The most spectacular presentation of a panorama is most certainly the virtual tour or 360° photography. To make it correctly, you'll have to follow a certain number of steps, not necessarily essential, but when they're all followed carefully, the quality and easiness of stitching is here...
A virtual tour, possibly on 360°x180°, is a particular case in panoramic photography by stitching. It is a recent way to show panoramas in an interactive way, hence necessarily online, which participated in the digital revolution of this field of photography, by the way. When you're watching a virtual tour, it is thus possible to interact with the panorama using your mouse by rotating it in all directions, from the floor to the ceiling in some cases, to go from one room to another, to zoom in the image, to read information, to watch videos, etc. Better than a long speech, I invite you to watch the complete virtual tour I made for the famous hotel-restaurant Bernard Loiseau
In all the pages of this tutorial in the The guide to panoramic photography, dedicated to this particular field that is the realization of virtual tours, I'll try to explain you how to proceed and what makes it so singular. As you can guess, it is quite technical when you want to do things right, but it also became a lot easier from 2011 on...
Key points if you're a beginner...
On top of each page, I'll indicate the essential points that should draw your attention if you're a beginner. The rest of the page is aimed at those who want to learn more.
To sum up, we can already say that it will be about shooting a whole sphere on 180 x 360°.
If you're a beginner, I recommend the use of a fisheye lens of 8-10mm of focal length for APS-C sensors and 15-16mm for 24x36mm sensors. You'll only need eight photos to cover the sphere but with two important assets:
the lens isn't too expensive,
this focal stitches very easily unlike the more famous 14mm for instance.
It is only about shooting several photos, most of the time with a very wide-angle lens or even a fisheye, slightly overlapping in order to stitch them with a dedicated panorama stitching software. But unlike more classic panoramic photography by stitching, you'll need a panoramic head of a spherical type because it is about, if you have big ambitions, shooting a whole scene from the floor to the ceiling... Of course, the tripod won't be visible in the final 306° virtual tour! The best ratio considering the number of photos, the quality and the quickness of realization is eight photos with a recent 20 Megapixels body nowadays.
Before / After in images
We'll take the eight photos below, shot with a fisheye full-format lens, as a starting point and observe their journey and transformations...
Here is typically a photo shot on 180°x360° rendered in spherical mode: the top and the bottom of the panorama are completely distorted. But once mounted as a virtual tour - in six cube faces as you can see below, and where you can notice that the floor side returns to its normal aspect - and watched online, everything gets back to normal because this photo is redistorted automatically.
Those six cube sides are automatically distorted to be watched in an online page; here the project Bernard Loiseau.
I invite you to visit it to realize all the possibilities of a virtual tour nowadays. And it keeps on evolving...
Once the tripod set, you need to level it for the rotary axis to be completely horizontal. Unless you want your virtual tour to be wobbly! Of course, it is also possible to shoot photos with the camera hand-held that will stitch very well if you want to be right in the heart of action...
You'll need to define the general exposure that all the photos will receive first. You might have to compensate a big luminosity contrast at the level of windows but no general compensation is possible because of the floor and ceiling. It will all be done in manual exposure and focusing modes.
Develop RAW files if necessary. Check that luminosity and color levels are homogeneous between the shots and make necessary adjustments. Aesthetic edits can be performed at that point or at the end of the stitching. Then, correct optical distortions if your stitching software requires it. It will depend a lot on the nature of the distortions of your lens.
Stitching with a dedicated software like Autopano Giga
Images are ready to be stitched with a stitching software. You only have to let it work... or almost, depending on the software! With Autopano Giga, you don't necessarily have so many things to do, anyway less than during the stitching of a simple panorama!
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