If you like 360° panorama photos, check out this section.  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 much better sense of the area than just a static photo.  

Each panorama is about 5 MB, so be patient because they take a while to completely 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.  I'll be posting lots of panoramas on my website as I travel around North America, so check back here frequently!

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

 

Instructions

  • Click on the link to open the panorama.  Each panorama will open in its own browser window
  • 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 wheel to zoom in or out.  
  • The panning will automatically resume after 10 seconds of inactivity.

Background

While I was in Portland this spring getting ready for my road trip, 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.  And they're, well, OK.  Instead of using my cell phone, though, I use my 20-megapixel Canon 70D digital SLR camera to create these panoramas, because it produces much better results than an iPhone.  On the downside, panoramas created by DSLRs take a lot more work to create.

Being a photo buff, I've had fun learning this new technology and have taken over 20 panorama photos on my trip so far, but check back soon because I'll be adding more as I travel around the country.  Viewing the spinning panoramas can make you dizzy, so I've inserted the cardinal 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 labels as well.  

Technical Details

For those interested in the technical stuff (like "Jeez, how did he do that?"), there are three distinct phases to creating any panorama photo for the web:

  • Taking the photos.  Basically you stand in one spot and slowly spin around while taking several pictures.  You need to take at least 8 or so individual photos but preferably more like 10 or 12, though it depends on the focal length of your lens (wide-angle lenses require fewer photos and are generally recommended for panoramas).  You can do all this hand-held, but I use a monopod for better stability.  Better yet is using a tripod, and there are expensive tripod heads designed for taking high-resolution panorama photos, many costing several hundred dollars.  Regardless of how you do it, it's important that:
    1. You pivot your shots around the face of the lens, not the camera body or some other point.
    2. The pivot point (which should be the lens face) needs to be fixed for best results.  Be careful, as you swing around taking your pictures, to maintain a single pivot point.  
    3. The horizon should be level.  You can buy a fancy leveling tripod to do this.  Instead, I use a monopod and a leveling bubble I bought at Home Depot for $4, which I place on the top of my camera, on the hotshoe.  
      1. Before I take each picture, I make sure the camera is level by looking at the bubble.  In fact, I don't even look through the viewfinder as I take the pictures.  I place the face of the lens on my monopod and make sure the bubble indicates a level horizon, then I snap the shutter, rotate the camera a bit, and take another picture.  I keep doing this until I've rotated 360 degrees.
  • Stitching the photos together to create the panorama JPG.  This is the next step.  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 takes a few hours to learn.  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 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. 
  • Posting the panorama 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.  

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