We’ve all seen regular panoramic photos. But what happens if you keep on shooting until you end up back where you started? This is the technique which, along with some simple Photoshop effects, is used to create 360-degree pictures, or what are commonly called ‘polar panoramas.’ A polar panorama is a picture which can normally be viewed only in special web browser and software plug-ins as virtual environments.
However, it is possible to join up a 360-degree picture to create a two-dimensional polar panorama using Photoshop’s Polar Coordinates filter, which joins up both edges of the picture to ‘close the circle’.
It’s surprisingly easy to do, and if you take care when shooting your stills, you won’t even see the join!
Creating a polar panorama is mostly a software technique, but it’s still worth making a special effort to set your shots up in the first place, because your 360-degree pictures will be a lot ‘cleaner’ and require less work. That means finding the right location, and having a tripod to hand.
Even so, you will still get some rough edges that need to be filled in, which is where your cloning skills will prove handy. Our top tip here is to use a soft-edge brush and keep changing your clone source as you work.
Step by step how to make a polar panorama
01 Get it level
This Manfrotto tripod has a spirit level in the base, and this is important because you need to give the head’s horizontal panning movement a completely level base to work from. A spirit level on the accessory shoe, for example, will only tell you if the camera is level at that point, not whether it will stay level as you turn it.
02 The sideways view
The camera itself needs to be level too, which may mean that tall buildings won’t quite fit in the frame. We’re using a Sigma 10-20mm super-wide angle lens here, which helps, but we can also turn the camera on its side to take in a greater vertical angle – Photoshop will blend vertical images just as readily as horizontal shots.
03 Make it manual
With panoramas it’s essential that the exposure doesn’t change through the sequence of shots, so switch to manual mode, and check the light through the full 360° to find the best overall exposure for the scene. You also need to choose a fixed white balance preset, like Direct Sunlight, and set the focus manually.
04 Shooting your frames
Now start taking your shots. Choose a landmark you’ll remember, shoot a frame, then turn the camera so that there’s an overlap of about a third and then shoot the next frame. Carry on turning the camera and shooting until you’ve got back to your starting point – this picture gives you an idea of the overlap to go for.
05 Photomerge options
Back on the computer, open all the frames in Elements and then use the File > New > Photomerge Panorama command. In the Photomerge dialog, click the Add Open Files button to display your frames in the Source Files pane, then choose Auto in the Layout panel on the left (try Cylindrical if your panorama goes wrong).
06 Cloning the gaps
Elements will now align and blend the images. The panorama will have some untidy edges – Elements 10 will offer to fill them automatically, but you’re likely to get better results using the Clone Stamp tool. Photomerge generates lots of layers, though, so use the Layer > Flatten command first before you start cloning.
07 Crop the edges
It’s worth spending some time filling the gaps with the Clone Stamp tool because you don’t want to cut too much vertical height from your panorama. You will need to crop it horizontally, though, so that the left edge and right edges will meet up – look for the same detail on both sides, like the red car in the background here.
08 Resize and rotate
Now we need to make the image square. Use the Image > Resize > Image Size command, check the Resample Image box, but un-check the Constrain Proportions box. Now copy the Height value into the Width box and click OK. The panorama will be compressed horribly, but don’t worry about that – the next step puts this right.
09 Polar Coordinates
For the last step, you need to turn the image upside down with the Image > Rotate > 180 degrees command. Now apply the Polar Coordinates filter (Filter > Distort menu) and select the Rectangular to Polar option. Click OK, and your polar panorama will be generated – and with any luck you won’t even see the join!