Creating a 360 HDR Panorama

Back in the time when I started with photography, my greatest passion was creating panoramic images. Most of my friends know that the majority of the time I deal with 360 panoramic photography.

I started to learn about HDR post-processing in early September last year with a single goal – to be able to improve the dynamic range of my 360’s.

About a month ago I had a chance to discuss with Jimmy that it would be great if I share a part of my workflow with the readers of HDR One Magazine and show them the way I handle HDR panoramas like this…

 HOW TO STITCH HDR PANORAMAS

Before I reveal some of my tricks with you, I want to share the equipment I use when shooting panoramas.

Canon 5d Mark II, Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye,

Gitzo GT2531EX Carbon Fibre Explorer Tripod,

360 Precision – Adjuste Giga,

Canon Remote Switch RS-80N3

Magic Lantern Firmware – v.2.3

Of course, to create a panoramic HDR image you do not necessarily have to own any of the above. Each of us has different equipment and this tutorial will cover the topic in more detail, to allow each of you to do the same thing with even the simplest equipment. Keep in mind of course that your camera needs to have the option to shoot in HDR mode.

Let’s say we skipped that part of the shooting and we’ve done N-number of images with multiple exposures. I prefer to shoot not more than 5 exposures due to hardware problems.

Step  1.  The first and most important step before you start the processing of your panorama is to fix the “Lens Correction”. As you can see in the picture below I opened all 25 photos (5 tiles with 5 different exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)) in Camera RAW – Lens Correction tab.

           1.1 Make sure that before you start to process the images you’ve clicked “Select All” button.

1.2 Check “Enable Lens Profile Correction” just so you can start playing around with the sliders below.

1.3 Note that I keep “Distortion” slider with value 0 – that is because I want to keep the sharpness of the image not only in the center but also in the corners.

1.4 Using a full-frame camera usually creates vignetting in the corners of the darker exposures. So I have to keep this slider to the value 100. If you are wondering why not 200 but 100 there is a reason for this.

When you drag the slider to 200, slightly noticeable white stripes appear in the corners that after the stitching is quite difficult to remove.

The same applies if you do not apply any lens corrections and keep vignetting with equal values of the original image. But then there is a formation of dark bendings in the sky which is also very difficult to remove after the stitching.

It is inherently the most important part of the lesson if you want to create a masterpiece. And at the same time as you may have guessed could be absolutely useless if you use crop-sized camera.

Most of you will say “Hey, you still have an insane amount of vignetting if you keep your slider to 100.” Yes, that’s right! I do have an insane amount of vignetting but there is a solution for that too.

To avoid these dark bendings try to keep the overlap of the images at a larger percentage. From the photo below you can see what actually is an overlap.

           Usually the normal amount of the overlap varies between 20-50%. In our case, when using full-frame camera, we need to keep the overlap between 40-50%, thus after stitching the panorama, these dark bendings will disappear completely.

1.5 Check “Remove Chromatic Aberation” and you are ready to press “Done”. Wait, what? Done? Yes that’s right, DONE!

Since the stitching software works pretty well with RAW files, we don’t have to export the images in TIFF format.

Step  2. In this step I will show you how to organize your files so that it’s easier when stitching different exposures.

2.1 Make a folder and name it as you wish. As you can see, I named mine “hdr-pano-0001″. Copy all the files inside the panorama.

 

           2.2 Create as many folders as different exposures you have inside that folder. Name them as you wish and separate all images in the different folders.

           2.3 Select the exposure with the best histogram that you think will do the job. Move all the files to the root folder “hdr-pano-0001″ and rename each photo as follows “IMG_0001″ “IMG_0002″ “IMG_0003″ “IMG_0004″ “IMG_0005″.

 Step  3. This is the final step in this tutorial and here I will show you how to adjust the stitching software and how to actually stitch your panorama. To assemble the individual parts of this panoramic image in this tutorial I will use Autopano Pro 2.63

3.1 Open Autopano Pro 2.63 and go to settings. As you can see on the two images shown below, the sections you need most are “Detection” and “Optimization”

           Try to keep “Detection Quality” to “High”

           and Optimization Presets at “Fisheye” or “Strong” depending on the kind of lens you are shooting with. Then click “OK” and restart the software.

3.2 After restarting Autopano Pro you need to create a new group, add the photos you already renamed and press the “detect” button. It takes a while until the software detects sufficient control points and put the panoramic image together so I suggest you to go to the fridge and grab a beer.

