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From RAW to FINAL: Panoramic Long Exposure Photography

Hello everyone,

here's another post in my series: From RAW to Final, where I show you how I take an image all the way from RAW to its finished, final, look.

Today, I would like to share an image I took last week as I was traveling and photographing in the Canadian Prairies. This image, entitled "Prairie Train Cars' was photographed near Calgary, Alberta.

Image Details: Cambo WDS camera with 35mm Lens. Phase One Digital Back. Panorama from 2 images, 300 and 538 second exposure time. Merged in Autopano Pro.

I was on a 5 day trip, starting and ending in Calgary. We spend between 12 - 15 hours each day travelling and photographing the Prairie landscape and communities such as Lethbridge, Oyen, Drumheller etc...

The focus of this photography tour was to discover, and photograph, the wooden grain elevators and grainaries dotting the landscape.

We found these train cars, apparently parked in this location for undetermined amounts of time, near the grain elevator of Herronton. When we arrived, our attention shifted away from the grain elevator (we also photographed it, of course).

The clouds and weather conditions were simply amazing, I setup my Cambo WDS camera so as to take 2 images that I planned to merge to a panorama.

Using panoramic images, not only do I get images with higher resolution, but I also get a wider angle of view without having to buy a wider angle lens. On my Cambo camera, the 35mm lens I was using is very wide on its own already, but merging 2 images gave me an even wider perspective. While working on my composition, I wanted to make sure to place the 'Canada' train car close to the middle so that it would serve as the focal point.

The wideangle perspective allowed me to include generous amounts of sky and negative space around the train cars. The foreground was simple gras, which also helped draw the viewers eye into the scene.

STEP 1: So let's get started and first take a look at my 2 RAW files:

Note that I have converted the original RAW files to DNG format. This allows my panoramic program of choice, Autopano Pro, to read my RAW files coming from my Phase One Digital Back. If you're shooting with a DSLR you won't need this step as Autopano can read most RAW file format from major manufacturers.

Also note that I made a 'mistake' as I did not use the same exposure time for both images. Because if this, I will run into some merging troubles later on, and you'll see how I addressed it. In a perfect world, you want to make sure you'll use the same exposure time for all images you plan to merge into a panorama.

STEP 2: Merge images into a panorama using Autopano Pro Software:

In the image above, you can see that cropping to a 2:1 panoramic aspect ratio will result in only a small loss of original resolution. In my workflow, I usually crop in Autopano Software, and then export the image for editing in Photoshop later.

STEP 3: Editing in Adobe Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro Software:

You can see that I 'only' needed 5 layers to get this edit done. The biggest adjustment, if you want to call it that, is that I split the sky and clouds in half and then mirrored it and put it back into the image.

I also use 2 other essential techniques in my Photoshop workflow, namely a Dodge and Burn Layer, and a selective sharpening layer using the Hi-Pass filter.

I decided to record a video showcasing my entire workfow for this image. I think this will go a long way to explain what I was doing.

The video is uploaded and posted on Vimeo. Take a look:

Marc Koegel Photography -- From RAW to Final: 'Train Cars' image from Marc Koegel on Vimeo.

Please be so kind and leave me some feedback on the video. Do you want to see more like this? Do you have any additional questions? Anything I missed that would improve this effort?

Thank you for reading/watching this post.

More tk...

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Reader Comments (14)

Lovely image! Could you tell me why you prefer to use the Autopan software rather than the Photomerge feature of Photoshop? BTW I am UK-based and desperate to attend one of your workshops, any dates planned for this side of the pond? Paul

June 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul O

Thank you Marc, quite informative and detailed.
And another thank you for explaining the dodge/burn layer, its such a simple solution that I felt a bit daft for not thinking of it before

Looking forward in seeing more images from this series


June 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGareth

A great video and amazing photo, I love the"mirror image" of the clouds, very sensual, and pleasing.. looking forward to doing another workshop with you in future.

June 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

First of all I am a serious follower of your blog and I wanna thank you for sharing all this with us. Just wanted to know.... is it you shoot all these panoramas with two camera body using same lens?

