Better group shots with Photo Merge

There is a time and a place for photoshop.

Just bear in mind, my background in photojournalism allowed very little use of Photoshop except for cloning out dust spots, dodging and burning.

My use of Photoshop was limited to what we used to do when we were making BW prints in the darkroom.

That said, there are times when photoshop can actually give me a better way to make a good picture.

The one that comes to mind most is Photoshop’s Photomerge feature.

As a finale for my class, I taught my students how a little thinking out of the box can give you a better quality image.

Rather than using a wide angle to include everyone but at a price of throwing away pixels, I showed them, in my mind, a better approach.

What I used:

  • Camera with 50 mm lens tethered with USB cord to MacBook Pro
  • tripod
  • 2 flash units on lights stands
  • 2 Cybersync radio receivers and 1 transmitter
  • Adobe Photoshop CS3

From the list above, you obviously don’t need the laptop, the flash units or the Cybersync radio slaves.

I was doing this group shot as a demonstration, so tethering made the most sense.

I wanted the sunset to appear as dramatic as possible so I lit my students.

Compare the stitched or final picture with one shot with my point-and-shoot G3 by Khai Le below.

By lighting my students, you can see how much more dramatic the scene looks.

Also bear in mind, these pictures were taken when the sun was almost below the horizon.

You can do this with just available light.

It’s available as a virtual reality picture.


While you don’t need a tripod, you will need a 50 mm lens which translates to about an 80 mm with the 1.6x magnification if you don’t have a full sensor dSLR.

Frame your group from head to toes then fire off as many as you need but let your pictures overlap by 1/3 so that Photoshop can have enough to find the seams and merge your images nicely.

  1. In Adobe Bridge CS3, I selected  these 2 pictures.
  2. Then under “Tools“, I chose the command “Photomerge
  3. There is another dialog box that asks you which kind of merge. I just chose the Automatic option
  4. When Photoshop is finished with its magic, you just crop out the areas where there are transparencies, save it in the format of your choice.

Most folks use Photo Merge to create panoramas.

I use it that way too for the occasional landscape I shoot.

Photo Merge gives you the biggest file possible because you’ll be merging numerous pictures depending on how wide horizontally you want to go.

You can even shoot a skyscraper vertically from bottom to top.

Hint: don’t rotate the picture when you want to stitch. Only after your stitch should you rotate your final image. Then you’ll get a tall picture.

The ideal location to shoot this would be from another elevated location so that you’re not tilting your camera upwards.

Remember to use a short telephoto. Wide angle lenses tend to distort the image too much. That creates problems for Photoshop when it comes time to stitch the individual images.

One final note: just because you can now stitch a 180° or 360 °, it doesn’t mean you must do so.

In the end, you must decide how much of the scene deserves to be immortalized in your canvas.

The wider the angle of view you choose, don’t forget the smaller everything will be.