferenced virtual tours) and use CS3 & Lightroom extensively in my workflow, but not for stitching.
    My workflow is fully batchable where PS3 controls Pgtui & Pano2VR to do the stitching & output. All good. But it would be nice if PS4 had some serious panoramic creation capabilities, then perhaps I could do it all in 1 program 🙂 While you’re at it merging the HDR functionality would be good as well 😉
    Aaron Spence

  24. The improved photomerge was one of the most pleasant surprises in CS3. I had to look at your screenshots to see what you were talking about, because I had never seen the interactive dialog in CS3. I’ve never found a need for it. I would certainly keep the options (i.e. perspective, reposition only, etc) as auto doesn’t always give me what I’m looking for.

  25. I do use multiple settings in the dialog.
    But I never, ever use the manual setting. EVER.
    CS3 gets it right most of the time, but sometimes I use Auto and sometimes I use Cylindrical. If it just toggled those two options I’d be happy.
    BTW, the Liquify filter helps a lot in getting some of the stitching process’s mistakes.
    Just yesterday I put together a 360º panorama, that ended up 9.88 gigs in size! It’s be nice if one could also have the ability to set an upper limit to the size of the file. Even my Mac Pro took its sweet time with that monster.

  26. I love the new auto-blend feature in CS3, I create hi resolution aerial panoramas and the other blending solutions were taking forever to blend the 3 to 6 gig 16 bit files. CS3 chews through them much more quickly.
    One thing I am wondering though is would it be possible to have CS3 be able to blend over the wrap on a 360×180 spherical panorama. As it stands now you kind of have to jockey the layers around such that one of them goes over the wrap.
    for a visual explanation.

  27. I concur with the comments above about automatic being great for a high percentage of panoramas (in the context that I’m a low usage stitcher).
    I would ask for something else which could be incorporated – perhaps triggered by the Lightroom export SDK you announced, whereby the set of images to be stitched leave Lightroom knowing they are coming back as a new single file which is linked to all in a stack.
    Scope creep? Sorry!
    [Not at all; I think it’s a great idea. –J.]

  28. While the auto tool is great 80% of the every know and then it gets screwed up with a handheld pano or one that I shot right to left. For true high-end pro work I still use external tools and would love to see CS4 incorporate some of the advanced tools available in PTGUI.

  29. I use the photomerge quite a bit and I have yet to find a need for reverting to the interactive dialog. The job PM does is outstanding.

  30. I also use ‘auto’ for most of my stitches, although I can imagine needing the interactive UI for the odd 2% of the time things just aren’t right.
    But if it was zapped, I’d probably never notice.

  31. I just used Photomerge for a commercial job and selected Auto. Eight 16 bit images merged into two rows by four columns producing a final image printed 88 inches by 220 inches. Auto worked excellently on the first try. I think the interactive dialog can go away.

  32. If you had asked this question when CS3 Extended first became available, I’d have voted to keep the interactive option. But now that I’ve used the CS3 photomerge feature for almost a year, my advice is to give the CS2 manual tweaking tools the heave-ho. I’ve used photomerge hundreds of times and have yet to use the interactive feature.
    I use photomerge to combine (a) images shot using a leveling panorama head, (b) handheld images, (c) orthographic aerials, and (d) scans — reflection and transmission — of images larger than my scanners. The auto option gets it right most of the time, and the perspective, cylindrical, and reposition only options get it right the rest of the time.
    CS3’s hotomerge even stitched together a 140-degree, intricate, outdoor panorama shot ten years ago on slide film using a 50mm lens and a polarizer. That was an image I never expected to stitch successfully, but CS3’s auto option did the job effortlessly.
    For artistic purposes, photomerge in CS3 comes mighty damn close to perfection, and the interactive option is superfluous. For scientific purposes, not knowing where the control points are, and not knowing how the geometry of the image has been modified, is a problem. Therefore, at this time, I think of CS3’s photomerge as an artistic rather than scientific feature. Overall, with photomerge in CS3, Adobe’s engineers have hit a home run.
    [Very cool, and really glad to hear it. –J.]

