Panorama Imaging - Home and Professional Use
A panorama is a wide photograph, perhaps of a landscape or group of people. Such images need either a special camera, such as we see at a graduation, other equipment, or software for the purpose to join several images and make a large picture: a process called "stitching". Or we can cheat.
Making a panorama works best with a wider lens, a tripod for consistency and a good view of the subject. With this article in Database you may see a wide shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. If not, it is on my website [Top of the page].
I took this from a moving car, a couple of kilometres from the Bridge: one of four taken in quick succession. It had the parapet at the side of the road and a lot of blue sky in its original 2932 x 1936 form, but I tidied it up and trimmed it to 2865 x 532 leaving me an end to end view of this landmark. It can be exported as a TIFF image some 40" wide. It will not take much more enlargement, although it works fairly well as a web image.
Screenshot of Bergman's Inuaguration Image - click to access the image itself
The Stitcher software that comes with the device that works with Mac or PC is not available separately as far as I am able to tell.
With the 3G iPhone I took a number of shots at home and the resultant image showed a lot of ghosting from movement of leaves. I tried a couple more at Siam Paragon and, with the large numbers of people there, there was again this ghosting in sections of the image. Where there were no people, the images were clear and sharp.Once images are taken, they are selected in the stitcher app and added to a working panel at the bottom of the screen. The simplicity of the app means that a single button is all that is needed to start the process. In both cases with the iPhone 3G, the stitching took around a minute.
Any stitching (even using a tripod) ends up with some areas of the image that need cropping. Pressing the Crop button automatically offers an optimum image which can be accepted and this produces a good result.
The camera in the iPhone 3Gs takes larger photographs, but I found the resultant panorama size was almost the same: a 12-photo stitch produced an image of 3956 x 472 pixels. The real advantage here, however, was the improved speed of the activity which took about half the time of the 3G iPhone.
When in the UK earlier this year, I wanted a photograph of the family home, but it was a large house, close to the road and I had a narrow lens (52mm). Using the Open Source, Hugin, I joined some photographs to give me a complete image of the house.
Hugin is available for OS X, PC and Linux. The latest version for OS X (0.8.0) has several improvements over the previous version. Several types of image can be produced, but the operation is initially not wholly clear. In typical Open Source fashion, there are sophisticated controls, but I found that most could be ignored once output was set. The user can rely on three main buttons: Load Images, Align, and Create panorama.
I used two sets of images: a single set of 12, and another set of the same view taken at different elevations, giving 36 in all. All worked perfectly so Hugin is able to match images vertically as well as horizontally.
More recently I used the images I had specifically taken for this article from the roof of the Faculty of Engineering at Mahidol University. A couple of times during the process I managed to crash the software but this was probably due to selecting images that were not fully matchable: the preview showed me a snaking image that was not what I wanted at all. I went back to the same images I had used for Hugin and they worked fine. When I used the three-level set, the software was able to match vertically in the same way as Hugin.
The final preview (and the finished export) had the proper exposure adjustments made and the image offered is cropped in the right places: any black areas (where no image exists) are offered for removal. If one misses the preview, the cropping is automatic.
When I arrived, he was easy to spot as he was working on his 17" MacBook Pro, calibrating the screen, with Eye-One which he distributes here. He has an enthusiastic approach to everything and our conversation ranged widely. I had also been impressed with the promptness that he had answered all emails and with his command of English.
He was educated in Bangkok and California. He spent about 11 years abroad, working in television after he graduated. This involvement in media included photography. When he returned to Thailand, he saw a niche and began to work with panoramas and other forms of computer-related media, describing himself as a photographer who uses a computer, rather than a nerd who takes pictures. Now aged 31, his interests also include snowboarding, which he has not been able to do of late, and road cycling: he showed me several high-quality images of his bike. Those who can read Thai may also find information about Danai in Mars Magazine for September 2009.
With his brother, who handles the business side of things, he set up BluePano, and as well as media work, they now distribute monitor calibration hardware, which is essential for quality work, other colour-management solutions including Epson Pro-Graphics and the Hahnemühle range of fine art paper.
Although he began with the Nikon D70, which is my workhorse, he now uses the 12 megapixel Nikon D700 camera, with a range of lenses, for most work. Also like me, although he has computers back at the office, his 17" Mac is his working machine, so he was able to demonstrate the software he uses.
While I use Open Source or shareware solutions, he has Photoshop installed, and prefers Lightroom to Aperture, although he also runs Capture 1 Pro, explaining that it is more efficient than Aperture or Lightroom for those who shoot a lot and use few. For Panorama work he has three preferred choices: Stitcher, Autopano and PTGui.
I had been trying this out, and Danai agreed that there was a fair learning curve. This is not an easy program to use. However, it is perhaps one of the best programs for 360-degree stitching, with output in QuickTime .MOV format. A full review may be seen at the Photography Blog.
PTGui - Working Panel 1
PTGui - Working Panel 2
I noted on the Autopano website that the software supported robot mounts, which are useful for making panorama images. Having experienced the time-wasting effort of a tripod, and manually taking photographs, I expected that Danai might use the Gigapan Epic solution, but he told me that his was developed from a telescope mount. The results are clear to see on his website: both the Flash view and the flat panoramas, one of which uses over 600 images.
Danai told me that he intends to stay in the field for a while yet. While he still does some video work, he prefers photography and enjoys the melding of creativity and technology.
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