360° Panoramas!

[Originally published February 4, 2020. Minor updates November 5, 2022.]

I’ve been playing with 360° photography for over a year. I find this to be an enjoyable variation to my regular photography.

The simplified explanation of the process is to shoot enough images to capture all directions, then stitch these images together into a special format. I sometimes use a drone to capture the images, and sometimes a camera on a tripod. The result is a spherical image, viewed as though you are at the center of the sphere and can look in all directions.

On my tripod, I use a panorama attachment, shown here, that allows the camera to pivot horizontally and vertically around the optical center of the lens so that the resulting photos align properly.

Camera on 360° panorama mount

This panorama attachment has a pivoting base with detents that help position the camera at the right intervals. Using the 10-22mm lens shown above, I take eight shots in a horizontal circle to have enough overlap between shots to stitch them together properly.

When I create a panorama from a drone, I am currently using a Phantom 4 Pro, which has an automated panorama mode where it takes all of the images with one press of the “shutter.”

When the panorama is assembled from the individual images, it can be viewed with a special viewer on my computer. I publish some of my images on a website, Round.me, that specializes in displaying 360° panorama images. Unfortunately, I can’t display the images as panoramas on this website.

I am going to use an image that I shot at Gates Pass outside Tucson, AZ, this past November as an example . There is a small knoll just off the road that I climbed up to take the photos from. I set my tripod on the highest rocks on the top and took 37 images. The images were taken on manual exposure, all with the same exposure. Because there is a wide range of lighting, from shadows to full sunlight to shooting directly into the sun, I shot the images in RAW to best capture the shadows and highlights. I could also shoot bracketed exposures to capture the full tonal value, but I have found that shooting RAW in this situation yields images that I can work with to get the results I want, and it is a bit simpler than bracketing the exposures and post-processing those (although I have also done that).

Back home I import all of the images into Adobe Lightroom. In this instance, I started by doing an “Auto” process on all of the RAW images, which lightens the shadows and tones down the brightest highlights (like the sun!), then change a few other parameters (primarily Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation) to make the image a bit more to my liking. I might also do some additional brightness adjustments if I feel that is necessary. I then export all of the images as JPEG files.

I use a program called PTGui (https://www.ptgui.com/) to create the panorama image. It is a very capable program, and can process HDR or RAW files directly, but I feel I have the control I want in a way that makes sense to me by doing the initial processing in Lightroom. Once I have the JPEG files, I import them all into PTGui. It will automatically (and magically!) align the images. Once they are aligned, if there are any problems, I can “assist” PTGui to find matching points in adjacent images. I usually only need to do this when some of the images include almost all sky or water.

It the panorama is shot from the drone, I can’t shoot straight up as the camera is mounted below the drone, and the drone blocks the camera’s view. That leaves a hole in the sky above. In this instance, I use a special mode of PTGui to export an image of the “top” of the panorama. Then I use Photoshop to fill in the hole with “sky color” similar to what is around it, and then “reassemble” the panorama with PTGui.

When using a tripod, I can shoot straight up, but the tripod is in the way when I shoot down. So when I am finished shooting all of the images, I pick the tripod up and take a shot of the ground where it was. Many of the images from the tripod pointing downward contain parts of the tripod, such as the camera platform or the tripod legs. I can select these images and indicate to PTGui which parts of particular images should not be used. If I don’t to this, some of the tripod will show up in the resultant panorama.

Once I’ve done all of the point matching and/or masking, if needed, PTGui creates the panorama photo, which is a JPEG file in a format that panorama programs can interpret. If viewed with any “normal” photo program, the image looks quite distorted as shown below. Even though I took the tripod out of the panorama, you can still see its shadow. Here is the Gates Pass JPEG image. Click on the image to view it in Roundme. Once the image opens up, click and drag with your mouse to spin the image around, or zoom in and out with your scroll wheel.

Gates Pass 360° Panorama
Gates Pass 360° Panorama

You can also view this on a tablet or iPad. With the right browser, you will be able to look in different directions just by turning the tablet.

To see all of the panoramas I have published, check out my Panorama Page at roundme.com/@garystebbins. When on that page, click the “TOURS” button to see the panoramas I have published. Some of the images here have been shot with my camera on a tripod, while others have been shot from a drone. Keep watching this site, as I will be adding new panoramas from time to time. 🙂

Editing & Publishing (again)

Once again, I will be editing a book for a friend and then publishing it, both as an e-book and as a printed book. I’ve done several others for David Preston over the last several years.

In addition to editing and publishing his new novel, I will be re-publishing his other books. Why? His earlier books were published with his name as Dave Preston, and the later ones as David Preston. This causes some confusion for Amazon and other platforms. Following his author name spelled one way won’t necessarily find the books with the other spelling. So he is standardizing on David Preston. Also, we are updating author information and adding some other content.

Also, his books were only published on Amazon, and we will be publishing with a wider distribution, e.g., Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo. And they will be available to libraries.

