Bit by Bit: Seeing Panoramic Images from a New Angle
For those who have followed my articles in the past, you know that I am a panoramic photographer and builder of accessories for panoramic photography. I carry a tripod and panoramic mount around with me nearly everywhere I go (I am a difficult travel partner).
In the image of Sacre Coeur in Paris (see figure 1), I tilted the horizon to accommodate the domes of the cathedral, and the horizon became sinusoidal (see figure 2). In a still image this is an uneventful effect, but in the QuickTime VR version of the image, viewing the tilted horizon is like being in a Tilt-A-Whirl (see and click on figure 3)!
Figure 1: The cathedral at Sacre Coeur with the horizon tilted to accommodate the cathedral domes. Notice how the buildings and people tilt inward from the edges of the image.
Figure 2: The red line shows the horizon line created by this tilt.
Figure 3: Click on the image above to launch the VR clip of the Sacre Coeur panorama (it takes a few minutes to load). As you scroll around the image, you'll see it's like an amusement ride.
Though this shifting of the horizon can be helpful at times, the resulting images are usually so distorted that they are hard to interpret, so I tend to stick with strictly horizontal imaging.
But a vertical panorama -- that's an interesting option. I decided to give it a try on a recent visit to Montgomery Woods in northern Mendocino County, California. This grove of trees contains some of the tallest living trees on Earth, Sequoia redwoods towering hundreds of feet above the valley. Making a horizontal panoramic image in this situation would have been useless, as an image of tree trunks is hardly imaginative.
My tripod comes apart and then reassembles as a horizontal spar to hold the camera in strange positions. I took the center post out, mounted it horizontally across the tripod head, and set the camera to rotate vertically (see figure 4). My mount and rotational index were otherwise the same. I took the usual 12 images in a rotation, and just assumed that it would work. (For a review of the 360 One VR, an apparatus that lets you take a panorama in one shot, click here.
Figure 4: The usual way to make a panoramic image is with the camera and mount positioned to take photos around a scene with a level horizon. To make vertical panoramic images, the camera is repositioned to swing vertically during the capture of images.
Back at my desk, I opened the images, set-up the stitching software, Apple's QuickTime VR Authoring Studio, and began the stitching process. A bit later I was presented with the finished image, a fascinating, mind-bending image that was both lovely and confusing. I realized that I had the greatest difficulty with the ground in the image. With a bit of cropping I removed the some of ground, leaving only the sweep from horizon to horizon, and then the image came alive (see figure 5).
Figure 5: My vertical panorama of Montgomery Woods redwood trees, Mendocino County, California.
Flat on your Back
The effect of this image is to see the ground on both sides simultaneously -- both at the bottom and the top of the image. To envision the perspective, imagine lying on your back, and turning you head from side to side, so that you can see the ground on the left and the right -- but being able to see both sides at once (see figure 6).
Figure 6: The final image represents an incomplete cylinder of a panoramic image.
I am really intrigued by the possibilities of this kind of imaging, and I look forward to my next trip to San Francisco or Chicago (we don't have skyscrapers where I live), where I plan to make a vertical panoramic image of skyscrapers in the city. The resulting images should be thrilling.
Read more by Brian Lawler.