June 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaj

Just saw your post on how you did the "Train Cars" photo. I really loved the image and your folksy style of explaining how it came to be was terrific. I hope you will do more of these. If you ever do a workshop in Florida or nearby, please let me know.

June 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Thank you all for your comments and feedback!


I am thinking about a UK workshop for summer 2014. Trouble is that there seems to be so many great locations....do you have any suggestions for location with great long exposure potential?

As far as Autopano is concerned, it is my experience that it continuously delivers 'better' results compared to Photomerge, especially for complicated images such as architectural subjects and/or when there is a lot of cloud movement that has to be blended. Don't get me wrong, Photomerge does work well most of the time, and it can certainly get you started with making panoramas. But I would expect that the more panoramas you shoot, the more you'll want to look at a more specialized software like autopano....HDR is a similar story. It can be done in Photoshop, but dedicated software solutions are the choice for serious HDR shooters.

Give autopano a try sometime.....they do offer a free trial. I would line-up several images and run them in both solutions so you can easily compare...


Yes I love the burn/dodge layer, ever since Dan Burkholder showed it to me a number of years ago. It's a great, quick and best of all, visual way of editing your images.


Thank you for your feedback and I look also forward to seeing you in another workshop in the future!


I am shooting my panoramas with the same camera and lens. Although it is theoretically possible to mix and match it would re-create some serious challenges when merging the images into a single panorama. I suppose you could use 2 identical camera bodies fitted with identical lenses and shooting that way would cut your shooting time in half, but then it would double your equipment cost as well -:)


Thanks for your comment and feedback. Florida would be interesting to come to as well....I'll certainly keep you updated as soon as I am able to confirm a workshop there...

June 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterMarc Koegel

Thank you for your video and sharing this part of your workflow. It was very inspiring watching it, but I simply haven't understood how you highlighted the middle area of the photo by using SEP as you mentioned it. Did I miss something? I could imagine doing this using Color Efex Pro (the lighten/darken center option), but I completely fail doing this with SEP only.

June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Hello Frank!

thank you for your question.

To make selective adjustments in SEP, you will need to use the 'control points' feature.

With control points, you will be able to make 7 different kinds of adjustments, including brightness, contrast, structure etc all to just a selected area of the image (instead of affecting the entire image globally).

Control Points are different from presets (which you mentioned for Color Efex Pro).

If you do a google search for control points, or visiting the NIK website, you should be able to find several explanations on how to use them. It is really very easy - I am sure you will figure it out quickly. If not, let me know and I"ll put together some instructions for you :-)

Many regards,


June 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterMarc Koegel

UK locations???? Take your pick! One area that has limitless opportunities for long exposure photography is the Dungeness area on the South-East coast. Plenty of dereliction and interesting subject matter with the potential for big skies too.

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Owen


Excellent video...thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of long exposures and post-processing.


June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Loved the video; thanks for taking the time to explain the process. The end result, while clearly "processed" is very successful - striking, dramatic, stylish.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMitymous

Hi Marc

I came across your name via the Capture One website postings. I use this software with my Nikon D3 and D800E. I am an amateur photographer living in Mandurah Western Australia. I also use Autopano Pro which I believe does a better job than any other software.

I love the image. I am always attracted to dramatic clouds and this image is no exception. I see something spiritual about the centre of the cloud 'Christ on the cross' maybe it is my weird interpretation.
The tutorial was most helpful particularly mirroring the cloud. I am looking forward to other tutorials. I will be in the UK and Europe late 2014 and will keep an eye on your workshops.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Hi Marc. Since first seeing you present at a photography club meeting, I find your work very artistic. You explained the process well, but I would have liked to see how you did the sky in more depth as I am learning Photoshop. This image is very striking. Even though the clouds have symmetry from your manipulation I like it. In fact, this is what really caught my eye. I also like how the symmetry of the sky contrasts with the trains and foreground which is not so symmetrical. Very nice work as usual. Thanks for sharing.

December 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Great job on this! You made something that is usually pretty confusing very simple and easy to understand. I LOVE your tutorials!

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClippingimages

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