Virtually Any Camera Can Take Ultra High-Resolution Landscape Photos: Here’s How

Virtually Any Camera Can Take Ultra High-Resolution Landscape Photos: Here’s How

No matter whether you’re using an older crop sensor DSLR, a newer full frame mirrorless, or a vintage film camera, you can most likely get a ton of resolution out of your photographs with this one trick.

The Abridged Version

The technique is the simply to take multiple photographs in separate pieces which can then be stitched together later. If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like doing panoramas in principle, you’re right. That is, you need to take a sequence of photographs with fairly significant overlap between frames in order to compile them all together to create a much higher-resolution image. Please note that this works much better when you have a normal focal length or longer. I’ve found that my 90mm macro does a fantastic job. In addition, it is crucial to have your camera set to manual mode. Below, I will go more in-depth about considerations to be made when taking all of your individual frames as well as considerations to make when stitching your frames together. 

Why Do It?

To start, you may want to ask yourself why you’d ever want to stitch together a bunch of individual frames to create a final photograph with through-the-roof resolution. It’s something I rarely do anymore other than to teach it to someone as a new skill. Personally, I’ve only felt the need to do it a few times. I prefer to think of it as an exercise of technique that rarely needs to be implemented, but when appropriate, having the skill in your back pocket will be much appreciated. In the feature image, I wanted to be able to show the magnitude of the approaching storm, but the widest lens I had on me was a 50mm. Instead of letting go of the image I saw and wanted, I decided to take more than a dozen photographs and stitch them together. The resulting photograph had resolution for days and accomplished the intention of mimicking a wide-angle lens.

In my own experience, as with the feature image, I’ve done this before when I wanted to be able to blow up the image to print at very large sizes. Another time I used this technique was on a trip to the Grand Canyon. After stitching together just over 30 frames, my resulting photograph was capable of printing at any size I could dream of wanting. The better part of it was in the ability to crop as much as I wanted and still get a good size for printing. This allowed me to play around with different framings I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about at the time but used the practice to train my eye for the next time. 

Taking Your Individual Frames

When it comes to taking your individual frames, do not follow any advice that states one specific rule you can always follow. There is no rule of thumb on how much the photographs should overlap that gives consistently good results. The amount of required overlap is lens-specific, and even within the same lens, different apertures require different amounts of overlap. My personal favorite lens to use for this method is my 90mm macro. There is no discernable distortion, and even wide open, the lens produces sharp images with little to no vignetting. As such, I need minimal overlap between frames to successfully stitch the images — just enough for Lightroom or Photoshop to put the frames together. 

By no means do you need a nice macro lens to do this. You can use virtually any lens you have, including a kit lens. The factors that will influence the amount of needed overlap are the amount of vignette and distortion your lens has. If there’s a lot of distortion, I’m not confident lens profiles would adequately correct the lens’ shortcomings enough to assume you could get away with minimal overlap. Instead, I may go with at least one third overlap. 

I do not like using profile corrections to compensate for vignetting. Depending on what aperture you’re shooting at, you’ll have different amounts of vignetting, and trying to find the exact right compensation is unlikely. Instead, I would suggest looking up reviews of your lens and get a sense for how much EV you lose at f/5.6 or f/8 and how far the vignette reaches into the center of the frame. Rather than relying on lens corrections, I would instead suggest ensuring you have enough overlap to compensate for the vignetting.  

Stitching Your Frames

Using Lightroom or Photoshop, it’s quite straightforward. In Lightroom, you select all of the frames, right-click, select Photo Merge, and from there, you select Panorama. Depending on the number of frames it has to merge and the file size of the individual photographs, this process can take little to no time all the way to several minutes. Once it renders an example, you have a few options: Spherical, Cylindrical, and Perspective. If there are no straight lines in any of the frames that are going into the composition, I prefer Spherical, as it merges the photos as if you’re standing inside a globe and projecting and merging the photos on the surface of the globe. If there are straight horizontal lines, I think the Perspective option is best (the labeling kind of says it all). If there are straight vertical lines, Cylindrical is best as it is (similar to Perspective), like you’re standing inside a cylinder and projecting and merging the photos onto the wall of the cylinder. In Photoshop, the process is a good deal easier. If you’re starting in Lightroom, open all images as layers into Photoshop. Select all of the layers, and under the Edit tab, select Auto-Align Layers. I tend to roll with Auto from there.

