How To Create and Share Photo Panoramas

Panoramic photos aren't nearly as difficult to create as you might guess. To get started all you need is a digital camera and some free software.
Published: Jun 1, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: OS X / Windows / Linux

If you're interested in photography, you've probably seen and admired panoramic pictures--photos that show a 90, 180, or even 360-degree view of a scene. You can spend a lot of money on equipment and software for making these kinds of photos or--as I'll describe in this article--you can use the point-and-shoot digital camera you've already got and a bit of free software and be sharing panoramas in minutes.

Shooting the photos

There are multi-thousand-dollar rigs you can buy for shooting panoramas, but unless you need truly professional results, you can still get great results with a cheap point-and-shoot digital camera by taking a little care in the way you shoot them. The basic technique is this: Stand in one place and turn in a slow clockwise circle, taking photos all around you. Each photo you take should overlap the one before it by at least a third, so the software can easily match up the photos based on their edges.

Six individual photos will make up my panorama

While practice is the best way to refine your technique, here are some tips for getting started:

1. Keep a level head

A tripod or monopod can help immensely with keeping your photos' "horizon" level and consistent, which makes for better results, but if you don't have one don't sweat it. Just try hard to ensure you're holding the camera level with the ground and at the same height for each photo.

2. Watch for moving objects

The software is going to combine your multiple shots into a single panorama by "stitching" their edges together, so if you have, for example, a moving object like a person or vehicle at the edge of one photo but absent or in a different position in the next, it will look very strange in the final image. Be aware of moving objects and make sure they match up from one photo to the next.

3. Keep light consistent

Just like moving people and vehicles, if the light changes from one shot to the next it may produce odd results. Turn off your camera's built-in flash (because as you turn the flash turns with you, causing light and shadow to shift around) and only use light sources that don't move.

4. Hold the camera vertically

Because of the way the images are "stitched" together, you'll lose a bit off the top and bottom of the final panorama. To combat this I recommend taking your photos with the camera in the vertical ("portrait") position instead of horizontal ("landscape") so as to capture more above and below. You'll have to take more photos this way (because you'll be making smaller turns between photos), but it will be worth it.

Creating a panorama

Once your photos are taken and downloaded to your computer it's time to get started with the software. There are a number of free tools that will get the job done, but since we have an eye to share our panoramas online I recommend CleVR. It's both a free software tool and online service, although each component can be used independently of the other. To get started, visit the site and create a free account. You'll need to enter a valid email address to receive your password (read CleVR's Privacy Policy if you have privacy concerns). Once you're logged in, you will be prompted to install and launch the software. You'll have to enter your username and password from the web site again when the CleVR Stitcher program starts.

Now you'll be confronted with a large blank space--this is where you can drag and drop the photos you took, or you can click on the Choose Images button at the top and navigate to and select your photos. Make sure you don't miss any. CleVR Stitcher will load each of them one at a time, which can take a little time, and then display thumbnails. Here you can rotate them if they appear "sideways" and change their order by dragging and dropping (or, if their order is backwards, clicking on Reverse Image Order). You want the photos to be shown in the order you took them--if you turned clockwise while you took them the first one you took should be the leftmost and the last should be the rightmost.

Photos imported into CleVR

Once your photos are all ordered and oriented correctly go ahead and click on the Stitch button at the top and watch as your panorama is built one photo at a time. This can take some time. You'll probably notice that your photos don't all match up at the top and bottom, but CleVR will crop the final image to compensate. Finally, it will say Encoding JPEG, which means it's combining all of the photos into the final image, and then it'll show you the resulting panorama. Below the image you'll see a handle that you can drag up and down to expand the panorama, and you can use the scroll bar to pan left and right. You'll also see an "Enhance image" slider at the top that you can use to adjust the image's exposure.

From here you can do two different things: You can click on the Export as JPEG button at the top to save a copy of the panoramic photo to your hard drive and do with as you please later on. Or you can click on the Upload button, which will upload the panorama to your account on CleVR.com and allow you to share it on your web site or blog or send a link to your friends. If you use the Export as JPEG function don't worry, you can always load the JPEG back into CleVR and upload it later on.

Uploading and sharing

Uploading is pretty straightforward. When you click on the Upload button you'll be prompted to give the image a title and, optionally, a description and tags. The panorama will be uploaded (which will take a little time) and you'll be shown a preview of the final product, like this:

The plus and minus buttons will zoom in and out, and you can pan around by clicking and dragging with the mouse.

That's all that's required--you can click on the View on CleVR.com button at the bottom to see the panorama on your CleVR.com profile and get links or an embed code to share your panorama or stick it elsewhere on the web. But I'm sure you've also noticed the Edit Hotspots button, which is a cool bonus feature of CleVR. Hotspots are areas on the panorama that people can click on to reveal descriptive text, an additional image, or a link to another of your panoramas. To use it simply click on Edit Hotspots and then Add Hotspot and drag a rectangle around the area on your panorama you want to make "clickable." When you've done that a box will appear here you can enter a name for the hotspot, a description, the URL of an image file or, on the Link tab, choose another panorama for the hotspot to link to. Hotspots will automatically be saved when you create them, and you can also create and edit hotspots later on the web. Here's another panorama I created (from my father's store, the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Company) with some text hotspots:

Other options

  • MagToo is an entirely web-based service which is similar to CleVR but currently works only in Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows.

  • Windows Live Photo Gallery is a free photo-management program from Microsoft that includes a simple but effective panoramic photo function.

  • AutoStitch is a simple free program for Windows that also creates panoramic images froma series of photos.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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