March 14, 2012
360° Panoramas

When the Crocker Art Museum was preparing to unveil its new expansion project, I suggested we do some 360° interactive panoramas so readers could get a sense of the new space before it opened. I did plenty of research to learn how to create these fun and fascinating panoramas. The Bee invested in a special tripod head and the dedicated software needed to turn a series of photos into one single and seamless image that would give readers an immersive view of the new museum. The resulting panoramas were linked to a 3D rendering of the new building created by Bee graphic artist Nathaniel Levine. To see that project, click here.
We did a similar treatment when the new Airport Terminal B neared completion. You can view that project by clicking here.

Since then, I have made several other panoramas of spaces I thought would be of interest to our readers. The SacBee.com website has a page dedicated to them, and I add to it once in a while. You can find that page here.

Creating one is a rather convoluted process. I start by mounting a camera and an extremely wide-angle fisheye lens on a special tripod head. panocam.jpgThis special tripod head allows the camera to pivot around an axis point beneath the lens, rather than beneath the camera body as with a standard tripod head. This is to eliminate an effect called "parallax" which would make the digital stitching process impossible to do smoothly. I take a series of bracketed exposures, rotate the camera 30 degrees and repeat until I have photographed the scene from 6 different overlapping directions. Then a series of photos with the camera pointed straight up. Finally I shoot a series of hand-held photos with the camera pointed straight down to capture an image of the floor without a tripod in the way. Back at the office I use an application called PTGUI which takes all the photos and blends them together into a single panorama image.
Monterey Bay Aquarium thumb.jpg
The most recent addition to our panoramas page is a view of the Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey. This was probably the most challenging panorama I've done so far. Creating it from dozens of separate photos which are digitally "stitched" together into one is tricky enough, but everything in the exhibit moved between exposures. (the fish, the kelp, the visitors, etc) Also there is a tremendous range of light from the brightest areas near the top of the display, to the darkest shadows under the stairs. Add to that the various colored light sources; the blue/green of the aquarium, the amber colored lights in the background, and the sunlight from down the hall. It was a real challenge to gather all this information and reduce it to the seamless natural looking image that resulted. You can see it by clicking here.

or navigate to it from the panoramas page mentioned above.

I hope people enjoy these as much as I love making them. Please let me know what you think.