If you like 360° panorama photos, check out this section of my website.  You're probably familiar with panoramas, especially if you've used Google Street View.  Panoramas are photos that allow you to pan, tilt and zoom the display using your mouse, giving you a better sense of the area than just a static photo.  

I've posted over 60 panoramas in this section.  Each of my panorama photos is about 5 MB, so if you have a slower connection be patient as they download.  Also, I've designed the panoramas for a display of 1600 x 900 pixels, so if your monitor has a different resolution, you may need to zoom in or out a bit. 

You can see a complete list of my panorama photos here.  And here's a map of the panoramas I've taken (labels will appear as you zoom in).  Click on any red dot to see more information:

 

Background

While I was in Portland in April 2016 getting ready for my road trip around America, I learned how to create 360-degree panorama photos.  Yes, there are "apps for that" and I've created a few panoramas using my cell phone, but they're not that great.  So instead of using a cell phone app, I used my 20-megapixel Canon 70D digital SLR camera to create these panoramas, because it produces much better results.  And, unlike panoramas created by apps, these panoramas can be posted on the web.  It takes more work to create panorama photos using an SLR camera than a cell phone app, but they look much better.

Being a photo buff, I had a lot of fun learning this new technology and during the course of my trip, I took over 60 panorama photos around the country using my Canon 70D.  Viewing the spinning panoramas can make you dizzy, so using Photoshop I've inserted the directions as labels (N, S, E, W) on each panorama to give you a better sense of orientation.  And for some photos, I've added a few other labels as well.  

How to View My Panorama Photos

  • Click on the photo to open the panorama.  To view the panorama in full-screen, click on the icon in the upper right corner.  
  • I've set the panoramas to automatically pan slowly to the right.  Click on the display to stop the panning and use your mouse to zoom in or out or pan.
  • The panning will automatically resume after 10 seconds of inactivity.

How To Create Panorama Photos

For those interested in the technical stuff (like "Jeez, how did he do that?"), there are two steps to creating a panorama photo – and a third step if you want to post it on the web:

Step #1.  Take the individual photos.  To create a panorama photo, the first step is to stand in one spot and slowly spin around while taking several pictures that overlap slightly, while keeping your camera steady and level.  You need to take at least eight or so overlapping photos but preferably 10 or 12, which you'll then stitch into a single, long panorama JPG.  The actual number of individual photos you take depends partly on the focal length of your lens, with wider-angle lenses requiring fewer photos.  As you take the individual photos, remember these tips:

  1.  Use the widest-angle camera setting that you can, to get the vertical (i.e., up-and-down) view as well as the horizontal (i.e., side-to-side) view.  Use a wide-angle lens if you have one, or better yet, a fish-eye lens.  But if you're interested only in the horizontal view and not the vertical – say, you don't care about showing the ground or the sky – you can use a standard lens.
  2.  Orient your camera vertically, not horizontally.  Again, this will improve the vertical coverage in the final image.
  3.  Pivot your shots around the end (i.e., the face) of your lens.  Don't pivot around the camera body or some other point.  This will minimize the parallax – seeing the same image from two slightly different vantage points.
  4.  Don't move your camera except to rotate it.  Be careful, as you swing around taking your pictures, to maintain a single pivot point.  
  5.  Overlap adjoining photos by about 30 to 40%.  It's important to have common registration points or features in the adjoining photos.  Stitching photos of featureless scenes, like of the flat ocean, will likely result in errors.
  6.  Keep the horizon level.  You can buy a fancy leveling tripod to do this, or just a leveling bubble.  I bought a bubble at Home Depot for $4, which I place on the top of my camera to make sure the horizon is level.
  7. Don't shoot moving objects.  If people or cars are moving, they'll appear in one photo but likely not in the adjacent photo.  Only half of the person or car might appear in the stitched panorama photo. 