Final Thoughts

As you may recall from the beginning of this article, I rarely implement this technique. Instead, I save it for specific situations where I want to be able to make large prints. Or, as with the feature image, I would like to emulate a wide-angle lens with something narrower. I suggest practicing in situations locally to make sure you have a strong sense of what your lens can and cannot do.

I highly suggest not including anything that conveys movement. If you’re shooting at a slow shutter speed and there’s water in the frame, you will likely fail to get a good final result. Similarly, if it’s windy out and you’ll have leaves in the final photograph, I would shoot at the fastest shutter speeds you can reasonably get. Otherwise, you can get weird results. Finally, I wouldn’t worry too much about ramping up the ISO a little beyond what you normally would if it would make a difference. Once you’ve stitched together a dozen or so images, you’re hardly going to notice the noise that may bother you in the singular frames. 

Is this a technique you’ve used before? If so, please feel free to share your work in the comments section. 

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I did something like this - once. Took my 70-200, took 30 (ish?) photos and stitched them all together.
You know how long it took me to fix all the stitching and parallax errors? 2 days.
You know how long it took me to load all those 30-ought files into photoshop and manage to process it all? Several hours. And my PC was no slouch, with a top-end CPU, GPU and plenty of RAM to spare.

But holy hell, just saving the damn thing took a good minute or two, the size was gigantic (the PSB is 3.8 GB and the JPEG about 300 MB).

Moral of the story? I'd much rather a high MP sensor with a good lens and save myself half of this trouble.

Ha! I can't say that I've had that happen. I would probably never do it again if that was the case! Did you end up doing anything with the final file?

Well, first, I had to downsize it as it was too large for my phone to be able to load and show people.
Then I figured, hey, I got this huge MP count photo (46,409x9774), why not make a print out of it out on something cool like glass and have it cover my living room wall?

Yeah, that's when logistics stopped me. Not only was it neigh impossible to find someone who can print a photo that large (I think over 3 meters without reducing DPI), I physically had no way of transporting something so big as it was too big for the printing place to ship it.

Ha! That's quite the place to be. Too much resolution for any practical purpose... You don't hear of that too often

Yep, stitching is more trouble than it's worth. Given the choice, I'd take one of the cameras that can do multi-shot high res.

You say that but I've found it to come in clutch a couple times. In general though, yes I agree.

You can use a panorama head to avoid parallax problems when you shoot, which helps avoid the most boring part of the post-production process.

True, but, I can also use the cost of a Pano head to get a higher resolution camera to begin with.
I'm not against super resolution photos, but the expensive equipment you'll need just isn't worth it for the limited use of the result

I have done this for a few years now with great results on landscape shots.
Sony alpha 7R IV with the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens.

You've done this with a Sony a7R IV!? I can't even imagine how big those files are! Great example shot. Thanks for you sharing!

Yes some of my panoramas are more than 60,000 pixels wide
More examples

Those are great! Thanks for sharing!

The other part of the equation is having a powerful enough system to handle larger file sizes. My 2 systems both use 2 fast NAS storage systems combined with a MacPro (Trashcan) or Mid 2019 MacBook Pro.
Another essential tool is a large enough 4K monitor (Eizo 32") as an example) to spot flaws such as misalignment with combined images. Usually things architecturally related always pose some issues. I have found that detecting perfectly level images is very difficult on my 15 inch MacBook Pro.

I've done both this technique and the one where you take a bunch of photos of the same scene and enlarge and stack the images together for a higher-res picture than the originals. Same idea as the pixel-shift technology, but the shifting being done via your hand rather than at the sensor level. Works pretty well for static landscape shots.

