How to create composite photos

Have you seen that “nature photo challenge” that’s going around on Facebook?

I’ve been nominated by [beloved friend] to participate in the 7-Day Nature Photography Challenge. I’ll post one photo each day for seven days and will nominate one (lucky) person each day to pass this along, so we can flood Facebook with beautiful photos of nature. Today, I nominate [name of next victim] to continue the challenge (but only if you want to, and only if you have time).

While looking for suitable photos, I stumbled across a forgotten folder full of multi-frame composite images. Like this one, which I shot at Courthouse Butte in Arizona …

Courthouse butte composite 2 CL BLOG

… and this one, of the magnificent Ely Cathedral in England.

Three rooms Ely cathedral 2006 BLOG

It didn’t take long for the first message to arrive: “How did you do that?”

I’m glad you asked. The technique I’m about to describe is called “composite photography,” and basically consists of blending several frames to create a single image.

It’s very handy when you’re in a tiny enclosed space — or when the subject is too big to fit in a single frame. The results can look something like this:

… or this:

Pretty fancy, eh? And the good news is that it’s easier than you might think.

The steps I’ll describe in this tutorial use Photoshop, but I’ve also listed some other photo-merge options at the end of the post.


Step 1: Shoot something!

Shoot several frames until you’ve captured your entire subject. Make sure to overlap some of the content among successive frames, and shoot plenty of content around the periphery so you can crop the image later. Including a distinctive object in your composition (like, say, a lady in impossibly red pants) helps Photoshop work a little faster and more accurately.

Step 2: Open the files

In Photoshop, open the files you want to merge. Then go to File > Automate > Photomerge.

Step 3: Choose your merge files

A dialog box will ask you which files you want to merge. Choose “Add Open Files.”

Step 4: Grab a cup of coffee

Depending on your computer and the number/size of your files, Photoshop may take a minute or two to work its magic. Go grab a cup of coffee and congratulate yourself for being so clever.

Step 5: Flatten the image

As you savor your delicious coffee, you’ll soon see a composite of your photos. If something is misaligned simply choose the portion of the image in question and jostle it around until it looks right. Otherwise, flatten the image into a single layer.

Step 6: Fix the perspective

Your image may look a little distorted, especially if you shot the individual frames from different vantage points. Select the entire image and use either the “distort” or “warp” tools to correct any perspective problems.

Step 7: Crop and save

Once you’re satisfied with the perspective of your image, crop it and save it to your desktop (or other favorite workspace).

You can now give your image the finishing touches such as color-correction and sharpening, and then save a final version. Here’s mine:

This is just a suggested workflow, of course. There are a million other ways to create composites — including several kinds of dedicated software such as acropano, easypano, panavue, PTGui, and Autostitch. Many camera manufacturers also include some sort of stitch function in their proprietary software, and smart phones are increasingly offering that feature built-in, too. But no matter which method you use, I hope this post will inspire you to get out there and photograph your world.


  1. It’s a cool technique. And you can have fun with some of the layer blending effects along the way. It’s always intrigued me how, no matter what bit of software pops up claiming to do this, that or the other thing with photos – stitch them, re-colour them, whatever – Photoshop does it too. And better, because it’s got a LOT more subtle control over it than a lot of the one-function apps. Although you do have to know what you are doing (I’ve been working with it since v 1.01 of 1988, when it didn’t do much – but had potential…)

    • I agree wholeheartedly, Matthew: Photoshop is a “one-stop-shop” for me too, even if the more I learn about it, the more I realize I’m just beginning to scratch the surface. (BTW, I also had the pleasure of using Photoshop back in those near-prototypical days. Remember how, if you executed an action, the big boxes would march across the screen as Photoshop applied your change? It’s hard to believe how much it’s advanced and improved since then.)

    • Thank you very much, Andrea. After doing it by hand for years, I was surprised to learn how easy it is in the newer versions of Photoshop. Thank you for stopping by!

    • Well, you certainly win for the most enthusiastic comment! Thank you! 😄😄😄😄😄😄😄😄😄😆😀😀😀

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