           3.3 When it’s all over (and you drank half a beer) it comes the moment to do a little work on improving the panorama. There are many options available inside the “Edit” panel but not all of them are very important.

Press the “Edit” button and large edit panel full of different possibilities to edit the panorama will pop-up. As I said, I will not explain all of them, only the most important.

           3.4 If you have not noticed yet your panorama doesn’t look as great as you expected it. In most cases you need only to change the projection of it and and everything is ok – not always.

           3.5 Even after changing the projection of it our panorama still looks terrible, so I will quickly jump on the next part, called “Control Points Editor”.

           Once I opened the Control Points Editor, I noticed that Autopano Pro inherently started to think that the images I’ve added are a complete 360 degree panorama and the software itself added some extra points on a places that should not exist.

To fix this error you need to delete the link between the first and last image (just this connection that the software thinks that must be linked). Specify the connection you want to delete from the “Links” tab and right-click, “Remove Links”. After you are done, click “Optimize”.

           3.6 Once you remove the unnecessary link, it’s time to optimize the entire panorama (nobody likes bad stitches). If you noticed from our global RMS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/root_mean_square) value is 5.22, which is not so good. To fix this you will need to delete all control points with bad RMS.

Select all links between the 5 images and specify “Ctrl Pts” tab, click on the RMS section to arrange the points in ascending order, scroll to the bottom and select the last item (the one with the largest RMS). Holding the SHIFT button, scroll up and select everything with a larger number than 3.2, right click and “Remove Control Points”, then re-optimize the panorama.

          Repeat as many times as it is necessary to keep only points with less value than 3.2. Once you’ve finished optimizing you need to get global RMS with value less than 2.20. In our case, we got excellent results.

           3.7 Unfortunately our panorama still doesn’t look as nice as it should so the next step of the process is “Move Images Mode” where you simply drag the panorama around to the position you want. This course is not necessary when you make 360’s.

           3.8 Dragging the panorama often dislocates the horizon and “Automatic Horizon” option is a must after you stopped to the position you want.

           3.9 In 50% of the cases my panoramas don’t look absolutely vertical. In these situations I’m using “Verticals” option from the “Edit” panel.

Zoom-in the panorama at the required percentages and simply drag lines on certain parts of the picture that seems extremely vertical to you. Keep in mind that more than 2 lines needed for vertical alignment.

           3.10 Now it’s time for the final steps crop and color correction. Thanks to the “Crop” function you can crop the panorama in size and shape that you need.

The color adjustment menu allows you to change the “anchor” image (in other words, the image that you think has the best color gamma) and adjust the rest of the images with exposure and gamma similar to that.

           3.11 Voilà! We are just a few steps away from finalizing our panorama.

Open the “Render” panel. And select the size, blending mode, format and name of your image, then click “Apply”.

           Close the “Edit” panel. Yes, yes, don’t worry, nothing bad is going to happen just close it. This returns you to the beginning where you need to save all the work you’ve done so far. Choose a name and save it in the root folder “hdr-pano-0001″. Press the “Render” button again.

          And again renderer.

           After the rendering is done go back into the main folder and rename the image to “hdr-pano-0001-thenameoftheexposure.tiff”

Step  4. Since all work is done in this step we only have to create other exposures. In order to do this we need to trick the software, yes that’s right we will trick the software to think we are using the same images.

4.1 Delete all images from the main folder “hdr-pano-0001″ named “IMG_0001″ “IMG_0002″ “IMG_0003″ “IMG_0004″ “IMG_0005″.

4.2 Open a folder in which you have images with different exposure than the one we just stitched and copy them all back to the main folder.

4.3 Rename them with the same names as the previous “IMG_0001″ “IMG_0002″ “IMG_0003″ “IMG_0004″ “IMG_0005″.

4.4 Open the saved file of Autopano Pro and render the image again.

4.5 After the rendering is done go back into the main folder and rename the image “hdr-pano-0001-thenameoftheexposure.tiff”

4.6 Repeat the exact same thing for all other exposures.

 Step  5. Post Processing – My workflow is almost identical to the one my friend Danny Xeroo showed in his tutorial couple of days ago, so if you want to learn how to complete your panorama please visit the following link (http://www.hdrone.com/2012/11/hdr-tutorial-danny-xeero/).

Article by Nikola Totuhov

  • Stephen

    Love the article. Never done a 360 before

  • Dawn

    Thanks for the tutorial. Can you do 360s in photoshop?

  • to2hov

    Haven’t tried with Photoshop but I can show you how PTGui works as well ;)