Creating 360 Degree Panoramic Photos

As you’ve hopefully noticed, HawaiiGaga.com features hundreds of Hawaii pictures including panoramic photos and virtual tours. We’ve literally taken thousands of photos of the islands (at least 10,000). Photographing Hawaii’s scenery is especially enjoyable and the biggest perk associated with working on a travel web site.

We’ve been asked about the process of creating a 360 degree picture. The most important component is the software used to “stitch” and blend the series of photos together. We use a package called Autopano.

For outdoors scenes one simply stands in one spot, rotating around and taking the photos, making sure that there is some overlap (maybe 20%) between each image so that the software can figure out how to “connect the dots.” The number of pictures one needs to rotate all the way around depends on your lens – typically it’s about 8. Autopano stitches the pictures together to create a single very large photo.

Movement in the scene, like a car driving past, will confuse the process because you’ll have a picture of a car in more than one photo in different locations. So scenes with little movement, like nature scenes, are the easiest. Otherwise you’ll have to use Photoshop to correct distortions.

You can take a 360 photo with any kind of digital camera, although using a DSLR is much preferred over a point and shoot digital camera because of the ease of use, speed of taking photos, ability to accurately frame the scene through the view finder, ability to use filters, and possibly an improvement in picture quality. Ken Rockwell maintains an excellent photography web site that will keep you busy for days.

For indoor 360 photos one would normally use a tripod with a special attachment called a pano head. The purpose is to ensure the camera swivels around a fixed point. You could just stand in place and rotate around as with outdoor scenes, but when the subject matter is so much closer to the camera the stitching software has a more difficult time putting it together and matching the scene – there’s less room for error. The use of the tripod and pano head improve the accuracy of the process.

There are other ways of taking 360 degree photos as well. For example, motorized pano heads, or special lens mirrors that take a 360 degree photo in one shot. Start by using whatever equipment you have and learning how to best use AutoPano before investing in new gear.

Hawaiian Beach