So how do you rotate and take these pictures?  During the course of my trip, I used three different methods to take the photos, ranging from quick-and-dirty to elaborate-and-expensive.  You'll get better results, of course, using the more complex methods.

  • The quick-and-dirty method:  Along with my camera, I used only two items in this method:  a monopod (or straight hiking stick) and a small, plastic leveling bubble that I bought at Home Depot for a few dollars, to keep my camera level.  When I found a site worthy of a panorama photo, I set my camera lens to its widest-angle setting, then I positioned the end of my camera lens on the knob of my upright monopod, and I put the plastic level on top of my camera, usually on the hot shoe.  When the camera was level, I took a picture and then spun the camera slightly clockwise, pivoting on the monopod, then took another picture.  I did this until I completed the 360-degree rotation, ending up with 10 or 12 photos.  I had to use this method occasionally, in places where it was too cumbersome to bring my tripod or any panorama photo equipment. 
  • The tripod & steel plate method:  This method requires a tripod and a few pieces of hardware that I bought at Home Depot for about $5.  This includes a 6-inch long steel strap/plate that I screw into my tripod head, to support my camera, and a few nuts and washers to secure the plate and camera.  The idea is that you use the metal plate to slide the camera's body about 6" off the tripod's axis of rotation, rather than have the camera sit directly on top of the rotation axis like it normally would.  In this method, I set up my tripod and remove its swivel head, exposing the tripod bolt at the top of the tripod.  Then I screw the steel plate onto the tripod bolt, secure it with a nut and then fasten my camera to the other end of the steel plate so that the camera body is sitting about six inches away from the rotation point.  It looked a little funky but the important thing was that the end of my lens -- and not the camera body -- was directly over the screw for the tripod head (i.e., the axis of rotation).  Once it was set up, I spun the camera around on its axis, taking about 10 photos in the complete rotation.  This method produces better results than the quick-and-dirty method above, but it's more complicated to set up.  But if you don't want to spend $100 or more on a special tripod head (see the next method), it's the way to go.
  • The tripod & panorama photo head method:  If you want to take professional-quality panorama photos, you can buy a "pano head" adapter for your tripod.  This is a metal bracket that keeps the end of your camera lens on the axis of rotation.  Towards the end of my trip (doh!), I bought a fairly inexpensive pano head, the Nodal Ninja 3, for about $150 and it produces excellent results, much better than the two methods above.  See my photos below.  Gee, I wish I'd gotten it earlier!

Step #2.  Stitch the photos together to create the panorama JPG.  Once you've taken the 10 or 12 individual photos, you need to stitch them together into a single, long JPG image.  You can do this manually using Photoshop or a similar photo editing program, but it's a lot of work.  Instead, I use a program called PTGui, which costs about $90 and automatically stitches the photos together.  PTGui takes a few hours to learn but is pretty straightforward.  The result is a long, narrow JPG, about 25,000 pixels wide and 4,000 pixels high (that's with my 20 megapixel Canon 70D camera).  I then open each panorama JPG in Photoshop and add the text labels for North, East, South and West.  I can then view this panorama JPG on my computer using the PTGui Viewer program, panning, tilting and zooming as I please. 

Step #3.  Post the panorama photo on the web.  The final step is the trickiest part, and I tried several approaches before I finally figured it out.  With the help of the PTGui software, I adjust the playback settings for the amount of tilt, field of view and other parameters for each panorama, then I create JPG snippets of the panorama, slicing up the large panorama I created in Step #2 into 14 smaller JPGs.  Then I create Javascript and Flash files to run the display and I upload all of the files to my web server, posting them in the HTML section of my website, not the database (i.e., Joomla, Wordpress or Drupal) section.  

Here's an example of a long-and-narrow panorama JPG that I created, this one near Lake City, Colorado, with annotation that I've added:

 

 

As you can tell, it takes a while to create each web-based panorama.  But I love these photos and I hope you do, too!

 

My Nodal Ninja Panorama Head with my Tripod

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

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