Interesting idea! I'll have to give that a shot

With over 200 stitched panoramas under my belt, I have the following comments:
1. The resolution of the image depends on the focal length of the lens. Want more detail? Use a longer lens.
2. The best gear for panos isn't full frame. You run into stability and depth of field issues. I prefer a micro four-thirds camera with a 45-150mm lens, usually at 100-150mm.
3. The longer the lens, the less distortion and the easier the stitching will go.
4. With any kind of subject movement, you'll have weird half-people, etc. Shoot extra frames to give yourself more to work with. Fix the problems on the individual images before you stitch.
5. You're shooting with a tele, and you'll have depth of field problems. Focus stacking comes to the rescue. Yes, it multiplies your number of shots and you'll have to stack dozens of images. Get used to it.
6. Gigapan Stitch software (and HugIn) are superior to Photoshop for this kind of work. Both do a smoother job and take less processing power.
7. At a certain point you realize that this kind of ultra-sharpness is only worth it for subjects with lots of detail. Foggy mornings are not made for stitched panoramas.

All great tips! Thanks for sharing your work - I really like the snowy park photograph.

Beautifully done. Fun to view!

I did this for over 2 years because i could not afford a good Wide Angle lens.
This christmas i finaly bought one.
And as a hobbyist I would never ever make "panoramas" if i don'T have to.
Even if i stil have only a 16 MPix fuji X-T1 camera, all the work on the PC and possible problems are not worth it for me.
The only time i do Panorama is milkyway and that sometimes is a huuuuge pain to rework (vertical panoramas with seperat exposures are the worst)...
The less i sit at the PC to rework the more i go out to photograph.

Affinity Photo has the best stitching algorithm, in my opinion.

The very affordable Photoshop alternative Affinity Photo (one time license fee) has an impressive stitching tool.  How it is able to intuitively handle a series of photos that have alignment issues will amaze you.  Highly recommended.

I'm going to check it out. Assume you can kick the tires before buying?

Yes. My understanding is that they currently have a 90 day free trial period and a reduced purchase price.

I use this technique a lot to do both long exposure shots of high movement areas with water, and for large macro prints. Takes a lot of practice to get good shots with all that water movement!

A peacock feather (both shots massively reduced in size for posting to web)

Did someone say stitched panoramas?

Some cameras have a sweep panorama function, you just push the camera slowly and it does the work for you.
So just do a bunch of these and then you only need to stitch the horizontal seams.

I've started using this technique to take advantage of the compression and shallow DOF using a longer lens when photographing a subject (a model, or in this case a motorcycle) while still capturing the surroundings. This image is 11 vertical images horizontally stitched in Lightroom. The images were shot with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens @200mm, and this would not have been possible with a wider lens and just cropping it down.

Why all the focus on using Photoshop for this? There are many specialized programs that really simplifies and speeds up the work! I do it regularly - usually on a more modest number of images! My recommendation is try the very capable ICE from Microsoft - it handles an 'unlimited' number of photos and does Gigapixel panorama or matrix images. It is FREE and very good! Disadvantage? It is more or less fully automatic ...
You can always polish up the result in Photoshop afterwards if you want or need to!
Also Affinity Photo is quite good!
Just try ICE! Don't skip it just because it's FREE! :-)

seconded Sven Lidstrom !

Dedicated "one-trick pony" software is the way to go.

Can I also suggest the excellent free "Panorama Stitcher Mini" from the Mac App Store - it is even simpler than Hugin and does a fantastic job of correcting any verticals too (even better than the wonderful other "one trick pony" that is "DXO Perspective") !

For a small fee the upgrade to the "pro-version" of Panorama Stitcher Mini allows you to fuse more images - while the free version is a near foolproof way to start with stitching multiple images. So good it is, that my ultrawides now spend a lot more time at home or deep down in my kitbag.

The latest version of PS does a crappy job of merging photos. And they took that function out of Camera Raw.