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How-to's Software Reviews

How-to fill in missing pixels in your panoramas

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen)

Keywords: panorama, adobe, lightroom, photoshop, postprocessing, tutorial, tips_and_tricks

This zebras panorama taken in the Serengeti National Park in one of our Nikonians Academy African Safaris required filling in a bunch of missing pixels after all the individual photos were merged in Photoshop.


zebras panorama black&white

Click on image for larger view


People love looking at panoramic images. These wide photographs allow viewers to take in the enormity of a scene and become immersed in the viewing of the photo. Most folks view panoramas by scanning the image from side to side and back again while searching for details in the landscape. To view a well-executed panorama is an experience and will often command people’s attention for a much longer period of time than a traditionally formatted image.

Stitching multiple images together to create a panorama is fairly easy these days because of the preponderance of excellent software on the market. For myself, I generally use Adobe Photoshop for my panorama stitching.

One of the difficulties we come across when creating panoramas, especially with wide-angle lenses, is that you often end up with sections of the image that don’t have pixel data. Frequently, panoramas that were stitched in software end up with blank areas in the corners or along the outer edges of the composite. The cause of these blank areas is a byproduct of the software bending and warping the individual photographs in order to get them to all fit together. You’ll find that stitching together panoramas that were taken with wide lenses will result in more blank areas than stitching panos taken with telephoto lenses.

So, how do you fill in the missing data? The answer is to use a combination Photoshop’s transform warp tools, crop tools, and content aware fill tools. To show you how to fill in the missing data, I’ll use Photoshop CC in this example, but these same techniques work in Photoshop CS5, CS6 and CC.

Here are the steps. For clarity, I’ll explain the process beginning with the individual photographs in Lightroom, and then merge them into a panorama in Photoshop.


STEP 1 From Lightroom, select the range of images you took for the pano and right click on the sequence. Then, choose Merge to Panorama in Photoshop…

lightroom screen

From Lightroom, right click on your images and choose Edit in > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop

STEP 2 Photoshop then opens up the photomerge window. Set your favorite preferences (Auto, remove vignetting, etc.). Click OK.

photomerge window

Photoshop will bring up the Photomerge dialog where you may set your preferences. I generally choose Auto, Blend Images Together, Vignette Removal

STEP 3 Once in Photoshop, you’ll then need to combine all layers so the image is flattened. Choose Layer –> Merge Visible or Flatten Layers.

merge visible

Once in Photoshop, then choose Merge Visible or Flatten Image.

STEP 4 Now, comes the fun part. You’ll need to fix the areas of the photograph that don’t have pixels. For the example photo here, I added red to the areas that don’t have pixel data so you can easily see these regions. In real life, Photoshop will represent these areas as transparent pixels that will show up as a lightly shaded checkered background. Here, you will start using a combination of the crop tool and the warp tool. I like to start with the warp tool, then crop the image. After this, I will use the content aware tool to fill in the missing regions.


panorama with missing parts

Click on image for larger view


After Photoshop builds the panorama, you’ll probably have areas with no pixel data. Here, in the image above I’ve shown these areas in red so they are easy for you to see.

STEP 5 Use the warp tool. Choose Edit –> Transform –> Warp. At this point, Photoshop will bring up a control box around the image that you will be able to manipulate. I typically click in the region that I need to warp (bend) and drag that up or down towards a corner. This helps warp the photograph to better fill the frame. There’s always a delicate balance between warping the image to fill the frame and warping it too much so there is significant deformation in the image. You’ll know when you’ve gone too far, especially if clouds and trees start looking a bit like they were out of a Salvador Dali painting. When you’ve finished warping all the corners, press the Enter or Return key on your keyboard to set the warp.

transform -> warp

Choose Edit > Transform > Warp, from the menu


Click on image for larger view


The next step is to use the Warp tool to bend and massage the photograph as necessary.

STEP 6 Next, is to crop the image to your liking using the Crop tool (C). Feel free to choose a classic 1:3 ratio or a random crop that fits the subject matter.

STEP 7 Finally, use the content aware tool to automatically fill in the missing pixel data. The first step to properly using this tool is to select the region of the photo you need to fix with the Lasso tool. Actually, any of the selection tools will work for this, but most people are familiar with the lasso tool and understand how to use it. Draw a selection around the empty pixels, and then activate the content aware tool by choosing Edit –> Fill. From the pull-down menu, choose Content Aware Fill. This tool is really incredible and will do a great job of automatically replicating the surrounding area. If it doesn’t do a perfect job, then undo the step and try again with a slightly different selection.

draw selection

Draw a selection around the area you need to fix.

edit -> fill

From the Photoshop main menu, choose Edit > Fill

fill settings

Make sure the “Use” is set for Content-Aware and the Mode is Normal

STEP 8 Use the content aware tool on all other areas of the photo that need to be fixed.


sky with the selection

Here’s the same portion of sky, but fixed by Content-Aware fill.



Here’s the finished panorama after fixing the empty pixel regions. If content aware fill didn’t accomplish your goals, then there are lots of other tools in Photoshop such as the clone stamp, the healing brush and the patch tool. I’ll have to write about these tools in a future article.


finished panorama

Finished panorama composite. Click on image for larger view


Now, we need to go in and add some contrast and color punch.

Here are two versions of the same image that I further processed in Lightroom and Nik plugins. I developed the first image using Nik Color Efex Pro 4 with the Tonal Contrast and Foliage Enhancer. I added a bit of Tonal Contrast in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 for this version.

The black and white conversion below was made in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.


finished panorama with enhanced contrast

Click on image for larger view


final panorama in black and white

Click on image for larger view


This panorama taken on safari in the Serengeti National Park required filling in a bunch of missing pixels after all the individual photos were merged in Photoshop. However, Adobe Photoshop itself made the filling easy.



(13 Votes )

Originally written on April 22, 2014

Last updated on October 28, 2016

Mike Hagen Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen)

Expert photography teacher

Gig Harbor, USA
Basic, 149 posts


Jan Timmons (Jan Timmons) on May 8, 2015

Thank you. Your explanations will help me to fix formats other than panoramas. Always good to understand a few more tools!

Matt G (PhotoJock) on May 8, 2014

Very cool, hadn't thought of using the warp tool for this type of work. Thanks for sharing!

User on April 23, 2014

Excellent, thank you. I've been stitching panorama's for a long time, but the information about using the "Warp" tool will be invaluable and save me wasting time trying to fill too much in "Content Aware" which also gobbles up RAM. Richard