There is something truly immersing about these 360° panorama. Whether it is an urban landscape or the great outdoors, a big panorama really puts the viewer in the middle.
I started experimenting with panoramas using the Canon 7D with Sigma's 4.5mm f/2.8 Circular Fisheye lens. This lens captures a full 180° view in a complete circle - ceiling to floor, wall to wall. Such an ultra-wide view eliminates the needs to capture and align rows of images. All you need is one pass around in a circle. This Sigma lens makes it simple!
1. Taking the pictures with a good tripod.
There are several companies that sell "panorama" tripod heads. But, all you really need is a tripod head with bubble levels (both horizontal and vertical) and degree markers. The tripod must be as perfectly level as possible so that when you pan around your camera will stay level. I have also read about people getting buy with as little as 6 photos. That may be fine for a small web image. But, if you want a super-sharp, super-large image, you will need to take more photos. The exact number will depend on the sharpness of the lens and the markers on the tripod head. I found that taking RAW photos in 15° increments, duplicating the starting point as your last image works best. This means 24 images plus one image for the ceiling and the floor patches.
2. Loading images into PTGui Pro.
There are several programs that claim to create 360° panoramas. I used the same test images in both Easypano Panoweaver and Jumpeye JCPanoramaEditor. The results from both were lacking. Then, I found PTGui. This is a great program! It handles a variety of image types including a true circular fisheye like Sigma's 4.5mm lens. It will import and process the Canon 7D Raw files directly. The Pro version is even 64-bit and will even link and process HDR image groups. If you use Raw files, it will pull the lens and exposure info from the EXIF data.
3. Aligning images.
PTGui really does a great job aligning all of the images. It also creates a seamless blend horizontally. (Vertical blends are a different matter because there will be a small gap on both the ceiling and the floor which will not be covered in the photos.)
4. Preview the panorama.
Once PTGui has assembled the images, you can preview the panorama. From this pop-up window, you can change the panorama mode from sphere to other setting including "Little Worlds"!
5. Output the panorama as a Photoshop file.
You can output the panorama as a single flat file. However, the better way is to output the panorama as separate layers with masks in one BIG photoshop file.
6. Fixing the Panorama in Photoshop.
Now for the time consuming part! If you only need a web image, you can get by with the output file. However, if you want the sharpest image possible which can be viewed full screen, you will need to fix this file. Look closely for ghost inconsistencies. There will be quite a few. Also, look for areas that are soft. Chances are the real photo is sharp and PTGui over blended and unfortunately softened the images.
7. Final output composite as a JPG.
With the composite fixed, save the image from Photoshop as a JPG. PTGui can create Quicktime VR panoramas. But, if you are interested in creating a web-compatible 360° panorama, you are better off using a Flash generator like Garden Nome's Pano2VR or Flashifactor. I have been using Pano2VR which makes creating blend "patches" very easy.
Once you start creating 360° panoramas, it gets very addictive. As you can guess, I already have quite a few in the can, so expect to see many more here!