How we create panoramas
One of the really interesting opportunities afforded to us by the Web is the ability to present a panoramic image as if it were a 360-degree environment. This is something we never could have done in the pages of a newspaper. These panoramas stitch together several photographs and present them in a Flash player that allows users to click and drag to steer the view in any direction.
Here's an explanation of how we create them using the panoramic view of the Connecticut College Arboretum as an example:
First, I set the camera up on a tripod using a special tripod head called a Nodal Ninja. This head allows me to rotate the camera around the nodal point of the lens, keeping the perspective in every picture exactly the same.
Next, I took a series of photographs. How many depends on the size of the sensor in my camera and the focal length of my lens. For the Arboretum image, I used a Nikon D2Hs and a 14mm lens to take 28 photos. This may have been more than I needed, but I wanted to be sure I had the scene completely covered. With a full-frame camera and a wider lens, you can take as few as six pictures to completely cover the scene.
The pictures need to be shot in every direction, including straight up and straight down. The last picture I shot was one straight down without the tripod. If you pan the panorama straight down, you can see my footprints and the holes in the snow where the tripod was standing.
Back at the office, I used a computer program called PTGUI to stitch together the photographs. In a static scene like the one at the Arboretum, you probably won't notice any seams between the individual pictures. In the panorama from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, you can see a few seams if you look closely, especially where people were moving.
The Stitched-together final image is the one you see above. It is presented on the Web with a Flash plug-in that gives the user control of which direction to look.
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