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I am shooting virtual tours with an all in one camera and like most prefer a sunny day - inevitably that means one part of the shot is facing the sun and gives a big white sky. I want to edit or fill this with more sky to add more interest. Has anyone got any tips as I also need to ensure the image still "stitches" so needs to match up on both sides - any tips would be much appreciated.

Here is a typical example of what I mean:

example equirectangular

  • What camera/lens are you using? – inkista Apr 4 '16 at 16:33
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For the particular example you included, I would suggest lowering the exposure by 1 stop or so. The "big white sky", also known as blown out, is because the exposure for that part of the scene is too high. But most of the details in the rest of the image, while not overexposed per se, are bright enough that they won't suffer if the total image exposure is reduced. The fence and house walls, in particular, are quite bright.

The risk, of course, is possibly losing some details in the darker regions. The storm cloud in particular will look a lot more menacing; the tall tree in the middle might have less leaf detail.

Counterintuitively to beginners, midday lighting is often very difficult to work with — shadows are hard; the dynamic range of the scene is very high, with lots of dark and bright regions and relatively little in between; and subjects tend to appear to have less "texture" or depth to them. If you can, choose days to shoot when the sky is partially overcast, or at least during times when the sun is blocked by more diffuse clouds. This will soften the lighting on the subjects, as well as reduce the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of the sky.

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And you have just discovered why spherical panorama shooters were among the first to begin using newfangled HDR techniques, and why stitching programs like Hugin and PTGui include HDR/exposure fusion stacking features. The sun in the shot inevitably means a very large dynamic range.

See also: Why is the sky in photos always too white?

Your Camera Counts

There are two basic things you can try here, but whether or not you can do them depends a bit on what type of camera you're using and how much control it gives you. If by "all in one" camera, you mean a compact point and shoot with a fixed lens, you may not be able to do these things. You also may. It depends on whether your camera allows you to set the exposure settings yourself (gives you full Manual mode), and whether it shoots in RAW files, rather than JPEG. If your camera can't do either of these things, then you may want to get another camera that can.

1. Reduce Contrast

The first thing to try is to make sure you've metered both facing the sun and facing away from the sun, and seeing what settings the camera gives you. You can then shoot in RAW format, and try to find a "compromise" group of settings that will probably still overexpose the facing-the-sun shot, and underexpose the back-to-the-sun shot, but do okay with the sun-to-the-side shots. Then, in post, you can attempt to decrease the contrast (lift the shadows, lower the highlights), either by using a contrast slider, or a reverse-S curve on the member images before stitching, and get your detail in both the highlights and shadows back.

Trying to do this in JPEG won't work as well, because you'll have less latitude for this type of editing. You can still try it, but you may only have a stop either way. RAW will increase the amount of exposure shifting you can do.

2. Bracket and Stack It

If simply reducing the contrast doesn't work because you don't have enough dynamic range in your data, then you're going to have to get into high-dynamic range techniques. Either HDR stacking and tonemapping, or exposure fusing to get the results you want.

The basic technique here is to shoot a series of images for each member image, varying the exposure until you've covered the full dynamic range you want. Some cameras have auto-bracketing features, but this can still be done without it, so long as you can set the exposure settings on your camera directly (i.e., have full Manual mode). And, obviously, you'll want to be on a tripod with a good panorama head that lets you rotate precisely to avoid movement between the bracketed shots.

Then, in post-processing, you can use software to combine the bracket set into a single image that retains detail in both the highlights and shadows.

See: What is HDR photography? and How does exposure fusion work? for more details.

Interior Alternative: Light It

The third technique is not a basic one and doesn't work great outdoors (unless you're into light-painting), but can come in handy when shooting cubic/spherical panos indoors. You can use lighting to reduce the dynamic range when, for example, your shoot includes windows to outside daytime scenes. (See: the fstoppers.com "HDR vs. Flash For Interiors and Real Estate Photography" article).

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