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    Polar Panoramas: shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures

    | Photoshop Tutorials | Tutorials | 01/11/2012 12:00pm
    3 Comments

    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.

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures

    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

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 1

    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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 2

    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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 3

    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.

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 404 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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 5

    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).

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 6

    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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 7

    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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 8

    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.

     

    Polar Panoramas: how to shoot and stitch 360 degree pictures - Step 9

    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!

    PAGE 1: How to shoot and stitch a polar panorama
    PAGE 2: How to compose 360-degree pictures
    PAGE 3: Tips for getting creative with your polar panorama

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    Posted on Thursday, November 1st, 2012 at 12:00 pm under Photoshop Tutorials, Tutorials.

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