  33. I think photomerge can be enhanced to generate automatic 3D images from a variety of photos pointed in the same general direction but from slightly different angles. That way (a) objects can be removed that don’t need to be there. Stereo images can be generated very easily. 3D layers can be imported into Adobe Aftereffects for pan/dolly shots. I think these would be some very cool features which can be built on photomerge.
    [Yep–all really interesting ideas, to be sure. It’s to explore possibilities like these that Adobe is building its brain trust. –J.]

  34. I feel this is just like asking a bunch of Photographers online, if they still wanted to use manual focus on their autofocus lenses. An awful lot will say nah, never use it, whereas to many it will be absolutely indispensable. Now with any tool in PS, the real power comes with being able to tweak things, as you want them. Reducing any manual control is to my mind, taking PS into Point + Shoot territory, no matter how good the auto is, manual can always be useful. Most importantly, us creative types don’t always want things to match up neatly. At times I deliberately defocus, I over exposure, I blur pictures, I accentuate grain..etc. Why, perfection is kinda boring and sometimes doing it wrong is more right. 😉

  35. I had to think about this one for a bit. I rarely use Photomerge and the dialog box, unless I’m doing panoramas shot with my “snapshot” digital that I always carry. For handheld panoramas…it works smashingly and I rarely use the dialog box.
    I think that the dialog box should still be accessible if using Auto-Align to merge panoramas as I do (because Photomerge only works in 8-bit). I like having the option to tweak the output when creating spherical HDR panoramas.
    That said, I’d love to see PS continue to develop it’s stitching capabilities. For professional work, I still use Stitcher, but what I would really love to see would be for Photoshop to be able to read Stitcher’s XML file and be able to render out 32-bit panoramas from there. Stitcher’s render engine is unusable in 32-bits, and since I finish, retouch, and color-correct my final images in CS3….it would make my life so much easier.
    [We certainly have ideas on how to take things further. So many ideas, so little time! 😉 –J.]

  36. Hi John,
    As mentioned the CS3 algorithms work incredibly well and for most standard ways of shooting horizontal and vertical they work very well. BUT as when a photographer works asymmetrically or freeform the auto can’t figure it out and the artist needs to intervene.
    Rather than cutting present functionality it would be great to improve it with perspective, transform, scaling, and tone matching.
    Also when moving layers in the CS3 stacked post Photomerge the tearing results don’t allow for true interactivity and refinement.

  37. Hello John:
    Sorry for my bad english. I am from Spain. I just want to tell you about PhotoMErge that this tool is not well easy to use due to the fact that the translation is spanish is not well implemented. And the Help is not at the level I need to use it. SO I have to search and try and back again.
    I think I will get results in some months but hard to use when you don’t dominate the english language..

  38. I totally agree with Katrin Eismann…
    For an example of how a friendly and fast user interface can work please check out the DOUBLETAKE pano program:
    Thanks again for asking

  39. The auto function works great for me, ususally these are pictures from stage productions done with a wide angle where I need to fuse these images together. I will not miss the dialog.

  40. I hope I’m not too late to add a plea for those of us who use CS3 on a daily basis, but not as photographers creating panoramas.
    I am a photo restorer, usually working on photos a 100 years old or more. These are often torn, or broken into a number of pieces as a result of being stored away in an inappropriate place.
    CS3’s Photomerge is a godsend for these problem photos, and saves many hours of “tweaking” to line up the pieces. Usually, the auto merge & blend does the job, but when there are odd-shaped pieces, or missing sections, the interactive function is an absolute necessity to get to that critical halfway point before the auto function can take over.
    So please don’t forget those of us who don’t have whole photos to merge together!
    Also, I’m not sure that the best photo manipulation tool in the market should be reducing functionality – shouldn’t that be left to its lesser siblings and competitors?
    Happy Christmas!
    Cheers Steve

  41. I too hope I am not too late to add a comment. Please keep the option to use the interactive layout, even if, as suggested above, as an optional plugin.
    [Yep–per the feedback we’ve gotten here, that’s the plan of record: remove the interactive plug-in from the default installation, but keep it available as a free download. –J.]
    I personally use Photomerge to piece together scans of objects to large for one pass on my scanner and I have found that the automatic option leaves distortions behind that the manual option does not. I suppose with a photograph the amount of detail might mask any imperfections but, with what I scan (Which is artwork) there are larger areas where there isn’t so much detail and the color is fairly constant. There an imperfections is easily seen.
    Sometimes too the auto option does not merge pieces together that, when manually moved into position, the interactive option eventually catches. I haven’t figured out why, I just know it does what it does.

