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360º Panorama Photography

Steaphany

Well-Known Member
I'm creating this thread here to answer samuelh's question regarding shooting 360º Panoramas.

***Warning ***
This will be a long post. I will make every effort to include sufficient explanatory detail, but I will be posting links to pages to demonstrate virtual reality pano images and to reference tutorials.

I would appreciate the Moderators understanding and indulgence regarding this thread, thank you in advance.

For anyone who has never experienced it, 360º Panorama Photography is an incredible medium, allowing for the viewer to be immersed within the photographer's world. The medium is the result of numerous technologies being brought together. 360º panoramas can not be printed and are only available in the realm of online photo presentation, where the viewer is free to see what is out of view to the left or right of the frame. You can zoom in to see details too small to be visible in the initial wide angle view. You can look up to the sky or at the ground, usually panos will have you feeling like the image has you floating in air. I've found some beautiful tours where hot spots are placed in the pano which, when clicked on, will move you to that location. You can have a park or museum put together as a virtual tour which permits the viewer to choose how they want to move about the visual space. I've also seen that there are professional pano photographers who use the medium to create immersion experience web sites for their clients.

For perspective, my own journey into the SD14 was inspired from my discovery of 360º panorama photography, where I realized that I needed to find the best equipment.

First, it's best to see some 360º panos. The description that I have above may leave you scratching your head wondering "But, how can someone see what was behind the camera ?" But, First, a web browser warning - If you are using Firefox 3.* you'll find that panos presented through Quicktime are blocked from view, you will still be able to view Java and Flash based panos.

Here is a very nice site to allow you to experience what I'm talking about and it will work with Firefox:

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The pano that gets called up with that link will start out B&W and as it loads it will become a typical color wide angle photo, except that it's slowly panning to the right when ever the mouse cursor is over the image. Now, you will have to do something. With your mouse cursor over the image, press and hold the left mouse button, then drag the mouse in any direction - Watch what happens.

To create a photo where the viewer can see what was behind the camera, the photographer actually has to include what was behind the camera in the photo, as well as what's up in the sky, and on the ground below. A very nice effect is eliminating any hint of the photo equipment and photographer from the scene. Panos do not need to be static landscape scenes, I've seen panos with people actively moving through the scene and one which was shot from a moving sail boat, surrounded by water, a person sailing the boat was in view, and the view beneath the camera was nothing but the deck - No hint of tripod or photographer.

Panoramic Tripod Head:

A key piece of equipment to shoot 360º panos is a panoramic tripod head, the purpose of which is to hold the camera with lens and permit shooting in any direction while restricting all movements to be centered around the enterence pupil or nodal point of the lens. This will eliminate all effects of parallax, an essential step to successfully stitching the multiple images together. There are several manufacturers of panoramic tripod heads. A factor in selecting the right pano head is making sure that it will work with your camera and lens combination.

Regarding a selection of lens, wide angle or fish eye may not always be desired. A fish eye would allow fewer images needing to be stitched, but you'll loose fine detail. If you want viewers to have the option to zoom in to recognize that bird, sitting in the third tree left of the mountain top, 10 km away, then you'll need a telephoto lens and many more frames to capture the spherical view from the camera's location.

When I purchased my SD14, my first lens, purchased separately, was the Sigma 28mm DG EX Aspherical Macro, chosen for 360° pano shooting. On the SD14, it's angle of view is 40.57° x 27.69°, allowing 9 frames to cover 360° Horizontally and 14 frames Vertically. Since this lens is designed to work with a standard 35mm image frame, the smaller SD14 20.7 x 13.8 mm imager captures an optimal quality image since only the center of the lens optical frame is captured. For a 360° pano, a 9x14 frame stitched image would contain about 500 MP (Million Pixels), a nice level of detail. A longer focal length would yield even greater detail and I have seen stitched multi-giga-pixel images.

