Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Have you ever come across a scene that was just awe inspiring and you wanted to capture an image worthy of printing on a larger canvas to hang on your wall, but your camera's resolution is not as high as it should be to keep the print turning out nice and sharp? Good news! There is a workaround that can help to remedy this with a little bit of extra effort while out in the field. Especially if you have a zoom lens available to you.
There are other reasons that you might want to do this as well, for instance you might want additional post editing room with your final image and additional pixels to work with can help in this endeavor. If you already have a higher resolution camera this trick might not be super useful for you, but who knows. Maybe you are trying to print something very very large!
Example breakdown of focal length shots from one of my portfolio panoramas illustrating how you can obtain additional resolution while keeping a similar aspect ratio. Please note that the image is for illustrative reference only.
The panorama that is shown above was taken using a total of seven images from my Nikon Z6 in the portrait orientation. I did not take this photo in an attempt to add resolution, but rather in an attempt to actually make a panorama of the scene that was in front of me, however it works as an excellent example of the trick I am attempting to illustrate. I added a vertical black box to approximately illustrate the portion of the image that is representative of each 70mm portrait shot. I then pulled out an approximate 24mm portion in the center of the image shown in the white box. I then further broke that white 24mm image down into approximately nine 200mm images. Please not that I did not put any effort into verifying that this is the actual focal lengths that fit into the image and am only using this for illustrative purposes.
As can be seen, if you have a beautiful landscape scene in front of you but you have a lower resolution camera you can "construct" a larger resolution image from multiple zoomed in images to create the same image that you would otherwise obtain from a single 24mm snapshot. This is a powerful tool for photographers on a budget that I myself regularly keep in the back of my mind. While my Nikon Z6's 24MP sensor is more than enough to print a typical 36x24 canvas, it does not allow much room for error in the composition of the scene.
Obviously with most of the pictures that end up in my portfolio, I had prepared for the photo and the composition so there isn't usually a concern for issues with printing the images but it is still a handy trick to note for post processing freedoms.
It is important to note that this process does not work for all scenes. In those situations, you will unfortunately be limited to the original resolution of your camera. These situations tend to include rapidly changing lightening or movement in the scene to be photographed. So, if you regular shoot in these situations it might still be a better idea to invest in a higher resolution camera if you need those extra pixels for what you are working towards.
Now to pull this trick off you will need software that can generate a panorama for you, and a set of images from which to pull from. I believe there are plenty of free options to do this available out there, but I use Lightroom, which makes this task incredible easy to do. As far as taking the images is concerned, you can often do this handheld by setting up the focus and exposure settings for the main subject of the photo and then locking these settings in. You will then want to take a series of photos that overlap by approximately 50%. A good rule of thumb for the orientation to take the photos in is that if you want the final photo to be a landscape you should take the photos in portrait orientation and vice versa for a photo that is to be a portrait oriented photo. Just make sure that you zoom in as much as you can to get the most detail into the final photo that is merged together. Additionally, it might be a good idea to make sure that all of the photos turned out okay before leaving to head home on your camera's viewscreen.
Now load up Lightroom, and follow the short and easy steps below to get your end results:
Lightroom screenshots of generating a merged Panorama photo
Select all of the photos that are to be included in the final results.
Right click on one of the selected photos.
In the menu scroll up to "Photo Merge" and select the "Panorama" option. On Windows computers you can also use the hotkey "Ctrl+M" for this step.
You will be presented with a screen giving a few different options.
You can play with the different settings to see which you like best for your situation, "Spherical", "Cylindrical", or "Perspective" but leaving it set to "Spherical" is often all you will need.
You can also play with the "Boundary Warp" slider, I usually leave it set to 0 in order to keep the image from looking distorted, but different situations might call for adjustments here.
As with merging different photos together, you will end up with white space at the edges. This can be dealt with by either doing a content aware "Fill Edges" or with the "Auto Crop" setting. I would stay away from the "Fill Edges" setting unless the edges aren't too complex.
I would always leave the "Auto Settings" checkbox turned off as you will want to make your own adjustments after Lightroom generates your merged photo.
Once Lightroom is finished merging your photo, crop it down to your desired aspect ratio, edit it as you desire, and enjoy!
I hope this photography trick is useful to some of you, and as always have a good one until next time!