  42. Please leave interactive layout in the Photomerge dialog! Auto never works correctly due to the type of photos I merge together after scanning in whole rolls of film. In fact, I’d like to request that there be an additional feature for the interactive layout: only load the photos and stitch when the photos are dragged and dropped–don’t stitch automatically at the beginning! It wastes a lot of time to wait for the algorithm to fail when I could help it along with some suggestions.

  43. I have been using hugin for a couple years now. Nothing else seems able to get a straight horizon no matter what option i use. I do the same panorama about 15 times a day. (production environment) I would LOVE if photoshop could do this properly because i have to open all the images in PS anyways for head transfers and removing unsightly objects.

  44. Keep the interactive dialog. 99% of the time it i snot needed, but occasionally it is th eonly way to make the thing work. The last one was a panorama where there was a wind blowing, so the leaves were moving and confused the auto align. After working with the interactive dialog a bit, it came out perfect.

  45. I’m new to HDR and have been experimenting with panorams. According to a lot of post that I have read, they suggest photomerging the differently exposed (bracketed)shots into a series of differently exposed panoramas but making sure that each is stitched exactly the same way using the same control points for each panorama – and then lastly processing as an HDR image.
    Q: Can you set control points or re-use on a subsequent phtomerge? I’d like not to have to buy an add-on package to handle this…

  46. Are you considering using David Lowe’s SIFT algorithm to improve the matching (and arrangement) of individual images into the panoramas generated by Photoshop?
    [We already use SIFT, though I’m not familiar with David specifically. –J.]

  47. Unfortunately, with more time invested using the new CS4 stitching plugin it is feeling like a downgrade. I’m finding in our work that the interactive feature is really missed. We photograph a lot of original artwork, sometimes very large pieces that have many stitches. We have discovered that paintings with large areas of little contrast, detail or solid color areas really fool the new CS4 plugin. We find consistently that the CS3 plugin is superior for these more challenging jobs in auto (surprisingly) and with the interactive feature.
    We have been nothing but impressed with the stitching plugin and it has really improved our workflow, but I really think the team should reconsider and “put some investment” into the interactive tool for stitching. Removing features because “auto” works so well hardly seems to promote the professional tool that Photoshop CS4 is and should be.
    Many thanks for listening,

  48. We had to made a lot of scannings of very large childrens drawings (50x70cm/20ix28i)with a small A4/letter scanner. When we tried to use the automatic feature for putting the right pieces together with photomerge, Photoshop made a mess of it. We got complete new compositions. So we had to put the pieces togheter with the dialog box in photomerge. With a little help, photomerge did the job perfectly. It saved us a lot of expensive and time consuming camera work. When we have to do such kind of job again in the future, we will have to use an older version of Photoshop.
    [You don’t need to use an older version; you just need to download the optional plug-in. –J.]

  49. I use the photo merge with CS3 when scanning large prints for photo restoration work. The auto function works very well for this, the key is you make sure you give a good overlap. When it doesn’t work so well a photo restoration will be harder to do so its over to the interactive mode.
    [You can download & install the interactive mode of Photomerge in CS4: see links for Mac & Win. –J.]

  50. Photomerge UI not working in Snow Leopard. Shows up in the sys info of PSCS4, but not in File/Automate/Photomerge. What am doing wrong? Installed into //Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS4/Plug-ins/Automate. Any help would be much appreciated.

  51. Automerge in Photoshop CS# is not working in Snow Leopard? At least mine gets an error message 8800 saying this functionality may not be available.

  52. I think as the software advances, it is very important to preserve the old, more customizable interactive modes, though perhaps a solution should be found to “get it out of the way.”
    Time and again I’ve run into issues where a little hand-tweaking is needed. It works 90% of the time, but that 10% is very important! That 10% is what separates the professional from the noobie.

  53. I’ve also found in the past that the auto function in photo merge works well when I’ve been scanning photos for Photo restoration work. However times are a changing and the advances in this area are impressive.

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