Here are some links to panoramic tripod heads:

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Now, before heading out to your first pano shoot, you'll need to align the pano head to your camera lens combo. Since these procedures can be quite involved, I'll save a few thousand words by referencing a couple pano set up videos from Youtube:

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Cool, that's done, now How to shoot a spherical pano ? Go out to a nice location. Assemble the tripod, Pano head, and camera. Set the camera's exposure by the internal meter and choose these values with the exposure set to manual. Adjust the EV to have the desired depth of field. Having a consistent exposure will aid blending images during the stitching process. Set your focus to manual so that the plane in focus and depth of field will be consistent from frame to frame. Then shoot a collection of photos covering an entire sphere with a reasonable amount of overlap between frames. Include the Zenith view (Straight up) and Nadir view (Directly down) - Oops, that means you'll be photographing the tripod. There are ways to handle this. You can close the legs together to minimize the tripod and then place a logo image over it during stitching, or take the camera off the tripod and manually shoot the ground where the tripod was standing. As a beginner, maybe you rather just leave the Nadir image blank, until you can get more experience.

In post processing, get the images to your liking and make sure that any white balance, or exposure adjustments are consistent across the whole set of photos. SPP lets you save adjustment settings which makes this easy. This can be a bit challenging if the sun is in view, since you need to have a consistent exposure not just with each frame but across the whole collection.

Stitching Software:

There are several dedicated packages and some photosuites, like Photoshop, have built in pano image stitchers. Here are some examples:

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which has a nice tutorial at
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Depending of the software that you use to convert the stitched image to a interactive pano, would determine how your collection of frames would be stitched together.

Some Pano Stitchers include facilities to output files which can directly be presented as interactive panos, others require an additional program to perform this task. Here are some VR conversion tools:

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which has a
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Once your head stops spinning, you'll have enough information here to decide if you'd like to try your hand at immersive 360º panos and have a good starting place.

Another good intro is at
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and to get you all addicted, here are some great websites with huge collections of interactive panos:

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Steaphany

Well-Known Member
A correction regarding the Sigma 28mm DG EX Aspherical Macro frame calculations.

Spherical panos need to cover the span of 360º horizontally and just 180º vertically.

Since a panoramic tripod head like the Nodal Ninja, holds the dSLR in an portrait frame orientation, a full sphere would take at least 5 rows of 14 images per row, plus the Zenith and Nadir views. Shooting more images than these would provide more frame to frame and row to row overlap simplifying the stitching process.
 

Steaphany

Well-Known Member
This is not the sail boat pano that I saw a while back and described above, but it's a similar scene:

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*** Not Firefox friendly ***

I use Safari to view this pano.

This pano has some interesting points:

The camera is floating over the deck.

There are people in view

The water and sail shows the boat is moving

The water is not smooth as glass

I have no clue how this was shot !
 

notalent

Active Member
This is not the sail boat pano that I saw a while back and described above, but it's a similar scene:

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*** Not Firefox friendly ***

I use Safari to view this pano.

This pano has some interesting points:

The camera is floating over the deck.

There are people in view

The water and sail shows the boat is moving

The water is not smooth as glass

I have no clue how this was shot !


IIRC, there is a way to shoot this with one shot using a kind of cone-shaped mirror, and the camera is shooting straight up into it, squishing the whole pano into one frame, then software flattening-out the distorted picture for viewing. But I can't imagine the IQ would be so hot that way, with the whole scene crammed in to the sensor.
 

foveonfan

Well-Known Member
Steaphany,

Probably done with VR spherical mirror attachment for the lens, where the camera is pointed straight up. See here ...

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Sincere regards, JR
 

Steaphany

Well-Known Member
I've seen those mirrored pano optics sold else where. They are good for cylindrical single exposure panos, but the presence of the mirror obscures part of the field of view.

Another method would be to use a fish eye lens with very short focal length allowing a > 180º angle of view shooting two exposures in opposite directions.

Regardless of the optics used, a spherical pano needs multiple exposures.
 

Steaphany

Well-Known Member
At the bottom of the "Fantome on a Close Reach" page, under Equipment, Francis Fougere explains how the panoramic head and camera was mounted and that it took 16 exposures to create the panorama.

Obviously, all trace of the mount was removed and he achieved a wonderful seamless blend when stitching the images together.
 
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