How did I get started editing and publishing? Way back in college (Whitworth College, now Whitworth University) I knew several of the staff on the college student newspaper. I noticed quite a few typos in the papers, so started marking them up and giving them back to the Executive Editor. She suggested that I should do my markup before they published, instead of after, and so I became first a proofreader, then later Managing Editor of the college paper. I also did quite a bit of typing of the newspaper on a Varityper machine, which right-justified the type. This was a bit before the college paper had computers to do this for us. On this machine you typed each line twice – once for the machine to measure the length of the line, then a second time for the Varityper to adjust the space between words to make the type line up at the right margin.

So how did I get into editing books for David Preston? The same way this all started. In 2010 he published an e-book on Amazon, Motorcycle 201. I bought the book, and noticed several typos. I asked if he was interested in knowing about them, and so it began. After that, I proofread and did some copy editing of his books before they were published. His son was doing the publishing.

Then about five years ago, a bit before Thanksgiving, he asked me if I could publish his next book. He was done writing, and his son was tied up with too many tasks to be able to get to it soon. I thought, sure, I could figure this out. And so I did the editing, and read up on how to publish on Amazon at what was then called CreateSpace, now Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). And Triathlon Ride, the third book in David’s Harrison Thomas Mysteries series, hit the Amazon virtual shelves on November 18, 2014.

After Triathlon Ride was published as a Kindle Book, David mentioned that someone he knew wanted to read it, but that person would only read it in paper form. David had earlier published Motorcycle 101 in paper form before Print On Demand (POD) was generally available, and he had to front all of the printing costs, then figure out what to do with 1,000 copies of the book. He didn’t want to do that again.

I explained that now, through CreateSpace, he could publish a book in paperback with no up-front cost. Could I do that for him? Well, I didn’t see why not. So I investigated the CreateSpace paperback requirements and worked with David to decide on the trim size (5.25″ x 8″). David had created the cover for the Kindle book, and I started with that and created the cover for the paperback, adding the back material and spine. It was published on December 16, 2014.

So, here we are, getting ready to add one more book to his list (making nine total). In the meantime, I’m working with him to get his past works republished with a wider distribution.

Stay tuned. I’ll announce the books as they are published. Links to all of David’s books can be found at https://books2read.com/rl/gs-preston.

3D Printers

When 3D printers started becoming somewhat affordable several years ago, I thought it would be fun to have one and learn more about the technology and see what uses I could find for it. But the first ones were a bit out of my budget, and I didn’t see what use I would really have for one.

Scroll ahead a few years. This past summer, at Julie’s urging, I bought one for myself for my birthday (it actually arrived the day of my birthday). The photo below (not a good photo…) is my Creality Ender 3 Pro printer. A little over $200. “Some assembly required.”

The Creality Ender 3 is one of the less expensive printers available at this time. It’s print volume is somewhere around 8” x 8” x 10”. It arrived partly assembled, but there was still some assembly required. I think that was a good thing, as it familiarized me with the printer and took some of the fear of working with it away. More on that later.

Creality Ender 3 Printer

My first discovery was how slow it is to print something! We’re often not measuring print time in minutes but hours. When you begin to understand how it prints, this makes more sense. The printer oozes a small amount of melted plastic through a 0.4 millimeter nozzle (that’s about one sixty-fourth of an inch) and deposits it onto the surface of the object you are printing, creating a layer of plastic in the right places. An average layer is 0.2 mm thick, or less than one one-hundredth of an inch. So to make an object one inch high requires the printer to lay down about 100 layers of plastic. Each layer may take several minutes, depending on the size of the object.

Creality Ender 3 printer in action
Creality Ender 3 Printer in action

So what do you do with a 3D printer? As was pointed out to me early on, you first print things to make your printer better! Things like cable guides or filament guides or tool trays… The list of possibilities is endless. But that’s not all. There are many websites where you can download ready-to-print models, many for free.

Well, almost ready to print. Usually you download an “.stl” file, which is a description of the 3D object. You then must use a “slicer” program to convert that model into instructions that your printer can understand. Then you give that file to the printer, and it magically interprets these instructions into the movements necessary to create a lump of plastic that resembles what you wanted.

Really cool threaded cylindrical container with a lid
Really cool threaded cylindrical container with a lid

Once you’ve printed a number of objects that other people have created, you’ll probably start thinking about designing your own 3D creations. Can you do that? Yes, of course. There are a number of 3D design tools costing from free to thousands of dollars. I’ve tried several, and designed a few simple items.

My first design was simply a knob to replace a missing seat release knob in Julie’s car. Certainly not elegant, but quite functional. My second (ongoing) project has been to create some simple stands to display some Native American pottery. My latest completed project (if a project is ever truly complete – there are always enhancements that can be made!) is a variety of specialized hooks for holding items on 1/2” shelf edges in our camping trailer. And what is in the future? For starters, repair for a plastic part on my “Little Giant” ladder that broke. Photographs have been taken, measurements made with calipers, preliminary drawings have been drafted, but no 3D model – yet.

What is in the printer’s future? I’ve already made a few modifications I haven’t yet mentioned (something for a future blog). I have parts for one more “upgrade.” And I have tentative plans for at least one upgrade beyond that. I have a list of things to print, some quite simple and some fairly complex. With Christmas less than two months away, the printer might get put to use making a few items for that.

Stay tuned